Appeals Court Hears Arguments On Secret Service Privilege
Tripp prepares for Tuesday grand jury testimony
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, June 26) -- The Justice Department and Independent Counsel Ken Starr presented arguments to a federal appeals court Friday on whether Secret Service employees should be compelled to testify in the investigation of President Bill Clinton's alleged involvement with Monica Lewinsky.
Meanwhile, prosecutors from Starr's office met with key witness Linda Tripp and her attorneys in advance of Tripp's testimony next Tuesday. One of her attorneys expressed surprise at the timing of Tripp's subpoena and guessed that it might be a pressure tactic by Starr toward Lewinsky.
The Justice Department's arguments as to why the Secret Service agents should not be forced to testify were met with skepticism by the three-judge panel. U.S. Appeals Court Judges Raymond Randolph, Douglas Ginsburg and Stephen Williams pressed Justice lawyer Stephen Preston about circumstances under which Secret Service employees should and should not have testify.
"This case is about the safety of the president," Preston replied, saying that Secret Service agents would be "pushed away" by a president if they could be compelled to testify about what they witnessed while protecting the chief executive.
Starr, a former solicitor general who was once a member of the same appeals court considering the case, appeared in person to present his office's arguments.
The special prosecutor repeated his assertion that existing law provides no special confidential relationship between a president and the agents and told the federal appeals court panel if the Secret Service feels so strongly that its protective agents should not be compelled to testify, they should take their case to Congress.
District Court Judge Norma Holloway Johnson last month flatly rejected the government's argument, ruling there was no legal basis for a "protective function privilege" to prevent its agents from testifying.
At issue is whether three Secret Service employees should give testimony in Starr's probe of allegations that Clinton had a sexual affair with the former White House intern and asked her to lie about it. The president has denied both charges.
The Justice Department appeal is strongly backed by officials of the Secret Service, which is an arm of the Treasury Department.
Preston was grilled by the judges on details of the Justice Department's arguments. He told them that the confidentiality the department seeks applies only to agents who are on protective duty and "proximate" to the president.
"How far away is proximate?" asked Randolph. "What if the president is in
the Rose Garden and the agent is outside the Oval office? What if the
president is in the West Wing and the agent is in the East Wing?"
Preston replied, "It's situational." Preston told the court the agents
would be covered by confidentiality only if they were in the first line of
defense of the president, whatever the distance.
Starr told the panel, "Isn't it odd the Secret Service is willing to
testify if it helps a president because they won't be pushed farther away,
but that if it's something that may hurt a president, they won't testify."
Starr said he was referring to agents' voluntary testimony in a case
involving President George Bush.
Bush has expressed support for the Secret Service agents position in the
case, while Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford have expressed doubts about it.
The three-judge panel is expected to rule in the case later this year, but,
no matter the ruling, the case is likely to end up before the Supreme
Court next year.
Starr spokesman Charles Bakaly said, "Judge Starr argued this issue before the court of appeals, and his position, as he said in open court, is that there is no such privilege that would be a hinderance to the grand jury seeking the truth. And so now the matter is in the hands of the judges, and we'll await their answer."
Attorney: Tripp testimony could be "pressure tactic" on Lewinsky
In another matter related to the Lewinsky controversy, Tripp's attorney, Anthony Zaccaginini, says he is surprised Tripp has been called to appear before Starr's grand jury next Tuesday. He said he thought she would not be called before a decision was made on immunity for Lewinsky.
The early call could be a pressure tactic directed at the Lewinsky camp, Zaccaginini said
The testimony, he told CNN, will likely happen in one of three ways: Two to three days of testimony, which he feels would not be finished next week since the grand jury is only in session Tuesday and Thursday; partial testimony Tuesday with the rest done by deposition, which would then be read to the grand jury; or a single day of testimony on Tuesday, rolled out as a pressure tactic on Lewinsky.
Meanwhile, Lewinsky headed to Los Angeles on Friday to visit her father.
An associate said the immunity talks between her lawyers and Starr were "not moving very quickly, if at all," and that Lewinsky was likely to remain in California through the July 4 holiday.
Asked how Lewinsky felt about the Tuesday scheduled grand jury testimony
of Tripp, the associate said, "How would you feel if a friend secretly
taped your most intimate conversations?"
CNN's Paul Courson, Terry Frieden and John King contributed to this report.