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updated: 6/6/2014 3:12 PM

Clinton chafed at GOP push to abolish Commerce

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  • President Bill Clinton meets reporters in the briefing room of the White House in Washington.

    President Bill Clinton meets reporters in the briefing room of the White House in Washington.
    Associated Press/1996

Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Former President Bill Clinton mused that congressional Republicans wanted to abolish a federal agency because it was headed by a black man, and his administration voiced concerns about the mass killings in Rwanda, according to a new batch of records released Friday.

Documents show that during a practice session for his 1996 State of the Union speech, Clinton unloaded on GOP lawmakers who wanted to kill the Commerce Department. Clinton suggested they wanted to get rid of the department because the late Commerce Secretary Ron Brown did a better job than corporate executives who had served.

Brown, a longtime Clinton confidante and the first African-American to lead the federal department, was killed in a 1996 plane crash.

"The reason they want to get rid of the Commerce Department is they are foaming at the mouth that Ron Brown is better than all of those Republican corporate executives who got those cheeky jobs because they gave big money to Republican presidential candidates," Clinton told aides. "And here is this black guy who is a better secretary of commerce than anybody since Herbert Hoover, which he was a success at."

Emails also show difficult deliberations over widespread massacres in Rwanda and whether to label them genocide.

The Clinton administration was slow to react to the mass killings and went to great lengths to avoid calling the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Tutsi and moderate Hutu "genocide." Clinton would later call the U.S. inaction among his biggest regrets.

A May 26, 1994, email by legal adviser Alan Kreczko to Donald Steinberg, who handled the Africa portfolio in Clinton's National Security Council, explained that coming to a conclusion that "genocide has occurred/is occurring in Rwanda does not create a legal obligation to take particular action to stop it."

But Kreczko advised, "making such a determination will increase political pressure to do something about it" -- action the administration clearly wasn't ready to commit to.

Thousands of pages of Clinton administration records have been released as former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton considers running for president.

The former first lady's new book on her State Department years will be released Tuesday.

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