%xhL(Justice and Treasury Departments Say President Clinton Doesn't Need To Use Executive
Apr. 22, 1998
%xhL(Justice and Treasury Departments Say President Clinton Doesn't Need To Use Executive Privilege To Bar Whitewater Prosecutors From Questioning Secret Service Agents%)
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Making a foray into the Monica Lewinsky investigation, former President George Bush is lending his support to the Secret Service's efforts to keep its agents from having to testify about what they observed while protecting President Clinton.
Bush made his position known in a private letter last week to Secret Service director Lewis C. Merletti. On Tuesday, the Clinton administration made the letter part of its sealed court filing seeking to stop Whitewater prosecutors from questioning Secret Service agents, sources familiar with the filing said.
Bush's spokesman said today that the letter simply reflects the former president's high regard for the Secret Service. Bush has had protection since he was a vice presidential candidate in 1980.
``President Bush always stands behind the men and women of the Secret Service,'' spokesman Michael Dannenhauer said.
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 his former solicitor general, Kenneth Starr, 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,'' Dannenhauer said
Bush's spokesman declined to release the letter, saying the former president considered it a private communication. But excerpts leaked out.
``If a president feels that the Secret Service agents can be called to testify about what they might have seen or heard, then it is likely that the president will be uncomfortable having the agents nearby,'' MSNBC quoted Bush's letter as saying. ``If that confidence evaporates, the agents denied proximity cannot properly protect the president.''
In the same filing containing Bush's letter, the Justice Department and Treasury Department lawyers argued that Starr could be barred from questioning Secret Service officers about President Clinton's relationship with Ms. Lewinsky without Clinton himself making a claim of executive privilege.
Starr has asserted that Clinton himself must invoke it.
The departments' argument came in a sealed court brief opposing Starr's sealed April 3 request that U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson compel members of the White House security detail to answer questions, said a senior government official who requested anonymity.
Talks between Justice, Treasury and Starr were continuing, said officials knowledgeable about the case. While no compromise appeared imminent, the court filing was not seen as any reason to break off negotiations, they said.
White House press secretary Mike McCurry said no White House officials had participated in developing the policy _ and none had seen the sealed court documents.
``The president believes for his sake, and for the sake of future presidents, that this ought to be dealt with by the Treasury Department, the Secret Service, and argued by the Justice Department,'' McCurry told reporters. ``And we've taken no position whatsoever on the matter.''
Justice officials have said the privilege at least should preclude Secret Service officers and agents from testifying about what they see of the president's movements or what they overhear of his conversations.
Treasury officials who supervise the Secret Service and Justice officials have argued that unless agents can be barred from testifying, future presidents will not trust them to keep secrets and will not allow them close enough to provide effective protection.
Starr is seeking grand jury testimony from uniformed officers responsible for the security of the White House complex. He apparently believes they have information that might shed light on whatever Clinton-Lewinsky relationship there was, according to a source with knowledge of the negotiations, who declined to be publicly identified.
The officers have no firsthand knowledge about the relationship, but may have been told something about it secondhand, this source said.
In other Whitewater developments:
_Rep. Henry A. Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the House Reform and Oversight Committee, criticized committee chairman Dan Burton, R-Ind., for saying in an interview with The Indianapolis Star that Clinton was a ``scumbag.'' Waxman also wrote to Attorney General Janet Reno complaining that Burton was planning to release tapes of former associate attorney general Webster L. Hubbell's prison telephone conversations. ``The tapes contain extremely personal conversations that are wholly unrelated to any investigation relevant to Mr. Hubbell or any other matter,'' Waxman wrote.
The White House scoffed at Burton's comments.
``The American people are weary of vindictive name calling and the politics of personal destruction. The president is going to stay focused on the high ground of ideas and issues that matter to people,'' White House spokesman Jim Kennedy said.
Committee spokesman Will Dwyer was quoted today as saying Burton would not discuss the dispute with Waxman and said the Hubbell tapes would be released ``in the course of committee business.''