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On July 25, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth ordered first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and her top health-care aide, Ira Magaziner, to face trial in a civil suit charging the cover-up of involvement by special interests in drafting the Clinton health-care plan.

The trial date is set for Sept. 12. The specific legal issues before the bench are whether the first lady's health-reform task force violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act by holding the meetings of her task force in secret and whether Magaziner perjured himself when he testified under penalty of perjury on March 3, 1993, that only federal employees were involved in the secret meetings.The issues before the public are more important. They involve the first lady's candor, or lack thereof, and the White House's cynical manipulation of the public's health concerns in order to benefit special interests allied with the Clintons.

The Federal Advisory Committee Act requires task forces not wholly composed of federal employees to meet in public. When pressed by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons to comply with the law and open the meetings, Hillary Clinton and her aides said that only federal employees were involved in the work of the task force.

This claim disintegrated when Kent Masterson Brown, attorney for the Physicians and Surgeons, presented Lamberth with 37 pounds of evidence that the task force had 357 members who were not federal employees.

On July 26 under pressure of the evidence, Hillary Clinton's Justice Department lawyers abandoned the "federal employees only" defense. The new defense of the secret meetings is that the health-care task force did not influence, and was not intended to influence, the content of Clinton's health-care reform plan. If the task force was not established by the president or utilized by him to obtain advice or recommendations, it is not covered by the Federal Advisory Committee Act.

What are we to make of Clinton's publicly expressed appreciation to the task force for its contribution to his health-care plan if the work of the task force was not utilized by the president? Even more puzzling is Magaziner's staffing memo of Jan. 26, 1993, a copy of which is in Lamberth's hands. The memo clearly states that the goal of the task force "is to prepare comprehensive health-care reform legislation in the next 100 days."

Hillary Clinton, Magaziner and their Justice Department lawyers are driven to implausible argument by a desperate need to keep the public from finding out that they, too, had special interest groups preparing the health-care plan. Once Hillary Clinton loses the lawsuit, the secret proceedings of the task force will be made public.

The opened files will expose the president and first lady to charges of public deception. Hidden behind the president's promise of "universal coverage" paid for, in part, by employers and the federal government, special interests were working feverishly devising a scheme that would terminate "fee for service" insurance policies, curtail the supply of medical specialists and herd the public into impersonal, bureaucratic health-care organizations that would save money by rationing medical services.

Among the lawsuits and investigations that threaten Clinton's presidency, there are no greater dangers than the secret files of the health-care task force, which will reveal a cynical president defrauding the public in behalf of special interests.