Starr probe surges ahead Monica Lewinsky meets face to face in N.Y. with prosecutors

Court tells Lindsey to talk

Developments could mean immunity deal, end of investigation

July 28, 1998|By Susan Baer and Lyle Denniston | Susan Baer and Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- For the first time since independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr began an investigation into an alleged presidential affair and cover-up, Monica Lewinsky met face to face with prosecutors yesterday in New York, marking a crucial turning point in Starr's six-month inquiry.

And in another move that appeared to buoy Starr's investigation and put new pressure on President Clinton, a federal appeals court ruled that Bruce Lindsey, a White House lawyer who is Clinton's most trusted confidant, could not refuse to answer grand jury questions by invoking attorney-client privilege. The White House said it was disappointed and would consider a further appeal.

Both developments signaled that Starr may be closer to winding up his inquiry and hinted at a possible deal to grant Lewinsky immunity from prosecution in exchange for testimony against the president.

Her testimony could pose serious risks for Clinton, if he does testify in response to Starr's recent subpoena. Lawyers for Clinton worked yesterday with Starr to try to thresh out a format, acceptable to both sides, that would allow the president to comply with the subpoena.

The grand jury subpoena, a first for a sitting president who is the target of an investigation, demanded Clinton's appearance before the Lewinsky panel today, though it seems likely to be delayed.

Since the scandal broke in January, lawyers for Lewinsky have been unable to work out a deal with Starr in which the former White House intern would cooperate with the independent counsel in exchange for immunity.

Starr is investigating whether Clinton lied and encouraged Lewinsky to lie, in denying under oath that he had a sexual relationship with Lewinsky.

According to wire reports, the 25-year-old former White House and Pentagon aide held a secret five-hour meeting with Starr's prosecutors yesterday in New York.

The federal appeals court ruling on attorney-client privilege struck deeply into the core of the president's White House circle, compelling the adviser to answer at least some of the grand jury questions he had rebuffed earlier.

Lindsey, whose relationship with Clinton dates to their Arkansas days, is known to have talked with Clinton about how to respond to the Paula Jones sexual misconduct lawsuit, and about how to deal with the Lewinsky sex scandal.

Summoned before the grand jury earlier this year, Lindsey refused to answer many of the prosecutors' questions, relying on two legal claims. He cited the president's right as a client to confidential legal advice from government-paid attorneys -- in this case, Lindsey himself. Lindsey also claimed that the president's "executive privilege" -- secrecy for internal government discussions -- justified his refusal to answer.

The appeals court dealt finally with only one of these claims. By a 2-1 vote, it ruled that no government attorney may claim the client's right to secrecy about legal advice as a basis for refusing to testify about possible evidence of crime by a government official.

"A government attorney, even one holding the title deputy White House counsel, may not assert an attorney-client privilege before a federal grand jury if communications with the client contain information pertinent to possible criminal violations," the majority said.

It added: "The loyalties of a government lawyer cannot and must not lie solely with his or her client agency" -- here, the office of the president.

The appeals court, however, left open the possibility that Lindsey could, when summoned back before the grand jury, renew his claim that his answers are barred by the president's rights of "executive privilege."

The White House had abandoned that argument after it was rejected by U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson, along with the attorney-client claim. But, the appeals court indicated that the issue could be revived by Lindsey in a future grand jury appearance, since the appeals court did not rule that out.

The appeals court also discussed the possibility that Lindsey and other White House lawyers advising the president might be able to insulate from prosecutors some legal advice given in tandem with Clinton's private lawyers.

The judges in the majority said that Clinton clearly retains a right of confidential legal advice from privately paid attorneys.

Meanwhile, lawyers for Clinton worked with Starr yesterday to try to reach a mutually acceptable way for Clinton to give testimony and comply with a grand jury subpoena.

Some of Clinton's allies have insisted that Starr lacks the authority to subpoena a sitting president in an investigation in which he is the target. Clinton himself is said to be prepared to fight the subpoena if he cannot provide testimony on his own terms.

But there appeared to be little support, even among congressional Democrats, for Clinton to resist the subpoena, a move that could spark a constitutional crisis.

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