Previously secret Clinton White House documents released

(CNN) -- A new look at the inner workings of the Clinton White House emerged Friday, with the National Archives and Records Administration releasing a first batch of confidential memos and papers.


Some 4,000 to 5,000 pages of documents came out shortly after 1 p.m. ET.


Heavy demand appeared to disable the website of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library for some users in the first minutes after the documents were released.


The papers cover topics including the office of former first lady Hillary Clinton, now considered the overwhelming favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, if she decides to run.


Other topics in the initial release at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock as well as on the library's website, will involve the Clinton administration's initial response to al Qaeda years before the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.


Correspondence and other documents related to Mrs. Clinton's failed effort to overhaul the health care system are also included, according to the National Archives.


One potentially intriguing subject will be a Freedom of Information Act request involving the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands.


Additional FOIA cases include Hillary Clinton on Children's Issues and Women's Rights, Hillary Clinton on Microcredit and Microdevelopment, and one on Lissa Muscatine, who was a speechwriter and communications director for the the former first lady.


With the potential for politically volatile details in the documents, groups trying to bolster or harm Hillary Clinton's possible presidential ambitions made clear they will be having a look.


America Rising, a pro-Republican opposition research shop told CNN that \"we'll be poring through them,\" with a person on ground in Arkansas for that purpose. Correct the Record, a pro-Democratic group with deep ties to the Clinton family, also told CNN it would have a team going over the new information.


In total, approximately 25,000 pages of new documents, including confidential communications between President Bill Clinton and his top advisers, will be released over the next two weeks. Under the Presidential Records Act of 1978, they became eligible for release in January 2013, 12 years after Clinton's presidency ended.


\"When those restrictions expired, NARA then provided notification of our intent to disclose these Presidential records to the representatives of President Obama and former President Clinton in accordance with Executive Order 13489, so that they may conduct a privilege review of the records,\" the National Archives said in a written statement. \"As they complete their review, NARA is able to make the records available.\"


An additional 8,000 pages are undergoing a further month-long review per a directive from the White House and will not be available for release prior to March 26. The documents in question were part of files that had been requested for public release over the years under the Freedom of Information Act, but were withheld due to their sensitive nature.


While the Presidential Records Act established public ownership of White House documents as far back as the Reagan Administration, it defined six categories of records that could be withheld for the 12-year period. They include classified national security information, confidential business information and trade secrets, and unwarranted invasions of personal privacy.


The 33,000 pages of documents pertaining to federal appointments and confidential communications, so-called \"P2\" and \"P5\" exemptions, also fall under the 12-year protection of the act.


After the 12-year mark from the end of a presidential administration, the records are subject to the same restrictions as spelled out in the Freedom of Information Act, with one key exception. Congress excluded presidential records from exemptions based on executive privilege.


However, since the passage of the law, Presidents Reagan, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have each issued executive orders clarifying the process under which an incumbent president or former president could assert executive privilege to prevent the release of documents.


The upcoming releases will not be the first from the Clinton archives. The library routinely releases records in response to FOIA requests, although a sizable backlog exists.


Records were also released during the Supreme Court nomination of Elena Kagan, who worked as a White House lawyer during the Clinton administration, and also as a result of ongoing legal action from the conservative group Judicial Watch.


Interest in the often unglamorous world of archival research has spiked due to the possible presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton, a former U.S. senator from New York and secretary of state in Obama's first term.


Earlier this month, an article by the Washington Free Beacon on the papers of the former first lady's close friend Diane Blair lead to increased scrutiny of the special collection housed at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.


CNN's Dan Merica and Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report. 

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