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 Bowles Testifies Before Grand Jury (04-02-98)

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 Starr Investigation Costs Just Shy of $30 Million (04-01-98)

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Clinton Invokes Executive Privilege in Lewinsky Probe

graphic

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 president.

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 attorney-client privilege.

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 president.

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.

In Other News

Saturday March 21, 1998

Clinton Approval Rating Down Slightly
Clinton Invokes Executive Privilege in Lewinsky Probe


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