Executive-privilege claim draws GOP fire White House dismisses attacks as partisan politics

March 23, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Leading Republican lawmakers clipped on their microphones in television studios around town yesterday to attack President Clinton for formally invoking executive privilege to block grand jury testimony of senior White House aides in the Monica Lewinsky inquiry.

White House officials countered that the Republicans were playing partisan politics.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott called Clinton's decision "a mistake" that would damage his credibility. "It looks like they are hiding something," the Mississippi Republican said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

He added: "I don't know why they chose to do that. Surely they understand that it's not going to be well-received."

House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas put it more pointedly. "It doesn't pass the smell test," he said on "Fox News Sunday."

Rep. Tom DeLay, the House majority whip, joined Lott in saying that executive privilege should be invoked only for issues involving national security.

"It greatly concerns me," DeLay said on CNN's "Late Edition."

"And I think that the consequences that are coming out of this will be permanent consequences in denigrating the office of the presidency," the Texas Republican said.

But senior White House officials dismissed the Republicans' criticisms as coordinated, politically motivated salvos.

"They were definitely operating off the same political talking points," James Kennedy, a White House spokesman, said in a telephone interview. "There does appear to be some coordinated politics at work."

Kennedy declined to explain the decision to invoke the privilege or to discuss the arguments that White House lawyers made.

On Friday, Clinton's lawyers invoked executive privilege in a closed hearing before a federal judge to block questioning of Bruce Lindsey, the deputy White House counsel and one of the president's closest advisers, and Sidney Blumenthal, a former journalist and another presidential adviser.

A legal impasse over the issue, which could last for months and prolong or delay the investigation, ultimately could require a decision by the Supreme Court.

Pub Date: 3/23/98

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