More than 50 requests for public access to records from President Clinton's White House have been cleared for release by archivists and are in a sort of presidential limbo, awaiting review by Mr. Clinton's aides or President Bush's deputies, according to new court filings and National Archives officials.
Some or all of the records could emerge in the coming months as Senator Clinton presses her bid for the presidency.
Historians, journalists, authors, and watchdog groups have complained that the review process for records stored at presidential libraries is taking too long. The critics also contend that an executive order Mr. Bush issued in 2001 exacerbated the problem.
Last week, an unexpected figure added his voice to the chorus of those griping about the delays: Mr. Clinton.
"I want to open my presidential records more rapidly than the law requires, and the current administration has slowed down the opening of my own records," the former president said at a press conference held to discuss his philanthropic efforts. "I am not afraid of disclosure and I hope that people will find, among other things … some of the mistakes we made and why."
Mr. Clinton also seemed aware that the issue of access to the old White House records could become politically sensitive. "I am not hung up about this. And I do think that I will have extra responsibilities for transparency should the American people elect Hillary president," he added.
A White House spokesman did not return a call seeking comment on Mr. Clinton's assertion that Mr. Bush had "slowed down" the release of historical records. Recently, a federal judge blocked part of Mr. Bush's order that allowed him to delay the release of records indefinitely as they were reviewed for privileged material.
It is unclear which, if any, of the files awaiting presidential review pertain to Mrs. Clinton. However, a court filing Tuesday indicated that a trove of 10,000 pages of schedules detailing Mrs. Clinton's activities as first lady will remain under wraps "through January 2008" and perhaps until about the time of next year's presidential election.
In a declaration filed in federal court in Washington, the acting director of the Clinton Presidential Library, Emily Robison, said she expects that in January her staff will complete review of the schedules for information that should be deleted on privacy or other grounds. After that, Mr. Clinton's representatives will be officially advised of the proposed release and permitted to review the records. Once Mr. Clinton's aides finish their review, Mr. Bush's aides take over.
For Clinton records, the presidential part of the review process has been running an average of 237 days, or nearly eight months, Ms. Robison said. Her declaration came in response to a lawsuit filed in July by a conservative group, Judicial Watch, which claimed its requests for Clinton-era records were not being fulfilled.
Since the Clinton files were opened to request under the Freedom of Information Act in January 2006, the materials from four requests have been processed and released to the public. Three were solely for photographs. The only text records released pertain to an obscure conference on culture and diplomacy held in 2000. Hundreds of thousands of pages are available on topics selected for early release by Mr. Clinton, including race and health care policy.
Ms. Robison also disclosed that the National Archives is experimenting with ways to speed up its part of the review process. A one-year pilot project involves "halting" the usual practice of referring all classified documents to the agencies responsible for the underlying information, she said.
The trial seems to involve giving archivists more authority over declassification.
"There need to be lots of experiments like this," one disclosure advocate, Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, said. "This could be a very productive one."
Ms. Robison said the Clinton Library has 287 pending public records requests, which will require processing of a staggering 10.5 million pages of material. Six employees currently perform that task, she said.