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GOP Leaders: Invoking Executive Privilege A Mistake

Clinton
Clinton  

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, March 22) -- Two Republican congressional leaders said Sunday that President Bill Clinton's intention to invoke executive privilege in independent counsel Ken Starr's probe is a mistake.

"Surely they understand it's not going to be well-received," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott told NBC's "Meet the Press." "I think it will damage (their) credibility. It looks like they are hiding something."

"Use of that is reserved just for national security or clearly national interest issues when there's a conversation between the president and his aides, but in this case, for instance, (White House aide) Sidney Blumenthal is not even an attorney. He can't even say there's an attorney-client relationship," Lott said.

House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, appearing on CNN's "Late Edition," agreed, saying the prospect of executive privilege "gravely concerned" him.

"What have they got to hide if they're asking for executive privilege? Executive privilege is reserved for national security issues, not for personal conduct," the Texas Republican said. "The consequences that are coming out of this will be permanent consequences in denigrating the office of the presidency."

Lott
Lott  

Starr wants to compel Blumenthal and White House aide Bruce Lindsey to answer questions in the Monica Lewinsky investigation. Briefs formally invoking executive privilege claim that aides cannot be compelled to testify about their private, strategic conversations with the president.

Starr is said to be fighting the use of executive privilege in his investigation of whether the president or his aides urged former White House intern Lewinsky to lie about a possible relationship with Clinton. The president has denied any wrongdoing.

Executive privilege was designed to ensure the president could enjoy free and frank exchanges with close aides, but federal courts have often limited its use solely to discussions of national security issues.

President Richard Nixon unsuccessfully tried to use it in 1974 during the Watergate scandal.

Lott said he believes that Clinton, if subpoenaed, would refuse to testify before the grand jury.

Lott was more subdued on the question of impeachment, calling current talk of that "speculative." However, he said, current polls showing that the president has a high approval rating should have no bearing on Starr's final report, and what action it might prompt.

"I don't think you should proceed on questions of polls or political will. I think you need to do what is right and is called for," Lott said.

Democrat criticizes plan to examine Starr's evidence

Meanwhile, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Massachusetts, said Sunday that a proposal to establish a bipartisan delegation to secretly examine the results of Starr's investigation, then report to the House Judiciary Committee, is a bad idea.

Frank, appearing on CBS' "Face The Nation," said the proposal "implicitly" concedes that there will be no impeachment proceedings and is a "device" for the GOP to avoid admitting failure.

"The fact is that these efforts are a way to avoid the Republican leadership, specifically (House) Speaker (Newt) Gingrich, from getting blamed by the right wing. Nobody wants to give the right wing the bad news that there will be no action taken against Bill Clinton," said Frank.

Frank said if there were a case for impeachment, the Judiciary Committee is equipped to consider any evidence.

"The Judiciary Committee's in existence. There's a procedure for impeachment that's been used before," he said.

DeLay
DeLay  

However, DeLay said such a delegation could look at what evidence Starr may have in a "nonpartisan" way.

"Maybe we ought to level our heads ... look at something objectively in a nonpartisan way, to look at the case that Ken Starr may have before it goes to the Judiciary Committee, and I support that," he said.

But Frank questioned just how "secret" a delegation comprised of lawmakers would be.

"If you had some information of a highly interesting nature that you wanted to keep secret, how high on your list of ways to keep a secret would be sending a bunch of congressmen to read it," he said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

In Other News

Sunday March 22, 1998

GOP Leaders: Invoking Executive Privilege A Mistake





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