By Lorraine Adams and Roberto Suro
The Justice Department has concluded that Secret Service agents are covered by a legal privilege that should shield them from telling prosecutors in the Monica S. Lewinsky probe everything they saw or heard while protecting President Clinton, department officials said yesterday.
But the officials emphasized that the Justice Department is still negotiating with independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr to determine whether there are specific circumstances under which Secret Service personnel might give limited testimony about information gained while on protective duty.
The assertion of a privilege covering the Secret Service comes as Starr continues to battle the White House over separate claims that presidential aides should be shielded from forced testimony, and the Justice Department's position adds to the likelihood that the Lewinsky investigation will become enmeshed in long, complex legal disputes.
"I think the public is best served when the information comes out," Starr told reporters yesterday as he left his McLean home. "But a privilege is a legal right that may be the subject of litigation if one is invoked."
As the legal maneuvers continued, sources familiar with the inquiry said Starr has issued subpoenas to two former White House colleagues of Lewinsky who could shed light on her transfer from a job she loved at the White House to one she disliked at the Pentagon and whether it was motivated by suspicions among presidential aides of an unseemly attachment to Clinton.
Scheduled to testify before Starr's grand jury on Tuesday, the sources said, are Lewinsky's co-worker at the White House Office of Legislative Affairs and the man who fired them both in 1996.
Timothy J. Keating, who at the time was the staff director for the Office of Legislative Affairs, removed Lewinsky and transferred her immediate supervisor, Jocelyn Jolley, from their jobs on the same day in April 1996. Keating moved Lewinsky and Jolley because they were not getting the job done in a timely fashion, according to sources familiar with his account.
Keating has said he noticed that Lewinsky seemed taken with the president and wanted to see him at every opportunity, but he was not aware of any relationship beyond that, one of the sources said.
Lewinsky was initially hired for a full-time paid job because she impressed people at the White House by coming in to answer the telephones when many regular employees were forced to stay at home during the 1995 budget battle that shut down the federal government, according to this account. After a few months, though, it was clear that correspondance to and from members of Congress was not being processed in a timely fashion, the source said.
The only public account of Lewinsky's transfer until now has been that of former White House deputy chief of staff Evelyn S. Lieberman, who said that Lewinsky was transferred because she appeared to have a crush on Clinton. Lieberman, who has already testified before the grand jury, has called Lewinsky's behavior "inappropriate" and "immature" in a statement.
"Evelyn did notice [Lewinsky] behaving inappropriately. But what was never reported is that she simultaneously got reports that her work product was not what it should be," a source close to Lieberman said yesterday.
The new subpoenas focus on an early chapter in Lewinsky's dealings with Clinton -- right around the time when her alleged affair with the president began in late 1995 and well before Lewinsky was drawn into the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit. It was Lewinsky's December 1997 subpoena in the Jones lawsuit that set in motion the events that prompted Starr's investigation into whether Clinton and his friend Vernon E. Jordan Jr. attempted to influence Lewinsky's testimony.
Jordan, who found Lewinsky a lawyer when she was subpoenaed in the Jones case and helped her secure a job offer from Revlon Group Inc., has denied that there was any connection between the Jones case and his efforts on Lewinsky's behalf, telling reporters he helped her because her "drive, ambition and personality were impressive."
New details about Jordan's help to Lewinsky emerged this week when a source familiar with the matter told The Washington Post that Jordan was asked by Clinton's secretary to help Lewinsky find a job three days after lawyers for Jones signaled their intent to question Lewinsky about whether she had an affair with the president. The Post reported Thursday that Jordan asked both Clinton and Lewinsky if they had had a sexual relationship and was assured by each of them they had not.
Lewinsky's attorney, William H. Ginsburg, told The Post on Thursday that Jordan and Lewinsky had their first meeting about a job on Nov. 5, well before Lewinsky's name surfaced in the Jones case. But Jordan's lawyer, William G. Hundley, said yesterday he knew of no Nov. 5 meeting between Jordan and Lewinsky, and that Jordan and secretaries at his law firm believe that the four meetings between the two all took place in December and January.
Jordan had been scheduled to testify before the grand jury this week, but was abruptly told he would not be called for a significant period of time.
Starr may wish to question more witnesses about Lewinsky's job qualifications and performance before Jordan appears before the grand jury. At the least, there are conflicting accounts as to Lewinsky's competency, the reasons for her job transfers and why she attracted attention from officials in the president's innermost circle.
The alleged affair between Lewinsky and Clinton began Nov. 15, 1995, according to an affidavit filed by Linda R. Tripp in the Jones case. Lewinsky was an intern at the time. She began work as a paid aide in the Office of Legislative Affairs on Nov. 26. Jolley shared a small office with Lewinsky in the East Wing of the White House between late November 1995 and April 1996.
Jolley's attorney, Judith Catherton, said her client would not comment about Lewinsky or why she was transferred from the White House. Jolley and Lewinsky were responsible for handling correspondence between the White House and Congress. "It was writing letters to congressmen saying 'happy birthday,' " said a colleague who worked in the office when Lewinsky was first hired. "Lewinsky was a deputy letter writer for a job that was a formality at best."
Lewinsky's hiring -- and firing -- was fairly unusual, the former colleague said. "She met with Jocelyn one day and the next day she had the job. There was no interview process," the co-worker said. "Jocelyn had no choice."
Lewinsky and Jolley were also transferred out of the office on the same day. "That was noteworthy, truly noteworthy," said the colleague. Lewinsky was transferred to a low-level public affairs job at the Pentagon. Jolley went to a job at the public affairs office of the General Services Administration.
In an interview Friday Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Kenneth H. Bacon, who hired Lewinsky as his confidential assistant, said that no one from the White House ever spoke to him about Lewinsky's job performance in the legislative affairs office. She was one of four candidates he interviewed, but the only one from the White House.
"I interviewed her, gave her a dictation test and decided to hire her based on the interview," Bacon said.
Lewinsky was unhappy about the new job, according to an interview her father, Bernard Lewinsky, gave to ABC's "20/20". Her father said "she was upset" about going to the Pentagon "because she was very happy where she was."
When high-level officials such as Jordan and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson last year began to offer Lewinsky job help, her father said, she told him that "because she was transferred to the Pentagon from the White House, they had promised to bring her back at a later time, they were going to help her find another job elsewhere."
In exploring the nature of Lewinsky's relationship with Clinton, Starr called retired Secret Service officer Lewis C. Fox before the grand jury this week. Fox, who said in interviews that he saw Lewinsky visit Clinton in the Oval Office, was allowed to give limited testimony under an arrangement approved by the Treasury Deparment, which oversees the Secret Service, and the Justice Department, which acts as the Treasury's lawyer.
But expanding that arrangement to include active duty Secret Service personnel, including another uniformed officer already under subpoena, has been the subject of difficult negotiations between Starr's office and the Justice Department this week.
In other cases where they witnessed criminal acts, most notably presidential assassination attempts, Secret Service uniformed officers and plainclothes agents have been allowed to testify, but there are no clear precedents on the question of whether they can be obliged to testify when they have information that may be relevant to a criminal inquiry but that falls far short of firsthand knowledge of a crime.
The Secret Service has sought a claim of absolute privilege that would mean rejecting any requests from Starr and fighting him in court. The Secret Service argued that protecting a president requires a relationship of absolute trust that would be broken if agents were obliged to testify about everything they saw.
Attorney General Janet Reno and top Justice Department officials have gradually come around to the Secret Service view and are preparing contingency plans for a court fight with Starr if he insists on wide-ranging subpoenas, department officials said.
Staff writers Peter Baker and Susan Schmidt contributed to this report.
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