Starr targets Clinton guard Prosecutor subpoenas Secret Service agent closest to president

Monica Lewinsky case

Agency fears effort could cause president to duck his protectors

July 15, 1998|By Lyle Denniston and Susan Baer | Lyle Denniston and Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, reaching further into President Clinton's personal movements and daily life, issued a subpoena yesterday demanding that the head of Clinton's Secret Service detail testify in the Monica Lewinsky investigation, an administration source said.

In a significant escalation of the five-month fight between Starr and the Secret Service, the independent counsel summoned Special Agent Larry Cockell. He is often the person positioned closest to the president in Washington and around the globe.

Unlike the two uniformed Secret Service guards whom Starr has previously tried to question, Cockell is far more than an occasional observer of Clinton. Routinely, he is near enough to the president to hear confidential exchanges and to watch the president's behavior.

The subpoena to Cockell -- and indications that other members of the Clinton security detail could soon be subpoenaed -- appears certain to raise the Secret Service's fears that the president's safety is threatened by Starr's insistence on questioning its officers.

The Secret Service has argued that forced testimony by its officers would erode the confidential relationship between the president and those who protect him. As a result, the Secret Service contends, presidents would tend to push away the agents, rendering them less able to deal with a threat of assassination.

The latest demand for testimony was apparently part of a series of new subpoenas by Starr, including demands for records that would detail Clinton's whereabouts at night on numerous dates between 1995 and 1997, according to the Associated Press, quoting an unnamed government official. CBS News first reported those demands for records.

Those developments came to light yesterday after the Secret Service renewed in court its argument that officers who guard the president should not have to testify before the grand jury being led by Starr.

The Justice Department, acting as the Secret Service's lawyer, urged the full 11-judge U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington to decide the dispute with Starr.

The Secret Service seemed likely to point to the new subpoenas in trying to convince the appeals court that the confidential link between agents and the president is being jeopardized by the Starr inquiry.

Last week, a three-judge panel of the appeals court rejected the fTC Secret Service's request for a bar against forced testimony by two of its uniformed White House officers and a lawyer who debriefed those officers.

Earlier, a U.S. District Court similarly turned aside the Secret Service claim.

Different circumstances

Both those decisions, however, involved factual circumstances far different from that created by Starr's new subpoena, which reaches into the midst of the presidential security detail, not merely the outer envelope of protection provided by uniformed guards.

When the president travels to Arkansas and Louisiana this weekend, for instance, he will be accompanied by the detail headed by Cockell.

The Associated Press reported that Starr had informed the Justice Department recently that, having won two victories in court over the Secret Service, he felt free to reach further into the Secret Service for testimony.

Starr has insisted that Secret Service officers have evidence bearing upon the grand jury inquiry into the Lewinsky matter. That evidence apparently could relate to whether the president lied under oath in denying a sexual relationship with Lewinsky and whether he encouraged her to lie as well.

In what appears to be only a preliminary to a later appeal to the Supreme Court, the Justice Department's new court papers said the Secret Service believes a defeat in this dispute "will gravely impair its ability to protect the president and is likely to result in national tragedy."

"We seek rehearing," the court filing said, "because the stakes are simply too high to do otherwise."

The dispute with Starr, the department said, should be decided on the basis of the Secret Service's "hard-won experience," which shows an "imperative need for confidentiality" between presidents and their protectors.

In its ruling last week, the three-judge appeals panel said the Secret Service had not proved a close link between forced testimony of its officers and a threat to presidential safety.

A mission essential

In that decision, the Justice Department argued yesterday, the appeals panel "substituted its judgment for that of the agency charged by Congress with protecting the president, an agency that speaks with unique authority regarding the effect of a ruling that imperils the confidentiality essential to its mission."

It would require a majority vote of the 11 judges on the appeals court to grant further review of the dispute. Starr's new subpoena to the head of the Clinton security detail could raise the chances that a majority would agree to hear the controversy.

With or without that review, the case appears headed ultimately to the Supreme Court and thus may not be finally resolved for several months.

Meanwhile, Linda R. Tripp, Starr's key witness who taped hours of telephone conversations with Lewinsky, returned for a fifth day of testimony before the grand jury.

Tripp, who left the courthouse without commenting, is expected to return tomorrow.

Pub Date: 7/15/98

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