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Bush Backs Clinton on Starr Request

April 23, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Former President George Bush jumped unexpectedly behind Secret Service efforts to keep agents from testifying about what they saw while protecting President Clinton. The nation’s largest women’s group, however, stayed out of the fray and decided not to support Paula Jones’ lawsuit.

Just days after toying with the idea, the National Organization for Women announced it would not file a court brief in support of Mrs. Jones’ effort to reinstate her sexual harassment civil suit against Clinton.

NOW President Patricia Ireland said the group’s national board and local chapters were overwhelmingly against filing a friend-of-the-court brief because the ``highly charged political″ lawsuit should not be used as a test case on sexual harassment and the group did not want to take sides with Jones’ right-wing legal and financial backers.

``The disreputable right-wing organizations and individuals advancing her cause...have a long-standing political interest in undermining our movement to strengthen women’s rights and weakening the laws that protect those rights,″ Ms. Ireland said at a news conference.

The conservative Rutherford Institute, which is financing legal expenses for Mrs. Jones, and her spokeswoman Susan Carpenter McMillan ``are using this case to advance their own political agendas,″ she said.

In Los Angeles, John Whitehead, president of the institute, said: ``I think it’s disheartening to see that NOW is willing to sacrifice a woman’s right to be safe from sexual encounters in the workplace upon the altar of a political agenda,″ he said.

``They have demeaned and humiliated a woman who seeks to make her case to the jury _ and that’s Paula Jones,″ Whitehead said, ``because of their hard-line opposition to pro-life groups and individuals and because they don’t want to be seen as not siding or being in opposition to the president of the United States.″

Meanwhile, Bush wrote a personal letter to Secret Service Director Lewis C. Merletti in which he said that the trust between agents and the people they protect would be damaged if the agents were compelled to testify about what they might have seen or heard while on duty.

The Clinton administration made the letter part of its sealed court filing seeking to stop Kenneth Starr’s Whitewater prosecutors from questioning Secret Service agents, sources familiar with the filing said.

Prosecutors want to ask Secret Service agents protecting the president what they observed in an apparent effort to obtain information about Clinton’s relationship with former intern Monica Lewinsky. Clinton has denied allegations that he had an affair with Lewinsky and asked her to lie about it.

The CBS Evening News said Secret Service subpoenas went to officers Gary Byrne and Brian Henderson. It quoted sources as saying that Byrne once wrote Clinton’s deputy staff chief, Evelyn Lieberman, warning her about Ms. Lewinsky’s behavior.

Lieberman was so concerned, the sources said, that she called Byrne at home, and asked for a meeting. The next day, Ms. Lewinsky was transferred from the White House to the Pentagon, CBS said. Lieberman, no longer a member of Clinton’s staff, testified before the grand jury earlier this year.

The prosecutors said in their court motion that officer Henderson has refused to identify other officers who ``may have witnessed the president in a romantic situation or engaged in a sexual act,″ CBS said.

Bush’s office would not release his letter, but excerpts leaked out.

``If that confidence evaporates, the agents ...cannot properly protect the president,″ MSNBC quoted Bush’s letter as saying.

In making the move, Bush is giving a boost to the man who ousted him from the White House in 1992 and putting himself at odds with Starr, his former solicitor general at the Justice Department, who now is the Whitewater independent counsel.

``That may be the case, but we can’t change our position just because our position is the same as the White House’s,″ Bush spokesman Michael Dannenhauer said. Bush has a very high regard for the Secret Service, he added.

Bush, who volunteered his views to the Secret Service, was alone among ex-presidents in speaking out. Former President’s Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford have not expressed an opinion on the matter, said spokeswomen for the two. A Justice Department official, speaking on grounds of anonymity, said their views had not been sought.

Ironically, it was information supplied by Secret Service officials that ultimately cleared Bush of allegations that when he was a vice presidential candidate in 1980 he met with Iranian officials in Paris about a deal to delay the release of American hostages in a bid to influence the presidential election.

A congressional task force investigating the so-called ``October Surprise″ battled with the Secret Service about interviewing agents protecting Bush about his whereabouts on the day of the alleged meeting.

``They said then exactly what they are saying now, that to give up this type of information would compromise their ability to protect the president,″ said Michael Zeldin, who was deputy counsel for Democrats on a task force investigating the matter.

Secret Service agents protect candidates for the presidency and vice presidency, as well as the president and vice president.

After a long series of behind-the-scenes negotiations, the service eventually turned over Secret Service logs of Bush’s activities and allowed some agents to be interviewed, but limited the questioning. Portions of the logs were blackened out.

The task force cleared Bush of the allegations, based partly on the information supplied by the Secret Service.

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