White House Says Clinton Needs Attorney-Client Privilege For Impeachment Fight
Starr explores 'inconsistencies' about gifts
By Bob Franken/CNN
WASHINGTON (Aug. 21) -- In a strongly worded motion filed with the Supreme Court, the Clinton Administration Friday asked the justices to grant attorney-client privilege to White House lawyers dealing with President Bill Clinton, in part because of a predicted impeachment battle in Congress.
Arguing that those attorneys should have the same confidentiality private
lawyers enjoy, the White House cited Independent Counsel Ken Starr's plans to
"refer any evidence of potentially impeachable evidence directly to Congress."
In July the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld Judge Norma Holloway Johnson's decision that White House lawyers did not enjoy a privilege with the president while discussing private legal issues, such as the Monica Lewinsky investigation.
"We now stand upon the brink of the most serious confrontation between
branches of our government contemplated in our constitutional order," the administration argued. "The president's need for confidential consultations with White House counsel in preparation for proceedings designed to remove him from office can scarcely be questioned."
Accompanying the Supreme Court motion was a statement from White House counsel Charles Ruff saying "...this position is firmly rooted in legal
precedent and ultimately serves the public interest by ensuring fully-informed
and accurate decision-making through frank and candid conversations between
government officials and lawyers."
Judge Johnson's initial ruling dealt with the grand jury testimony of presidential confidant and White House Deputy Counsel Bruce Lindsey. Lindsey had refused to answer Starr's questions about his conversations with the president. Starr subsequently subpoenaed Lanny Breuer, also a member of White House counsel's office.
Lewinsky's second appearance focuses on gifts
Meanwhile, CNN has learned that much of Lewinsky's second appearance before the federal grand jury this week involved "inconsistencies" between her testimony and the president's. Prosecutors were specifically interested in Lewinsky's account of the gifts Clinton gave her, sources say.
|Monica Lewinsky arrives at the federal courthouse Thursday for her second day of testimony before the grand jury.|| |
The differences might seem small, but they could be critical in Starr's possible construction of an "obstruction of justice" case against the president.
By now, no one disputes that Clinton gave Lewinsky small presents, including a book of poetry and a T-shirt. And no one disputes that the president talked about them with Lewinsky after the items were subpoenaed by Paula Jones' attorneys.
But at that point, the stories of the president and the former White House intern have subtle differences.
Lewinsky testified that the president told her she didn't need to turn over the gifts if she didn't "have them," sources say.
The president testified he told Lewinsky she would have to turn over gifts that remained in her possession.
Was he suggesting she should get rid of them? Legal experts say that discrepancy alone is probably too vague to constitute obstruction.
But they say the standard the president suggests goes too far.
"At no time did I ask anyone to lie, to hide or destroy evidence or to take any other unlawful action," Clinton said in his public confession Monday night.
So what may be most legally significant is what happened next.
Did the president take actions on the gifts?
Lewinsky testified that the day after her discussion with Clinton, his secretary, Betty Currie, called her and said, "I hear you have something for me." Later that day, according to Lewinsky, Currie arrived at Lewinsky's Watergate apartment to retrieve them.
Essential to a possible obstruction of justice case is proof of an intent to obstruct. That is a tough standard. The independent counsel is trying to determine whether the president's actions, combined with his words, meet that standard.