Judge urged to open ruling on Clinton 12 news organizations seek details in rejecting 'executive privilege' claim

May 09, 1998|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- A dozen news organizations urged a federal judge yesterday to make public her still-secret ruling at the center of a historic conflict over demands that President Clinton's aides answer all questions about the White House sex scandal.

In a motion that was filed yesterday, and then put into a secret file by courthouse aides, the news organizations told Judge Norma Holloway Johnson that her decision this week rejecting a White House claim of "executive privilege" involves a matter of national importance that the public should know about.

The motion was part of a campaign to try to force into the open the constitutional dispute that pits the president and his aides against independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr and the grand jury he is using to investigate the scandal.

Johnson reportedly turned down a claim that the president's need for confidentiality shielded two of his aides -- Bruce Lindsey and Sidney Blumenthal -- from having to answer some questions about internal discussions involving Monica S. Lewinsky. The Johnson ruling remains undisclosed.

Because the judge has kept all proceedings relating to that dispute under seal, the new motion was not made public, and lawyers were not free to discuss it. But sources familiar with the filing said the news groups sought to take advantage of a recent ruling by a federal appeals court that seemed to frown on a complete blanket of secrecy over the case before Johnson.

The appeals court, the new motion is said to argue, has also indicated that once something involving a grand jury investigation has become known publicly, the need for secrecy ends. It is widely known that Johnson has ruled against the president, the motion reportedly points out, though the scope of her ruling remains a secret.

The news organizations filing the motion: Dow Jones, Los Angeles Times, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, New York Times, Washington Post, Time magazine, USA Today and Associated Press.

Pub Date: 5/09/98

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