Starr challenges Reno on testimony by Secret Service Prosecutor, in effect, dares attorney general to order him to stop

June 20, 1998|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr publicly dared Attorney General Janet Reno yesterday to order him not to question Secret Service agents in the Monica Lewinsky matter, setting up a potential confrontation if he disobeyed.

In a legal brief, Starr spelled out his arguments against the creation of a new privilege of secrecy for Secret Service officers who have been summoned to testify about what they saw and heard while protecting President Clinton.

Starr said he continues to receive "numerous and credible reports that Secret Service personnel have evidence" that bears upon the grand jury inquiry into whether Clinton lied under oath ++ in denying a sexual relationship with Lewinsky, and whether he or others encouraged Lewinsky to lie about it.

The attorney general supports the Secret Service's resistance to forced testimony by its agents, and Starr moved yesterday to put Reno on the spot on the issue.

Under federal law, the prosecutor contended, Secret Service agents have a duty to report knowledge of any possible evidence of a crime, and Reno should not "enlist the courts to block the investigation's progress" by seeking to relieve agents of that duty.

But, Starr went on, "if the attorney general wishes to stop [Starr's office] from receiving certain types of information, she has a comprehensive and traditional remedy at her disposal -- she can simply order us not to seek it."

If he refused to back off, Starr added, "the attorney general can fire him" under authority given to her by the law under which independent counsels are appointed. That law allows the attorney general to dismiss an independent counsel for "good cause."

Reno has shown no sign that she has even pondered using that power against Starr. She has been reluctant even to look closely into allegations by congressional Democrats and other Starr critics that the prosecutor has misused his authority.

While Starr was speaking out yesterday in the controlled language customary for a court filing, the implied dare he issued to Reno stood out in a brief that otherwise followed his earlier arguments opposing the secrecy privilege claim of the Secret Service.

U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson has refused to recognize such a privilege. She has ordered two uniformed Secret Service officers assigned to White House duty and an attorney for the Secret Service to answer prosecutors' questions about their observations of Clinton.

The Service Service's resistance to testifying is awaiting review in the federal appeals court where Starr filed his brief. The appeals court is to hold a hearing Friday.

Pub Date: 6/20/98

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