Justice Dept., Secret Service assail call for testimony Agents say judge, Starr misjudged possible peril

June 18, 1998|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department, Secret Service and 12 former agents who protected presidents have accused a federal judge and the Whitewater special prosecutor of seriously misjudging the peril to future presidents if agents are forced to testify about what they saw and heard.

In legal briefs in the federal appeals court in Washington, the agencies and former agents used dire predictions about potential assassinations as they tried to head off subpoenas for Secret Service officers to answer questions in the Monica Lewinsky matter and President Clinton.

U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson has ordered two Secret Service guards and a lawyer for that agency to appear before the grand jury being led by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr.

The appeals court, now reviewing Judge Johnson's order, is to hold a hearing June 26.

The briefs challenging the judge were filed in secret Friday and were made public yesterday.

The core of their arguments is that if presidents know that Secret Service agents might be called to testify, the presidents might try to keep the agents farther away -- perhaps too far away for the agents to serve as a human shield. Tragic history, the agents said, is on their side on that issue.

The 12 former agents, some of whom have been wounded during assassination attempts, criticized the judge for reaching the "blithe conclusion that presidents will not push away their protectors."

That decision, the agents said, "will lead to the assassination of another president in our lifetimes."

The Justice Department and Secret Service lambasted the judge for relying on her own predictions, contradicting the views of former President George Bush and three Secret Service directors of the dangers that will arise if agents become forced witnesses.

The judge, they said, was relying upon "erroneous suppositions," not the record of history.

The agents denounced Starr for the way he is conducting the Lewinsky investigation. No prosecutor in the past half-century, they contended, has carried out an investigation "with such a high degree of disregard for the high cost and potentially disastrous consequences to other institutions and processes of government."

Starr is to file tomorrow his defense of the demand for the agents' testimony.

Pub Date: 6/18/98

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