Some in the Dark; Others Wouldn't Talk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 3, 1998; Page A22
During their grand jury appearances, several of President Clinton's advisers invoked executive privilege or attorney-client privilege in refusing to answer questions that usually had to do with conversations among themselves or with the president.
Deputy White House counsel Bruce R. Lindsey, Clinton's longtime friend and probably his closest confidant, set the tone on Feb. 18 when he arrived at the federal courthouse here with a prepared statement typed on three index cards. In it, he described his duties in the White House, saying that he often acted as a "confidential intermediary" between Clinton and his private lawyers in the Monica S. Lewinsky investigation and the Paula Jones lawsuit, and that he would not answer any questions about conversations dealing with those cases.
Lindsey and the others did not formally invoke executive or attorney-client privilege. Instead, they argued that some of the prosecutors' questions were "potentially" covered by those privileges or that they had been instructed by their lawyers not to answer certain questions because of the privilege issue.
With obvious exasperation, prosecutor Solomon L. Wisenberg noted that only the president, not his aides, can claim executive privilege and demanded to know why Lindsey had not learned of Clinton's intentions before his grand jury appearance. "Is it my understanding that you are not agreeing to find out whether or not the president is invoking this privilege?" Wisenberg asked.
"I am not going to go outside and call the president of the United States, if that's your question," Lindsey replied.
2 The questions that most often led to privilege claims had to do with conversations about Lewinsky after news broke in January that prosecutors were investigating her relationship with Clinton and conversations about the Jones lawsuit.
On Feb. 25, Nancy Hernreich, director of Oval Office operations, said her lawyers had cited the privilege issue in instructing her not to answer questions about conversations with Clinton shortly after the Lewinsky story broke in January. But the next day, Hernreich told the grand jury she was free to talk, although she may have disappointed prosecutors.
"What [Clinton] said was, 'I didn't do this,'‚" Hernreich recalled. "‚'They don't believe me. They won't' either 'they don't' or 'they won't they won't believe me,' I think is what he said. 'I didn't do this.'‚"
White House aide Sidney Blumenthal told prosecutors that daily meetings at the White House at 8:30 a.m. and 6:45 p.m. dealt exclusively with the Lewinsky investigation, but he cited executive privilege in declining to disclose what was said at those meetings. Blumenthal also cited executive privilege in refusing to answer questions about his conversations with Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Lanny A. Breuer, a special White House counsel, cited executive and attorney-client privilege in refusing to answer questions about conversations with Blumenthal. "When Mr. Blumenthal was speaking to me, he was doing so because of my position," Breuer said. "Mr. Blumenthal and I are not friends. I would not be someone he would naturally speak to."
Deputy White House chief of staff John D. Podesta said he attended a meeting at which a possible settlement of the Jones lawsuit was discussed but, citing attorney-client privilege, said he would not disclose the details.
"And you won't answer any questions beyond the general subject matter that you've given us?" Podesta was asked.
"That's correct," he replied.
Q: Mr. Lindsey, you've been reading from a prepared statement, is that correct?
Q: And that was typed and you brought that with you today in anticipation of these questions being asked, is that correct?
A: In anticipation of questions being asked that intruded upon confidential communications. Yes.
Q: And just so we can be precise, the interest in confidentiality that you described, is that executive privilege? Is that attorney-client privilege? Is that Fifth Amendment privilege?
A: Well it depends on the question. It's not a Fifth Amendment privilege. In some matters, it may be executive or presidential communication privilege. Others, it may be attorney-client privilege depending on the questions.
Q: You are reserving the right to invoke both, is that correct?
Q: May we have that statement you just read and mark it as an exhibit, sir?
A: No sir.
Q: You've read from that exhibit accurately?
A: Yes sir.
Q: Who prepared that sir?
A: It was prepared I think that is probably covered by a privilege.
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