Justice Debates A Secret Service Appeal
Sources say compromise with Starr may be possible
By Wolf Blitzer/CNN
WASHINGTON (July 8) -- Top Justice Department officials are debating whether to appeal a federal court decision forcing three Secret Service employees to appear before Independent Counsel Ken Starr's grand jury.
Several high-ranking officials are convinced they have little chance of reversing yesterday's decision by a three-judge federal appeals panel. But Secret Service Director Lou Merletti is pressing for an appeal. He is convinced presidents would be at risk if they keep their agents and officers at arm's length to protect their privacy.
However, there is preliminary talk of a revived compromise, sources say. Earlier in the investigation, Starr reportedly proposed questioning uniformed officers outside the grand jury and leaving the more elite plainclothes agents alone.
"The distinction between uniformed officers and plainclothes agents is very significant in this case and I think, in fact, that that is where the compromise has been by Judge Starr right now," says Mark Zaid, an
attorney representing former agents.
Even though the Secret Service rejected that offer, one expert says the agency may now reconsider.
"If Mr. Starr is willing to enter into a compromise, I think now the Secret Service would be willing to enter into a compromise because they have lost hands down, so a compromise would be better. And I think that is possible Mr. Starr may not want to go down in history as posing any kind of threat to presidential safety," said Georgetown University Law School professor Paul Rothstein.
Starr is investigating allegations that President Bill Clinton had a sexual relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky and urged her to lie about it under oath in a deposition for the Paula Jones sexual harassment case. Clinton has denied both allegations.
The White House says Clinton is playing no role in the Justice Department's decision whether to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.
"They did not consult with us and we did not share with them any thinking on the matter as the case develops and we're not playing any role in the decision on appeal," said White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry.
But the president's views are well known.
"At least it will have a chilling effect on, perhaps on the conversations presidents have and the work they do and the way they do it," Clinton said in May when asked about Judge Norma Holloway Johnson's ruling requiring the Secret Service to testify.
The Justice Department has a week to decide on a appeal. The president's advisers hope they will. That would buy Clinton some more time since the Supreme Court is in recess until the fall.