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 TIME on politics Congressional Quarterly CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and Congressional Quarterly

White House loses on privilege, Secret Service testimony

Ruff expresses disappointment with privilege ruling

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, November 9) -- In a two-pronged setback for the Clinton Administration, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected a claim of White House attorney-client privilege and refused to shield Secret Service officers from testifying about the president.

Lindsey, Clinton

The court declined to hear appeals from the White House and Treasury Department, letting lower court rulings in the two cases stand.

In the privilege case, the decision means that White House lawyer Bruce Lindsey and other government-paid lawyers must answer a federal grand jury's questions and cannot invoke an attorney-client privilege like President Bill Clinton's personal attorneys.

A federal appeals court panel ruled last July that Lindsey could not invoke the privilege "to withhold information relating to a federal criminal offense."

Lindsey appeared before Independent Counsel Ken Starr's grand jury four times during the Monica Lewinsky investigation, refusing to answer some questions each time.

The ruling could allow Starr to question Lindsey again about conversations with the president to gather additional evidence. The White House could, however, attempt to shield Lindsey by invoking the separate issue of executive privilege.

Starr's office, reacting to the high court's ruling, said the Clinton Administration had "substantially delayed and impeded the grand jury's right to evidence" by invoking various privileges, including the attorney-client claim.

In the Secret Service case, the ruling means people protecting Clinton cannot invoke a so-called "protective function privilege" and refuse to answer grand jury questions. More than a dozen Secret Service personnel testified during Starr's probe.

That case could be largely moot now, since Starr has already sent his findings on the Lewinsky investigation including the Secret Service testimony, to Congress, which is beginning its impeachment inquiry.

Both appeals were rejected on 7-2 votes. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, the only two Clinton appointees on the court, voted to grant review to both administration appeals.

The White House expressed disappointment at the ruling against government attorney-client privilege.

"We are disappointed by the Supreme Court's decision not to review the D.C. Circuit's ruling that government officials do not have the right to have confidential communications with government attorneys about official business," White House Counsel Charles Ruff said in a statement.

"We continue to believe that the attorney client privilege should protect conversations between government officials and government attorneys. The American people benefit from decisions made by government officials, including the President, on the basis of full and frank information and discussion," Ruff said.

The cases are Office of the President vs. Office of Independent Counsel, 98-316, and Rubin vs. U.S., 98-93.

CNN's Charles Bierbauer and Wolf Blitzer contributed to this report.

Investigating the President


Monday, November 9, 1998

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