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Did President Clinton Try to Renounce his U.S. Citizenship?—Investigating the Presidential Scandal

The Vietnam War was one of the most contentious political issues in the United States during the 1960s and early 1970s. Anti-war protests calling for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces erupted from coast to coast and only intensified with time. The protests were led by frustrated college students who, being of the legal draft age, were the group most directly affected by the war in the United States.

Official White House photo of President Bill Clinton, President of the United States (January 1993) Bob McNeely |
Official White House photo of President Bill Clinton, President of the United States (January 1993) Bob McNeely |

Between 1964 and 1973, the U.S. military drafted 2.2 million men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six. The implementation of a draft only further reinforced the anti-war sentiment. Many young men who opposed the war viewed the draft as a death sentence, and found it unfair to be forced to fight for a cause in which they did not believe.

To avoid being drafted, some young men devised clever ways to prevent their dispatch overseas. Thousands took refuge in other countries, the most popular destination being Canada. Others purposely failed their aptitude tests or registered for the National Guard in order to avoid being drafted for a more perilous branch of the military. While young men took part in these different attempts to dodge the draft, forms of direct resistance, such as protesting, raged on in the background.

These efforts to avoid serving in Vietnam would come back to haunt some of these men years later.

A great scandal erupted soon after President Bill Clinton was elected to the presidency in 1992. It alleged that while he was completing his graduate degree at Oxford University, he attempted to renounce his U.S. citizenship in order to be deemed ineligible for the draft. The accusations went further to state that Clinton was the “first pardoned federal felon ever to serve as President of the U.S.” The claim was made believable after information surfaced that revealed that Clinton was a staunch supporter of ending the war on moral grounds, and even organized anti-war protests at Oxford.

A subsequent investigation by the State Department, however, found the claim that Clinton committed illegal acts while attempting to dodge the draft to be false. It was additionally concluded that Clinton did not try to renounce his U.S. citizenship.

Controversy arose when the State Department obtained evidence that suggested that the Bush Administration may have played a role in obtaining the President-elect’s passport files. Investigators worried that it could have been a political stunt, a last-ditch effort to tarnish the reputation of the Democratic President-elect. However, a subsequent investigation on the matter failed to turn up any compelling evidence to support this claim.

In November of 1992, the then-Inspector General of the State Department, Sherman Funk, asked Terence Shea, who was at the time working in the Security Evaluations office, to take over the investigation into the allegations surrounding Clinton. Shea then became acting Inspector General, since Funk recused himself from the investigation due to the investigation becoming “tainted.” Shea thus presided over this investigation and the subsequent injury into whether or not the White House was involved as part of a political ploy.

Earlier in his career, Shea served at the National Security Agency as well as the Head of Security for NATO.

Shea’s interview was conducted by Charles Stuart Kennedy on June 19, 2008.

Read Shea’s full oral history HERE.

Read about President Clinton’s visit to France for the 50th anniversary of of the D-Day invasion HERE.

Read about the Watergate scandal HERE.

Drafted by Sophie May

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“I want you to take over the investigation.”

Student protesters marching down Langdon Street (1965) uwdigitalcollections |
Student protesters marching down Langdon Street (1965) uwdigitalcollections |

Thrown in the Deep End: Okay, it started in November 1992. I was going to be forced to retire in July of 1993 because of age and I was staying in because my financial advisor said I had to get them to throw me out so that I could get the lump sum payment.

So in November there was a problem going on in the IG’s (Inspector General) Office, a lot of activity, and I didn’t know what was going on. The legal advisor was a guy by the name of John Duncan. I was talking to him in the hallway one time and he said, “You don’t want to know.” So all this flurry of stuff was going on and going on and suddenly Sherman Funk (Inspector General) calls me in and he said, “I have to ask you to do something.” And I said, “What do you want me to do?” And he said, “I can’t go into this in detail because it is tainted, but I want you to take over the investigation.” I said, “The investigation?” And he said, “Yes, we are doing an investigation on the Clinton passport file, and because of some things that have occurred we are all tainted, the people who have done it,” and he said, “I would like you to take it off. We will screen the material we can give you that is not tainted and you can run this entire investigation.”

Q: When you say, “tainted,” what is it?

SHEA: Tainted means they did something that could be under question or illegal or not right or they cannot continue with the investigation because they were trying to figure out if some facts of the investigation were legal. So I said to Sherman in November 1992, “You want me to investigate the Clinton passport file, whether he gave up his citizenship?” And he said, “That’s right.” I said, “Are you out of your mind? I’m going to retire in July, I don’t want to do this investigation; this is going to be wild.” He said, “You gotta do it.” I said, “Sherman, please.” And he said, “How’s that MC?” or something like that. (Laughter) So I said, “Okay, I’ll take the investigation over.” So I selected a team and we ran the investigation throughout October and November on the Clinton passport file. The story was someone came in and said they wanted his file, and one of the political appointees in the Department, Tamposi [Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs], got the file.

Q: She was the head of political affairs, a very political lady from New Hampshire.

SHEA: Correct. So she got the file and brought it home. Then, we don’t know what happened, so we had to run this entire investigation and we had to talk to the Department. I was the acting Inspector General for the time of that investigation because Sherman Funk and everybody else had to recuse themselves. So I led this investigation right before the election in October and November. And I had investigators, I had people going to the White House, and I had people overseas running this investigation to see if it was done appropriately and whether there were any abuses of procedure. We worked every day; I was getting calls on weekends and on Thanksgiving Day. It was just a terrible time and it ultimately came out that Clinton had not given up his passport when he was in London where they thought he was demonstrating. They had looked at his passport; we weren’t sure who had the file. They also looked at Ross Perot’s passport and did all these things and procedures and everything else. The ultimate conclusion was that the professionals in the Department had done everything pretty well, but there were some other problems. There was a technical problem in the first investigation, which I didn’t know about when all of this was going on. We were getting Congressional letters from the Hill about whether he renounced his citizenship or not and that’s what made us go out to do it. And there were requests under the Freedom of Information Act, and other stuff going on. It was a very complex investigation.

Q: In a way it is hard to see how it would be complex because how I understand it, it is a big deal to renounce your citizenship [with] a Consular Officer.

SHEA: I know.

Q: I mean, you just don’t write in. And people were not writing in renouncing their citizenship. It didn’t make sense to me.

SHEA: No, it was a political thing.

“We were trying to find out whether the White House was orchestrating this inquiry so that they could make the election.”

Political Games:
Q: It was a political thing because Clinton was opposed to the war. He demonstrated, God knows; the whole generation did.

SHEA: And he was way ahead in the polls.

Q: And then I thought it was sort of one of these overnight things where Betty Tamposi said, “Hey, let’s go down and take a look at the files. And if you don’t find the letter you don’t find the letter.” It was a fishing trip and I would have thought that would have ended it.

SHEA: Well, it was political, and then we were trying to find out if the White House was involved in it because one of the things the investigation turned up was that there were calls to the White House from Tamposi. We were trying to find out whether the White House was orchestrating this inquiry so that they could make the election. We never found out if there was any White House involvement, although some people said Tutwiler got the calls. And when we talked to her, I have to admire her only in the sense that she said that we were on record, she said, “We didn’t get any calls and we’ve destroyed all the records anyway on advice and we don’t keep the records that long.” She was very good on how she did it. We were never able to find any White House involvement. There was political interest from Stephen Barrie, who at that time was a State Department guy acting as Assistant Secretary for Political Affairs. His involvement kind of made it a political football. Tamposi left and he left and then he sued the Department, which I will get into later. The Department generally worked okay; people did object and there were some administrative glitches but generally it was all right.

Q: When Larry Eagleburger found out about it he blew his top.

SHEA: Eagleburger is another person I admire very much. He did a great job sending us down to Cuba to protect the head of the Liaison Office. He really got upset about this thing. He let us go and we could do whatever we wanted to do. What happened with our investigation when it came up, and we took statements; we did everything… There is a report out now with the day-to-day about all the action that went on: people calling us at home, people harassing us, the press waiting for this report. So we put the report out.

“There is my father screaming and yelling at some news reporter.”

The Pestering Press:
Q: What’s the report called?

SHEA: Special Inquiry into the Search and Retrieval of William Clinton’s Passport Files, Office of the Inspector General, dated November 18, 1992. Sherman Funk wrote a cover memorandum and I wrote my memorandum sending him the report saying, “Attached is the subject report,” that is my statement. Anyway, it was just a terrible situation. For some reason we sent it down to the Justice Department for a special inquiry and they decided because, basically what I understood for political reasons, to give it for another special inquiry. So they do an investigation of the investigation.

And when we gave this report in, Sherman Funk came down for the press conference and I was sitting there; it was on CBS News in the Department of State. Sherman Funk is giving the report to the press; the room was packed. Sherman Funk gets into a little bit of a problem; he is not sure of some of the facts and somebody says to me, “Don’t give him to the legal advisor; you got to help Sherman out.” I said, “Are you out of your mind?” They say, “You got to help Sherman out.” Sherman looks at me. I say, “Okay.” He says, “Here is Terry Shea, he did the investigation.” Okay, I am on CBS. “Question: Did you try to find out if this went to the White House?” I said, “Yes, we did.” “Question: Is this investigation closed?” I said, “The investigation is closed for now and it is finished, but we can always open it up.” “Question: Do you think Tutwiler or the White House is involved?” I said, “Well, we checked everything out and we were unable to prove anything.” “Question: Well, don’t you think the theory is that they could have done that or this?” I said, “Look, you may deal in theories but I deal in facts and I am unable to prove anything without the facts. Beside that, we are not a bunch of keystone cops running around and stumbling and making mistakes. We are trying to do this in a professional manner and I am not going to sit here and talk about hypothetical questions like that from you all.” My daughter is in California looking at the CBS news and says, “There is my father screaming and yelling at some news reporter.” So I was on the evening news that night giving the press hell. I got some letters from people saying it is about time someone told the press. So that ended that.

Then it went to the special prosecutor. Then Stephen Barrie, who was also terminated, sues the Department saying Eagleburger dumped him illegally. Okay, so we got an independent investigator doing an investigation of our investigation and into the results. And for seven years that went on. I don’t know the legal reason, but we couldn’t use names; we couldn’t just use State Department employees. They had to list names, so they listed Sherman Funk and former deputy Rocky Souder, they listed all these names and at the end they put my name. God knows why, because they thought I knew what was going on and fortunately I didn’t. So we had to turn in all our stuff to the FBI for the investigation. The FBI came to me and said, “We need all your notes.” I said, “What notes?” They said, “Well, you have got to take notes.” And I said, “I was coordinating an investigation of 15 people and trying to get it done within three weeks; I don’t take notes.” The guy said, “We in the Bureau have to take notes.” And I said, “Well, I am not in the Bureau and I didn’t take notes.” So anyway the whole investigation goes on for seven years.

“As long as you operate within the scope of your authority, Shea, we will provide you defense.”

Reporters Holding Cameras |
Reporters Holding Cameras |

Justice Department vs. State Department:
Q: This is one of these incredible things. You get the special prosecutor, and you know they keep going, and all one can think about is whether this is a boondoggle on the part of the special prosecutor and his or her staff, and nothing ever comes of it.

SHEA: What came of this is kind of interesting. According to legal minds I cannot comment on, it was very questionable whether it should have ever gone to a special prosecutor. For some reason the attorney general at that time thought it should and it did. So four or five years later I am getting suit papers. And then the Department, Barrie, sues us all. The Department of State was really wonderful. They said, “As long as you operate within the scope of your authority, Shea, we will provide you defense.” But of course during that time the IG and the Operations Center were at odds. So they couldn’t agree on a lot of stuff and so we couldn’t have this defense. So what they did was they went out and allowed us to hire independent law firms. So just before that happened, I get called down to see the special prosecutor. He said, “You know, you led this investigation.” I said, “Yes.” He said, “We understand you didn’t want it.” I said, “Yes.” He asked, “Why didn’t you want it?” I said, “You got to be kidding, where am I now?” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Seven years. It would be either said by the Democrats that I was trying to get rid of them if I found something bad or by the Republicans that it was a cover up and I would end up talking to a committee or someone like you.” And they were very critical of Sherman Funk because he kept coming in and talking and he had recused himself. They said, “We understand you threatened to resign. Why?” I said, “Well, if I had been Sherman Funk, I would have said, ‘Okay, Terry Shea, take the case. Go in and shut my door, and when it is over and if it’s a good report I say, “Well, I picked this guy,” and if it is a lousy report, I say, “He screwed up.”’ But Sherman didn’t do that. And I said, “I knew Sherman would do nothing to jeopardize this report.” So it was like somebody once said, like a choir off singing in the background, what Sherman was doing didn’t bother me. However, I said I didn’t resign and I kept working. They asked, “Why didn’t you just tell him?” I said, “Well, if I told him to stay away, he was going to take it over again and I didn’t think that was correct.” And they said, “How can he do that?” And I said, “The Justice Department was supposed to give me a letter saying that I was the acting inspector general and you never got around to it. The only word I had was what Sherman Funk told me, that you are the acting.” And they said, “Why did you do this?” And I said, “Seven years later I don’t need you to tell me how I have to run this investigation.” They said, “Well, why did you do it?” I said, “The Secretary of State asked me to do it.” So I had this rather contentious issue.

This seven hundred-page booklet comes out criticizing Sherman Funk by the special prosecutor. And in it [it] says Funk gave the case to Terence J. Shea, who conducted the inquiry period. That is all it said about me, nothing else. See, they thought I knew what the first team had done and when I talked to my new attorney, he said, “There may be things you don’t want to talk about.” And I said “Well, for three-quarters of my life I don’t want to talk about my professional career. This is one time I can tell you everything; this is the one time I did everything right.” (Laughter) And now they are thinking I knew about this telephone conversation, whatever it was on; I knew nothing about it. “Question: didn’t you read the papers?” I said, “No, I didn’t read the papers.” And so that was the end of that case.

Q: I mean the amount of money that is spent on these special prosecutors.

SHEA: This was a small amount but it was a lot of money.

Q: And it is the sort of thing one could have taken care of by disciplinary action.

SHEA: Yeah, that was just it. Generally, the professionals in the Department of State performed pretty well. I didn’t have any problem with that. It went on for seven years, and I ended up with a law firm, and we all ended up with big time attorneys. But in that time the Department performed wonderfully. Ultimately, they paid off some kind of settlement and admitted nothing. Barrie came from Jesse Helms’ office when he came to work for us, so he went back there. When we got the big time attorneys the case was closed within about three months and it had gone on a long time. So that was my case.


BA in Liberal Arts, Georgetown University 1948–1952
Georgetown Institute of Language and Linguistics, Russian 1953–1954
Joined the Foreign Service 
National Security Agency—1958–1962
State Department—Assistant Special Agent 1962
Brussels, Belgium—Head of Security for NATO 1988
Security Evaluations Office 1988–1993