Clinton All But Certain To Not Voluntarily Testify In Lewinsky Case
From CNN White House Correspondent John King
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, May 31) -- Several sources familiar
with White House legal strategy told CNN it is all but
certain that President Bill Clinton will not voluntarily
submit to questioning by Independent Counsel Ken Starr in the
Monica Lewinsky investigation.
But these sources insist no final decision has been made --
or communicated to Starr's office.
Separately, these sources say the White House legal team is
inclined to oppose Starr's request for an expedited Supreme
Court review of the executive privilege issue, and urge that
the debate go next to the Court of Appeals for the District
of Columbia. But they said the final decision on this
high-stakes legal showdown would be made Monday, before a
late afternoon Supreme Court deadline.
On the question of Clinton's testimony, sources tell CNN that
presidential lawyer David Kendall as recently as last week
resisted efforts by Starr's office to question the president
under oath about his relationship with Lewinsky.
Starr is trying to determine if Clinton and Lewinsky had a
sexual relationship, and, if so, whether the president asked
Lewinsky to lie about it.
Clinton's legal advisers were described as unanimous in the
view that it would be foolhardy to have the president
voluntarily submit to questioning by a prosecutor they view
as politically biased. And political advisers, who have a
lesser say in this debate, are less and less nervous about
how such a refusal would play out in the court of public
opinion, citing polls showing that much of the American
public views Starr's investigation as politically
Possibility Starr could subpoena Clinton
Two of the sources forcefully disputed a Time magazine report
that a final decision against testifying had been made,
however. They said there was no need to make such a decision
now, as the investigation continued, and also noted that
giving a definitive rejection to Starr now would allow him
take steps designed to force or pressure the president to
One of the sources said: "I don't see a scenario under which
he testifies, no, but we don't have to make that decision
now. It's hard to see the legal or political environment
changing the calculation, but you put that in stone only when
you have to. And we do not have to today."
Starr deputy Charles Bakaly said Sunday that the Office of
the Independent Counsel had not ruled out issuing a subpoena
for Clinton's testimony, although he acknowledged doing so
would put Starr on shaky legal ground. Most legal experts say
the courts cannot enforce a subpoena against a sitting
president because of the separation of powers.
Still, Bakaly said on ABC: "The American people are
entitled to the facts. The grand jury is entitled to the
facts. That is our job -- to get the facts and we are going
to do everything we can to get the facts."
Bakaly also said Starr was considering making an interim
report to Congress while some of the legal debates with the
White House over executive privilege, Secret Service
testimony and other issues play out in the courts.
This statement is significant because the law creating the
independent counsel requires reports to Congress only if the
prosecutor believes he has credible evidence of impeachable
In search of a friendly court
Starr won the executive privilege fight at the District Court
level; a judge ruled that conversations between a president
and top aides can be shielded by executive privilege but that
in this case Starr's investigatory need for the information
outweighs the privilege.
The White House wants to appeal to the U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals for the District of Columbia. Starr is asking the
Supreme Court to take the middle court out of the process and
hear the case immediately.
White House lawyers met again Sunday to debate their course,
and all signs pointed to opposing the Starr request. Several
sources described White House counsel Charles Ruff as adamant
that the case should go to the Circuit Court next, on
protocol grounds, and, the sources said, because Ruff and
others on the White House legal team believe the D.C. Circuit
Court will be more sympathetic to privilege questions because
its caseload is dominated by government-related issues.
The Supreme Court took the rare step of granting an expedited
review in the Watergate-era debate over executive privilege.
But in one draft of the White House response, Clinton's
lawyers were making the argument that back then, there were
pending criminal trials and impeachment proceedings that
justified the urgency of skipping the appeals court and going
immediately to the high court.