Clinton Invokes Executive Privilege in Lewinsky Probe
From White House Correspondent John King
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, March 21) -- President Clinton has
invoked executive privilege in an effort to limit the
questioning of two top aides in the Monica Lewinsky criminal
investigation, CNN has learned. The showdown could come to
loggerheads again this coming week.
According to a lawyer familiar with the investigation, White
House attorneys have filed legal briefs formally invoking
privilege. The briefs assert that aides cannot be compelled
to testify about their private, strategic conversations with
The source said Independent Counsel Ken Starr is vehemently
objecting to the White House position, and filed court papers
of his own asking the judge overseeing the Lewinsky grand
jury to compel White House aides Bruce Lindsey and Sidney
Blumenthal to answer questions.
Judge Norma Holloway Johnson held a hearing on the matter
Friday but did not issue a ruling. If the losing side
appeals her decision, it could delay the investigation for
months or more as the issue is challenged, perhaps even
reaching the Supreme Court.
The fight could surface again next week. Sources tell CNN
that White House Deputy Chief of Staff John Podesta is likely
to be recalled before the grand jury on Tuesday or Wednesday
and he, too, declined in previous testimony to answer certain
questions about his conversations with Clinton.
Podesta directs the White House damage-control operation on a
day-to-day basis, and Blumenthal is a communications aide
involved in the strategy.
Starr most interested in Lindsey testimony
But Lindsey is the witness Starr is most interested in,
because he is Clinton's closest friend in the White House and
his must trusted political confidant.
Although Lindsey does no formal legal work for the White
House, he is an attorney and has the title of deputy White
House counsel. The White House asserts that some of his
conversations with the president are protected by
White House officials and Starr's office declined public
comment on the matter, following the judge's order to keep
the proceedings secret.
Administration sources have acknowledged the risk of invoking
privilege: It could be compared with tactics used by the
Nixon White House in trying to cover up the Watergate
scandal. But the sources say White House counsel Charles Ruff
is adamant about defending the confidentiality of talks on
strategy involving the president.
Most constitutional scholars doubt the White House can win
any such blanket ruling. They say it will be difficult to
argue that conversations about the president's relationship
with Lewinsky -- and dealing with the inquiries about the
relationship -- constitute sensitive official duties of the
Also, courts have traditionally carved exceptions to
privilege claims in cases where a prosecutor can demonstrate
a compelling need for certain testimony.
New developments in Jones, Willey cases
Meanwhile, in the Paula Jones case, Clinton attorney Bob
Bennett has filed a motion for summary judgment in Little
Rock, Arkansas, arguing that Jones' case lacks any evidence
to support her sexual harassment or employment discrimination
claims against the president.
And in the case of former White House volunteer Kathleen
Willey, Bennett released additional sworn testimony in which
she acknowledged that her job opportunities did not suffer as
a result of an alleged 1993 episode with Clinton.
Bennett said the testimony shows Willey is not relevant to
the Jones case. Keeping Willey off the stand would not only
deny the Jones team a witness to suggest a pattern of sexual
misconduct, it would also deny her another opportunity to
tell a story that could damage the president politically.
White House aides say they are confident that Jones has a
weak legal case. But some worry that the spectacle of a
president on trial will be a political nightmare, even if
Clinton wins in the end.