Reno Considers 'New Privilege' Request In President-Secret Service Relationship
By Pierre Thomas/CNN
WASHINGTON (Feb. 19) -- Attorney General Janet Reno is reviewing a draft proposal which would create a new privilege to keep Secret Service agents from having to testify about those they protect, particularly the president of the United States, sources familiar with the Justice Department's deliberations told CNN.
In what could set up a confrontation with Independent Counsel Ken Starr, a number of senior officials from the departments of Treasury and Justice have concluded the Secret Service has a unique relationship with the president which is of similar nature to that enjoyed by attorneys and clients, and doctors and patients.
If the independent counsel calls members of the Secret Service to testify, the Justice Department would seek to block their appearances based on a claim of privilege. This would likely have to be litigated, perhaps eventually before the Supreme Court.
Confidentiality is a critical factor in the Secret Service's ability to maintain the extraordinarily close relationship needed to protect the president, advocates of the draft proposal say. Any erosion of confidentiality could jeopardize the president's safety and, as a result, national security, advocates say.
The Justice Department last week agreed to allow former Uniform Division Secret Service officer Lewis Fox to testify before Starr's grand jury. The Justice Department maintained the Fox decision was specific to him only. Sources said privately his testimony was a moot issue because he had already made statements to the media.
While Reno has made no final decision, a number of sources said the draft proposal has emerged as the dominant option within the Justice Department. However, Reno may amend the proposal.
"Everybody is in agreement that there needs to be a privilege for the Secret Service, the question is how narrow it should be," said one senior law enforcement official.