A new political firestorm erupted Wednesday with the disclosure that a senior State Department official had ordered a search of U.S. embassy files on Bill Clinton's student days, including any documents relating to the Democratic presidential candidate's draft status and citizenship.
The State Department said that the files were checked legitimately at the request of news organizations and that Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth M. Tamposi was merely trying to make sure the effort was conducted properly after indications that Clinton's passport file had been tampered with.
The FBI has since reported that it had found no evidence of tampering, and State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Wednesday the searches in London and Oslo turned up nothing.
Democratic vice presidential nominee Al Gore blasted what he called a "McCarthyite abuse of power" that misused tax dollars to probe for personal details in a rival's travel records, draft status and citizenship.
Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, D-Maine, asked Sens. Claiborne Pell, D-R.I., Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., and John F. Kerry, D-Mass., to ask the Foreign Relations and Judiciary committees and a Foreign Relations subcommittee each leads to use congressional oversight authority "to seek a full explanation of these events as promptly as possible."
Vice President Dan Quayle said the file search "could be a request from the news media."
"It has nothing to do with the campaign," he said.
The search of embassy files in London and Oslo was initiated Oct. 1, a time when Bush supporters were stepping up attacks on Clinton's draft record, his role in the antiwar movement as a 22-year-old student at Oxford University in 1969 and a trip he made to Moscow via Oslo that year.
Clinton leads Bush by 10-to-15 points in opinion polls, and the Republican campaign has been trying to undercut public trust in Clinton by raising questions about his student days.
After the records-search story surfaced in the Washington Post, Boucher said Tamposi was involved in decisions affecting the response to four news media requests for data on Clinton's "citizenship records, correspondence, passport files and things of that sort."