October 4, 1996 By MICAH MORRISON WALL STREET JOURNAL THE SHENANDOAH VALLEY, Va. -- For more than two years, Congress has been trying to get straight answers from the White House on drug-related issues. After Rep. Frank Wolf (R., Va.) complained in March 1994 that more than 100 White House staffers had failed to get final security clearances and permanent passes, the White House set up its own drug-testing program. This June, news emerged from congressional oversight hearings that the man in charge of issuing passes, White House personnel security chief Craig Livingstone, had his own FBI clearance held up because of past drug use. Today "there are still many unanswered questions about the White House drug-testing program," says Ned Lynch, a spokesman for the House Civil Service Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. John Mica (R., Fla.), which has been probing White House compliance with the Drug-Free Federal Workplace order. "Evidence presented in recent testimony about the drug experiences of White House employees continues to give us great concern," Mr. Lynch adds. None of this comes as a surprise to retired FBI Special Agent Dennis Sculimbrene, who was the senior agent at the FBI's liaison office in the White House from 1986 to April 1996. His job was to conduct the background interviews that provide information about the suitability of individuals to have access to the White House complex. He retired in August, citing "unjustified changes in my professional assignments and assaults on my career" after he appeared as a defense witness in the 1995 trial of former Travel Office head Billy Dale and testified this summer before House and Senate committees about White House drug use and Travelgate. The White House and its surrogates have denounced Mr. Sculimbrene as a mentally unbalanced liar, a man "whose hatred of the administration is well documented, as is his ongoing employment dispute with the FBI," in the words of White House Whitewater spokesman Mark Fabiani. Mr. Sculimbrene, for his part, has been unflinching in his congressional testimony, describing an atmosphere of moral squalor at the White House and alleging serious abuses of power by the Clinton administration and the FBI. This is his first conversation with a reporter. "Drug use was an obvious problem from the beginning" of the Clinton administration, Mr. Sculimbrene said last week at his home in a remote stretch of the Shenandoah Valley, far >from the Beltway wars he has left behind. "Because [the Clintonites] were younger than the previous administration, I expected we would have more people saying they used drugs more frequently, more recently. But what I didn't expect, and what I found personally intolerable--though I kept my mouth shut--was the superior attitude, the attitude that there was nothing wrong with it. Some of the people I interviewed said things like, 'Well, Bill Clinton used marijuana himself.' One of the first young kids I interviewed said something along the lines of, 'I can't believe you're asking me these questions about marijuana, because, heck, the president himself used it.' That's a total, 180-degree opposite viewpoint from the previous administration about the usage of drugs." 'No Big Deal' Because of Privacy Act considerations, Mr. Sculimbrene often spoke in careful generalities and declined to identify individuals by name or specific position. But he clearly is troubled by the character of the Clinton White House. "It was not just young people who used drugs," Mr. Sculimbrene says. "There were senior people as well, senior aides and advisers to the president who used drugs recently--people in policy positions, or, say, a director of an office. Some of them had the attitude: No big deal; it should be legalized. Some senior people even said they had used drugs as recently as the Inaugural." Mr. Sculimbrene says that around June 1993 he reviewed his case files for an informal estimate of White House drug use. "I estimated that about 25% of the incoming administration, about one out of four cases, had a problem with illegal drugs. Not just casual experimentation, but a pattern of usage, which to me indicated a lack of good judgment and a disregard for the law. And not just marijuana, but cocaine, amphetamines, amphetamine-derived 'designer drugs' such as Ecstasy, hashish, mushrooms." In January 1994, Mr. Sculimbrene, a former pilot for the Air Force and the FBI, suffered a severe head injury while working on an airplane. The injury resulted in some vision, hearing and balance problems, which were largely corrected through physical therapy, though some deficits remained. He returned to work in October. "The FBI rallied around me at the time of my accident," Mr. Sculimbrene says, "and for that I'll always be grateful. I wasn't ready for duty as a street agent, but I could and did perform my White House duties well. Things also had improved somewhat at the White House by the time I got back, though there still were problems. It was around that time that I heard about what was being called 'the Livingstone Rule'"--presumably for Craig Livingstone. "The Livingstone Rule was: Drug use of more than 50 times was now a disqualifying factor for a permanent White House pass. It was around that time, as I recall, that several people called us and said they wanted to recant their previous interview; they hadn't used drugs 100 times, only 50 times. It's public information that Craig Livingstone lied during his FBI interview about drug use, and he wasn't the only one." Drugs weren't the only problem Mr. Sculimbrene observed at the White House. He says he began to suffer severe career repercussions from both the White House and the FBI after he became entangled in the Travel Office affair. Travel Office head Billy Dale and five other employees were fired in May 1993, and Mr. Dale was charged by the Justice Department with embezzling funds. Top White House officials had begun inquiring about the Travel Office staff, their lifestyles and political affiliations, "only a few weeks into the administration," Mr. Sculimbrene says. The officials were then-Deputy White House Counsel William Kennedy, then-Director of Administration Patsy Thomasson and presidential aide Jeff Eller. "I told them I thought Billy Dale was an upright, honest guy and that there was no trouble there," Mr. Sculimbrene recalled. "Those firings were strictly a fabrication." During the FBI investigation of Mr. Dale, Mr. Sculimbrene says, he made his opinion known to an FBI supervisor. But despite Mr. Sculimbrene's familiarity with the case and the players, he was never interviewed by the FBI. "No one ever came to see me about the case," he says. Within the FBI, tensions began to mount over the impending trial. "Around August of 1995, I had a shouting match with the supervising agent on the Dale case, David Bowie," Mr. Sculimbrene says. "Bowie told me Dale would have pled guilty long ago 'if it weren't for those rich Republicans giving him money.' I told him that was a wrongheaded remark and that I should have been interviewed for the investigation. Bowie told me I had nothing relevant to say, and then threatened me with an [FBI] Office of Professional Responsibility investigation. We were really going at it." Shortly after that encounter, Mr. Sculimbrene says, he was told by the FBI that he had to take a random drug test. "I'd never had one before, and I'd never heard of anyone in my age group having to take a drug test--I was 51 at the time. I thought that was quite a coincidence after my argument with Bowie." In what Mr. Sculimbrene describes as another "coincidence," the possibility of a prestigious job lofted his way shortly before his testimony at the Dale trial. The incident raises questions about the nature and timing of an offer that could be construed as an attempt to buy his silence. Mr. Sculimbrene says that he was approached by a mid-level member of the presidential personnel office from Arkansas and encouraged to apply for a job as inspector general at the Department of Veterans' Affairs. "The official told me he had talked to Patsy [Thomasson] about the offer," Mr. Sculimbrene says. Ms. Thomasson, a Clinton intimate and former associate of Arkansas cocaine convict Dan Lasater, ran the personnel office. "After I testified at the Dale trial," Mr. Sculimbrene recalls, "I ran into the official again. He told me the job was out of the question, now that I had testified." Mr. Sculimbrene had been subpoenaed as a defense witness at the Dale trial; he testified in October 1995. On Nov. 16, after deliberating less than two hours, a jury acquitted Mr. Dale of all charges. But Mr. Sculimbrene's troubles were just beginning. In February 1996, he was notified that the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility was investigating him for alleged misuse of a government parking pass. "I thought it was some sort of sick joke," Mr. Sculimbrene says. Within a few weeks, he was interviewed by OPR investigators and presented with a new notice of more serious charges: An anonymous letter had been received charging him with making racist comments, speaking to the media and "time and attendance fraud." Mr. Sculimbrene says the FBI rank and file is demoralized by the FBI leadership and its misuse of such OPR investigations. "The OPR process causes terrible injury and is a burning issue for agents," Mr. Sculimbrene says. "It's being used as a personal management tool to control agents. Sometimes a case can hang over an agent for years, causing terrible stress." Mr. Sculimbrene eventually was cleared in the OPR probe. But behind the scenes, a dramatic clash was shaping up, one that eventually would lead to Mr. Sculimbrene's resignation. In January, Mr. Sculimbrene's former partner, Gary Aldrich, had submitted the manuscript of his book to the FBI for review. The FBI general counsel, Howard Shapiro, promptly shipped a copy to the White House, it was revealed at House oversight hearings this summer. Mr. Sculimbrene says that he was also notified to expect a visit from Mr. Shapiro, who in the end sent two agents to question him about Mr. Aldrich and the FBI's White House liaison office. "In January, I imagine right after learning of the manuscript, Director [Louis] Freeh ordered the liaison office shut down immediately. Cooler heads prevailed at the time, but not for long, as it turned out." Largely True Mr. Sculimbrene says that before the agents visited him at Mr. Shapiro's direction, "I had no idea that Gary was writing a book about the White House. But after reading it, I can tell you it is largely true." A scathing critique of White House mores, "Unlimited Access: An FBI Agent Inside the Clinton White House," became No. 1 on the bestseller lists and created a firestorm when it was published in June. It also probably spelled the end of Mr. Sculimbrene at the FBI. In April, he was relieved of his responsibilities at the White House. His White House pass was revoked in May, his work assignments were taken away, and he was ordered to undergo a fitness-for-duty exam, prior to reassignment to street duty. Mr. Sculimbrene filed an administrative complaint with the FBI alleging he had been denied "reasonable accommodation" for his disability in his job transfer and new duty assignments. It later emerged in congressional oversight hearings that at the same time, Mr. Livingstone, still at the White House, had ordered Mr. Sculimbrene's FBI background file, saying it was required for a reinvestigation of the agent. In July, after the Aldrich book appeared and Mr. Sculimbrene testified before House and Senate committee investigators, FBI Counsel Shapiro sent two agents to Mr. Sculimbrene's home to question him about notes he had taken in a 1993 interview with then-White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum that suggested that Mr. Livingstone--suddenly famous in the wake of Filegate revelations--had been hired at Hillary Clinton's urging. "I viewed that visit as highly improper," Mr. Sculimbrene says. "Mr. Shapiro should have been taking no action in the matter, as it had been turned over to the independent counsel." In late July, expecting to resume duties after medical exams, Mr. Sculimbrene says he was "stunned" to learn he had been ordered to go to Chicago for a psychiatric examination. "This seemed to confirm all I had learned from White House sources about ongoing efforts to discredit me," he says. In August, Mr. Sculimbrene quit the FBI. A few weeks later, the FBI liaison office at the White House was shut down. Agents conducting background investigations now work out of an FBI field office in Washington. "That's a damn shame," Mr. Sculimbrene says. "The public is not well served by such a move. It's one thing to remove me; its another to shut down the whole office." Mr. Morrison is a Journal editorial page writer. Copyright © 1996 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.