The Fight Over Whitewater Notes
Mrs. Clinton's petition says she is under 'partisan attack'
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, May 12) -- In petitioning the Supreme Court to protect the secrecy of Whitewater notes, Hillary Rodham Clinton once again stands at the center of prosecutor Kenneth Starr's investigation.
That's exactly how Starr has described the first lady before -- "a central figure," he called her in legal papers -- but the dispute over lawyers' notes and Mrs. Clinton's petition drives home the point again.
In her legal papers filed Monday, Mrs. Clinton painted the dispute in stark, political terms. She characterized her circumstances as "a situation where a person with official responsibilities is under partisan attack and faces investigation by Congress, administrative agencies and one or more independent counsel."
The disputed notes summarize two conversations that Mrs. Clinton had with a team of government and private lawyers. One conversation was on Jan. 26, 1996, during breaks in Mrs. Clinton's grand jury testimony that day. The second was during a July 11, 1995 meeting that Mrs. Clinton had with the team of attorneys.
Investigators want to see what, if any, light the notes might shed on Mrs. Clinton's accounts of various aspects of the tangled Whitewater affair -- if, for example, her story has changed over time.
Mrs. Clinton argues that the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling last month that the notes must be handed over disregards the compelling need for personal and governmental lawyers to consult.
Starr maintains that White House lawyers are government lawyers, that the Clintons do not have the right to use them as private attorneys and that therefore, attorney-client privilege does not apply.
The Clintons and the White House say that once subpoenas and document requests begin arriving from an official government investigation, there is an official component and the White House counsel's office needs to be involved to protect the interests of the office.
The real problem is that the Clintons' personal and official capacities have become so tangled that it's hard to find a clear line between the work of government lawyers and private lawyers in the case.
The central question: can there be an attorney-client privilege between a government lawyer and government employee in a government criminal investigation?
George Bush's White House counsel has been critical of the Clinton's use of the counsel's office. He says occasionally during the Iran-Contra investigation, the counsel's office conferred with private lawyers, but not often. And he says they never took notes, which helped avoid the precise situation the Clintons find themselves in today.
If the Supreme Court agrees to take the case, it probably will not hear it until next fall, with no ruling before in 1998. What that means is the Whitewater affair, which once looked to be winding down, will be a nagging part of the second Clinton Administration for some time to come.CNN's Claire Shipman contributed to this report.
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