WASHINGTON - As an aide in the Clinton White House, Elena Kagan steeped herself in details of the Ruby Ridge controversy, an issue that U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter had zeroed in on as he sought the Republican presidential nomination.
Kagan's handwritten notes from 1995 track Specter's hearings, according to some of the Supreme Court nominee's records released Friday from her days as a White House lawyer.
The wife and son of white separatist Randy Weaver had been shot to death in Idaho by federal law enforcement agents, and Specter was looking into a possible FBI cover-up of who gave the orders that led to the August 1992 tragedy, which also claimed the life of a deputy U.S. marshal.
Among the Ruby Ridge-related documents in Kagan's files was a preparatory question-and-answer session with President Bill Clinton in which the president called for a full accounting on Ruby Ridge, adding that he had not yet been in office when the shootings took place.
By 1995, the alleged FBI cover-up after the shootings had become the consuming issue.
"Dispute btw Hatch and Specter - when to finish up? latter wants to get into coverup," handwritten notes in Kagan's files say.
After the GOP took control of the Senate and House in 1994, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah assumed chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee, and Specter took over the terrorism subcommittee.
Facing fund-raising woes and trailing Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas for the GOP nomination, Specter dropped out of the race toward the end of 1995, and Ruby Ridge did not became a campaign issue.
But earlier in 1995, Kagan's files reflected Ruby Ridge's importance for the president.
In July 1995, a news article on a possible FBI cover-up was stamped "the president has seen."
The news article focused on the possible shredding of an FBI document that could have shed light on law enforcement decisions during the siege. The bureau had adopted permissive rules for use of deadly force.
In releasing Kagan's files Friday, the Clinton presidential library kept under wraps a five-page Justice Department memo on the cover-up allegations.
Releasing it would disclose confidential advice involving the president and his advisers or between his advisers, according to a notice in the Kagan records explaining why the memo was withheld from public view 15 years after the events.