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CLINTON AIDES ACCUSED OF ROOTING AROUND FOR DIRT

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With evidence mounting on the White House's effort to gather sensitive information on individuals, a key Republican Wednesday accused presidential aides of being "amateur detectives rooting around for dirt" and said President Clinton deserved the blame.

"It is extremely troubling to think the president could allow his staff to so cavalierly handle security matters," Rep. William Clinger said at the start of a hearing into why the White House gathered hundreds of FBI background files, many of them on Republicans.Clinger's House Government and Reform Oversight Committee was to hear testimony from the former head of the White House security office and the aide who handled the FBI file-gathering.

But first it released new documents detailing efforts by the White House to gather background on the travel office employees it fired.

One of those documents indicated a presidential aide was asked to spy on the travel office employees during a trip to California just days before they were fired in May 1993 in what has become one of the administration more embarrassing episodes.

The White House has since said the firings were improper and apologized.

The undated, unsigned memo, which was turned over to Congress from the White House, indicates a presidential aide named Peter was asked to "log hour by hour" the activities of one of the employees and

"note any cash" the employee disbursed.

"Take good notes with the purpose being that you will be able to describe everything that these guys do on a trip," the undated, unsigned memo said.

Clinger said the episode showed the "White House had a history of amateur detectives rooting around for dirt long before the recent FBI file flap."

The hearing began a day after revelations that the Clinton White House gathered background documents on some 300 national security aides, including former Utahn Brent Scowcroft and former CIA Director Robert Gates, in addition to more than 400 other improperly obtained background files.

The newly released information shows Anthony Marceca, a civilian Army employee at the White House who got the FBI files, supplied congressional investigators some 200 pages from personal computer discs documenting his growing awareness in late 1993 that some of the background material might be for people who had already left the government.

A memo prepared by Marceca for the National Security Council over White House security chief Craig Livingstone's name asked whether some of the staffers on a seven-page list "have left NSC."

Marceca's lawyer said the wide range of the information collected demonstrates Marceca was engaged in a bureaucratic endeavor and never had any political motive when asking for FBI files on Ronald Reagan and George Bush administration employees.

Livingstone was Marceca's boss in late 1993 and early 1994. Both men were to testify Wednesday before the oversight committee, which is chaired by Clinger, R-Pa.

Livingstone was placed on paid administrative leave last week.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported that an FBI agent is alleging three White House political appointees tried to get confidential FBI background information from him on White House travel office employees. The effort to get the information, agent Dennis Sculimbrene told Senate investigators, came about the time the White House fired all seven travel office workers, the Post reported in Wednesday's editions.

According to the newspaper, Sculimbrene said he was asked for the information by Kennedy, along with Jeff Eller, deputy White House communications director, and Patsy Thomasson, deputy director of presidential personnel.

On another front, The Washington Times reported that the Clinton White House created a sophisticated computer data base to track political and personal information on members of Congress, the media, campaign contributors and others who have dealings with the administration.

The report said Insight magazine, a sister publication, had obtained a number of confidential internal documents describing various aspects of the data base.

The paper said White House adviser Barry Toiv confirmed in an interview Monday that the data base has been fully implemented. "There is definitely nothing illegal here," the Times quoted him as saying. "The system is used strictly for official purposes only. We go to great lengths to be sure of that by controlling access to the information. The uses are only for inviting people to events at the White House, like social or ceremonial events. Also, issue-related events and for outreach on issues."

The paper also quoted a number of other sources whose names were not used, including one who said: "It was designed to be the granddaddy of political data bases, pure and simple. We're talking about information on tens of thousands of people."