UPI: Reno rejects White House request

Maher, Steve (SD-MS) SMAHER at GI.COM
Thu Feb 19 16:10:00 MST 1998


From: cas at majordomo.pobox.com

Thursday February 19 5:19 PM EST

Reno rejects White House request

WASHINGTON, Feb. 19 (UPI) _ Trying to keep its
distance from independent counsel Kenneth Starr's
investigation, the Justice Department says the White House
is on its own if it invokes executive privilege or
attorney-client confidentiality before Starr's grand jury.

The White House is trying to keep parts of conversations
between presidential counsel Bruce Lindsey and President
Clinton confidential.

Starr has called Lindsey to testify before the grand jury,
which is looking into allegations that the president had an
affair with former White House aide Monica Lewinsky, and
urged her to lie about it under oath.

Attorney General Janet Reno said today the department and
the White House had reached a ``mutual agreement'' that
allowed the White House to hire a special counsel to assert
the privilege.

But in a letter to White House counsel Charles Ruff
Wednesday, Reno rejects a White House request that the
department ``provide government representation with
respect to the possible assertion of the presidential
communications and attorney-client privileges in response
to Starr's calling White House officials before the grand
jury>

.``

Reno says department officials ``agree that government
representation is in the institutional interests of the United
States government.'' But she adds that, right now, it would
not be in the public interest for the Justice Department to
appoint or control an attorney trying to assert that privilege.

The letter marks the first time the Justice Department has
not advised the White House on a specific question of
privilege.

Lindsey, one of Clinton's closest aides and confidantes,
appeared at the federal courthouse for a second day of
testimony today before Starr's grand jury, accompanied by
a cadre of attorneys, including Ruff.

An outside attorney, W. Neil Eggleston, also was retained
as a special counsel to spearhead the effort to protect
Lindsey, using executive privilege if necessary.

Such privilege, if invoked by the president, would protect
his conversations, but usually only those conversations
about the conduct of foreign policy or affairs of state.

There is no court precedent for invoking the privilege to
protect conversations about a president's personal life, or to
protect communications involving a possible crime.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 1974 that
President Richard Nixon could not use executive privilege
to keep the White House tapes from Watergate prosecutors.
The ruling and the tapes eventually helped drive Nixon
from office.

The separate issue of whether tax-paid government lawyers
enjoy attorney-client privilege is more clouded. The
Supreme Court refused to deal with the issue last year,
letting stand an appeals court ruling that allowed Starr
access to notes taken by lawyers in meetings with Hillary
Rodham Clinton.

Lindsey, besides being a 30-year friend of the president, is
a White House lawyer.

White House spokesman Jim Kennedy said today the
lawyers still were trying to resolve the dispute with Starr
over the ``confidentiality of communications'' between
Lindsey and Clinton. Lindsey apparently objected to
several questions put to him Wednesday.

Kennedy said he was prohibited from discussing the secret
proceedings that took place before U.S. District Judge
Norma Holloway Johnson, but he indicated the situation
was unresolved.

Clinton headed out of town for the day, saying, ``The White
House counsel is trying to resolve that issue today and
while he's working on it I don't think I should comment on
it.''



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