By Peter Baker
White House communications adviser Sidney Blumenthal has been ordered to appear this afternoon, three days after President Clinton dropped the executive privilege claim that interrupted Blumenthal's previous appearance. Francis D. Carter, who as Lewinsky's first lawyer helped her draft an affidavit denying a sexual relationship with Clinton, also has been summoned to testify as early as today.
While some lawyers involved in the case doubt that either has information central to the investigation into whether Clinton orchestrated an illegal coverup of an affair with Lewinsky, Starr had to fight repeated court battles to obtain their testimony. A federal judge rejected Clinton's assertion that executive privilege prevented Starr from asking Blumenthal about certain White House conversations and likewise dismissed Carter's claim of attorney-client privilege. An appeal in Carter's case was unsuccessful, sources said.
"I intend to answer all the questions put to me completely and truthfully," Blumenthal said yesterday.
Two other privilege battles will be taken up today when the Supreme Court meets privately to discuss whether to grant Starr's request for emergency consideration of whether he can question White House lawyers and Secret Service officers.
Starr has argued that a speedy resolution to his probe is so vital to the national interest that the justices should take the rare step of bypassing the appeals court and hear both disputes immediately before its summer break. The White House contends that the attorney-client issue, at least, should go through the normal process.
To grant such an expedited appeal, it would take the votes of five of the nine justices, instead of the usual four. Many lawyers suggested the court was unlikely to short-circuit the process, especially since Clinton on Monday dropped the executive privilege claim that once raised a constitutional issue. The justices did not even ask the Justice Department, which is representing the Secret Service, for its opinion about whether an expedited hearing was warranted.
Another related issue landed at the high court yesterday as well. A consortium of news organizations, including The Washington Post, asked the court to overrule an appeals court decision barring public access to judicial hearings arising out of the Starr probe.
Most proceedings connected to the Lewinsky matter have been conducted under seal because they involve a secret grand jury investigation, although Chief U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson in recent weeks has released several redacted versions of transcripts, briefs and rulings.
Even as the investigation marched on, Lewinsky's new legal team was settling in. A day after the former White House intern dismissed controversial lawyer William H. Ginsburg, the new attorneys spent the day behind closed doors educating themselves about the case, reading voluminous files and meeting with their client and the remaining member of her previous legal team, Nathaniel H. Speights.
The new lawyers, Plato Cacheris and Jacob A. Stein, quietly visited Starr's office Tuesday for an introductory meeting with prosecutors. Starr sent a note welcoming them to the case, although they are hardly strangers to the independent counsel since all three travel in the same high-powered legal circles.
Their hiring was intended to resurrect long-abandoned talks with prosecutors about a deal that would shield Lewinsky from prosecution in exchange for her testimony.
But for all of the anticipation surrounding the new team's abrupt entry, several lawyers close to the case cautioned that it still may be weeks before any agreement. Among other things, the new lawyers may push to hear the 20 hours of tapes in which Lewinsky was secretly recorded talking about having an affair with Clinton. Starr refused similar requests by Ginsburg.
Staff writer Susan Schmidt contributed to this report.
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