President Sought to Shield Officers
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 10, 1998; Page A04
President Clinton asked a federal judge last winter to prevent Secret Service officers from testifying in the Paula Jones case, arguing that his confidential relationship with his protectors "should be inviolate," according to court documents unsealed yesterday.
The strongly worded plea last January, in which his attorney wrote that the president "emphatically expresses his support" for a Secret Service privilege, indicates that Clinton played more of a role than previously known in trying to block those who guard him from being forced to reveal his secrets.
For months, the White House has portrayed Clinton as a virtually disinterested observer as the Secret Service fought unsuccessfully to block subpoenas by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr in the Monica S. Lewinsky investigation, insisting that the president played no role in the dispute. But the papers made public yesterday showed that Clinton made arguments that were nearly identical to the Secret Service's during the Jones case in a sealed brief that also was given at the time to the Justice Department lawyers who would later represent the Secret Service against Starr.
Clinton was successful last winter in persuading U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright in Little Rock to quash subpoenas to the Secret Service in the Jones case, but his administration lost its subsequent fight against Starr in two D.C.-based courts. Just yesterday, the Supreme Court refused on a 7 to 2 vote to hear the administration's appeal in the Secret Service case.
As they reacted to the high court decision yesterday, White House officials repeated that they had no role in the Secret Service fight. "We've been very clear that the president has said that this is an issue for the Secret Service, as they are the experts on this issue and they have made this case," said White House press secretary Joe Lockhart. Clinton did not get involved "because he didn't think that was appropriate."
Another White House official, James E. Kennedy, later noted that the judge's previously released order referred to the president's position on the matter, even though his brief was not released until yesterday. Kennedy also sought to make distinctions between Clinton's actions in sealed papers in the Jones case and his public neutrality in the Starr investigation.
"There's a world of difference between a private citizen trying to get information from the Secret Service in a civil proceeding and a grand jury trying to get information in a criminal investigation when the president is the subject," Kennedy said.
The five-page brief dated Jan. 23, just two days after the Lewinsky story first broke, argued that confidentiality between Clinton and his guards "should be inviolate" and that he was fighting "on behalf of himself . . . and all past and future presidents." The Jones lawyers had subpoenaed the service and three of its officials asking for information about all employees assigned to protect Clinton and any documents "concerning any alleged intimate private conduct of the President with any woman," including one whose name was blacked out but appeared to be Lewinsky's.
The brief was among more than 1,200 pages of documents unsealed by Wright yesterday in the third and what she said would be the final wave of papers released from the since-dismissed sexual harassment lawsuit.
Many of the other documents were generated by various women identified as "Jane Does" as they tried with no apparent success to avoid testifying about whether they had sexual encounters with Clinton. Other filings stemmed from back-and-forth fights between Clinton and Jones lawyers over whether the president responded adequately to written questions and requests for documents. In one set of papers, the president's lawyers sought to rebut Jones's assertion that she could identify "distinguishing characteristics" on his anatomy, denying in writing that Clinton ever had "a disease or abnormality of the genitalia."
Written minutes from secret conferences with Wright indicated that the judge repeatedly tried to get the two sides to settle. In a Jan. 12 closed-door hearing in Pine Bluff, Ark., just five days before Clinton's deposition, she again urged them to resolve the case out of court because, as paraphrased by her clerk, "it is unlikely a jury will find for [Jones] if case goes to trial."
"Also [the judge] anticipates that some Jane Does will be mentioned and harmed by testimony and if goes to trial, everyone loses," the clerk wrote, recording Wright's statements.
Bennett told Wright that he would recommend that the president not settle. Jones attorney James A. Fisher suggested Wright could speak directly to his client, which the judge offered to do. During the same conference, Bennett objected to Jones attending the president's deposition.
In the end, Jones did not settle and did attend the deposition, only to see her case thrown out two months later, as Wright had predicted.
© Copyright The Washington Post Company