Secret Service Must Testify, Appeals Court Rules
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, July 7) -- A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that three Secret Service employees must testify before Independent Counsel Ken Starr's grand jury investigating the relationship between Monica Lewinsky and President Bill Clinton.
| Here is the full text of the panel's 11-page decision, in .jpg format, pages: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11|
The three-judge appeals court ruled that while there may be legal forums where the Secret Service might not be forced to testify, they upheld Judge Norma Holloway Johnson's ruling the employees must answer questions on the Lewinsky matter for Starr.
The Secret Service and the Justice Department had argued that the employees were shielded from testifying under a "protective function" privilege. Tuesday's ruling stated that such a privilege must first be defined by Congress.
"We leave to the Congress the question of whether a protective function is appropriate in order to ensure the safety of the president, and, if so, what the contours of that privilege" should be, the court said.
The judges also rejected the administration's argument that forcing Secret Service agents to testify would increase the risk of assassination by encouraging a president to keep his protectors at arm's length.
"We do not think, however, that the Secret Service has shown with compelling clarity that failure to recognize the proposed privilege will jeopardize the ability of the Secret Service effectively to protect the president," the ruling said.
The decision is a victory for Starr, who is looking into reports that Clinton had a sexual relationship with Lewinsky, a former White House intern, and encouraged her to lie about it under oath in the Paula Jones case. Clinton has denied both accusations.
Starr issued a statement Tuesday saying he was gratified by the appeals court ruling.
"It is fundamental in our country that all law enforcement officers cooperate fully in responding to requests for relevant information in a federal grand jury investigation," Starr said. "The Court of Appeals today reaffirmed that bedrock principle, emphasizing that the rule of law is not incompatible with the profound national interest in protecting the life of the president.
"We trust the Secret Service will now join us in helping the grand jury gather information that is relevant to this investigation," Starr said.
The Justice Department and Starr presented arguments to the federal appeals court last month, after Starr's request that the Supreme Court decide the appeal was denied.
U.S. Appeals Court Judges Raymond Randolph, Douglas Ginsburg and Stephen William, all Republican appointees, sat on the panel that heard the Secret Service arguments.
The Secret Service is consulting with the Justice and Treasury Departments about whether to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, but no decision has yet been made, CNN has learned.
When the Supreme Court declined to hear Starr's expedited appeal for testimony by Secret Service personnel, the court noted that it expected the lower Circuit Court to act "expeditiously." That amounted to tacit recognition by Supreme Court justices that they expected to see the case reappear on their docket.
If the Treasury Department appeals Tuesday's lower court ruling, the petition for argument before the Supreme Court could be addressed at the court's next conference session at the end of September.
The justices could then grant expedited consideration during their fall term which begins on the first Monday in October. The case could also wait its turn in the order which cases are granted hearings.