No Immediate Showdown Over Executive Privilege
Presidential steward appears before grand jury
By John King/CNN
WASHINGTON (March 12) -- Presidential confidant Bruce Lindsey was recalled to the Monica Lewinsky grand jury Thursday but it appears there was no showdown over executive privilege.
Lindsey arrived at the courhouse Thursday afternoon accompanied by his personal attorney and Cheryl Mills of the White House counsel's office.
But White House counsel Charles Ruff and Neil Eggleston, a former White House lawyer hired to help the administration prepare for a showdown over executive privilege, did not accompany Lindsey to the courthouse.
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There was no indication the White House had reached a deal with the office of the independent counsel about ground rules for the testimony of President Bill Clinton's top aides. But it appeared there was an accommodation not to broach the privilege issue Thursday. The White House and Independent Counsel Ken Starr have struck such daily accommodations in the past.
Starr's Washington grand jury is looking into reports Clinton had a sexual relationship with Lewinsky, a former White House intern, and encouraged her to lie about it under oath. Clinton has emphatically denied the allegations.
A court battle over whether executive privilege exists could stall the
investigation for months. The judge overseeing the grand jury has implored the White House and Starr to reach a compromise over such sensitive testimony.
Judge heard arguments about illegal leaks
Lawyers for the president and Lewinsky argued before the judge in charge of the grand jury that the independent counsel's office is responsible for illegal leaks regarding the proceedings.
David Kendall, a private attorney for Clinton, arrived at the courthouse Thursday afternoon followed by Starr and Lewinsky lawyer Bill Ginsburg. Judge Norma Holloway Johnson heard the arguments against the independent counsel's office during a closed-door hearing.
Sources familiar with the investigation tell CNN Starr's prosecutors have raised the issue of the president's possible testimony with Kendall.
One source suggested Kendall has rebuffed efforts by Starr's deputies to discuss the issue in detail. Another source more loyal to the White House position said Kendall has indicated he believes discussing the matter in any detail is premature until Starr nears the end of his fact-finding in the Lewinsky investigation.
In any event, it is increasingly clear to the White House legal team that Starr will seek voluntary testimony from the president.
Some White House lawyers believe agreeing to testify would set a dangerous precedent. They believe a president would have to be impeached before he could be indicted, and therefore could not be compelled to testify in a grand jury proceeding until after congressional impeachment proceedings.
But the law is murky in this area, and White House political advisers believe it would be risky for the president to refuse to cooperate if Starr sought the president's testimony.
White House lawyers ordered senior aides Wednesday not to discuss the subject. But several sources say they believe any serious discussions or negotiations about testimony from the president hinge on significant
progress by the Lewinsky grand jury, suggesting a request by Starr for
voluntary testimony would be seriously considered only if the White House believed the president would be among the final witnesses, if not the final witness.
Some political advisers were quoted in media accounts Wednesday as saying they favored a dramatic appearance before the grand jury, but sources involved in White House strategy say this topic has not come up in any conversations with the president. Clinton's government and private attorneys assume that if the president did testify, he would do so at the White House, as he has in the past when giving sworn testimony in the Whitewater investigation.
Presidential steward appears before grand jury
Meanwhile, Bayani Nelvis, a steward in the White House, appeared before grand jury for a third time Thursday.
Sources say Nelvis was questioned "to tie up loose ends" regarding his vantage point during any meetings between Clinton and Lewinsky in the Oval Office.
As steward, Nelvis's post in a small pantry puts him within sight of the Oval Office, the study and the president's private dining room.
The steward moves between the dining room and the White House kitchen downstairs when the president is in the office. When the president eats, the steward is in the hallway outside next to the Secret Service agents.
Pentagon reassigns Tripp
Linda Tripp, the woman who secretly taped conversations with Lewinsky about her alleged affair with the president, has been reassigned by the Pentagon.
Tripp was the director of the Joint Civilian Orientation Project, a public affairs program that organizes tours of military bases and facilities for civilian leaders.
Tripp has been working from home, with her supervisor's permission, since her role in the Lewinsky scandal became public.
Pentagon officials tell CNN Tripp could not continue to run the project from home, and she is being reassigned to other duties. Officials say her salary of about $88,000 will continue, and that there are no plans to terminate her.
USA Today quotes Tripp as saying, "I view this as a demotion." Pentagon
officials refused to characterize it that way, emphasizing that the nature of the civilian orientation project requires a certain amount of travel and contact with non-government individuals, and, with Tripp continuing to work at home, her ability to function efficiently was impaired.
Officials say Tripp will perform other unspecified duties for the
Pentagon Public Affairs operation and will continue to work from home.