Starr Subpoenas Top Clinton Agent
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 15, 1998; Page A01
Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr subpoenaed the head of President Clinton's security detail and six more Secret Service officers yesterday to testify about what they know of Clinton's relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky, according to lawyers and others close to the investigation.
A week after a federal appeals court backed his right to question Secret Service personnel, Starr moved dramatically to widen his net beyond the three employees he originally sought to question. Among those summoned to the grand jury tomorrow is Larry L. Cockell, the special agent in charge of the White House detail who has been scheduled to fly with Clinton to Arkansas the next day.
The latest subpoenas rattled the administration because for the first time Starr has targeted one of the elite corps of plainclothes agents, who generally have more intimate access to the president than the uniformed officers prosecutors have interviewed. Cockell, for example, was the only person from the Secret Service allowed in the room when Clinton provided five hours of sworn testimony in the Paula Jones civil lawsuit in January.
In response, the Justice Department prepared to file a motion in federal court today seeking to temporarily block the subpoenas while the two sides continue to fight over the issue of Secret Service testimony, according to sources aware of the strategy. Some of the officers may file their own motion challenging the move, lawyers said.
The subpoenas, dated Monday and delivered to the Justice Department yesterday, came on the same day that Attorney General Janet Reno filed a brief asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to reconsider its decision last week ordering Secret Service employees to answer Starr's questions. While some Justice Department lawyers fear it is a lost cause, one factor that influenced Reno's decision was the expectation that Starr would not limit himself to the three employees he previously subpoenaed, according to one administration official.
One source close to the matter said more subpoenas were expected as early as today. In particular, officials were concerned Starr may seek testimony from previous leaders of the White House detail under Clinton, including David Carpenter, who just last week was given a high-ranking job at the State Department, and Lewis C. Merletti, who is now the director of the Secret Service and has led the fight against Starr.
"This was a tremendous strategic blunder by Starr because it demonstrates the slippery slope we warned about that he said wouldn't happen," said Warren L. Dennis, a private attorney for former Secret Service agents who have filed a brief arguing against Starr's previous subpoenas. "It's shockingly bad judgment."
Charles G. Bakaly III, a spokesman for Starr, declined to comment. But the decision to move forward with the subpoenas appeared motivated in part by Starr's frustration with six months of resistance from the Secret Service and it could put pressure on the agency to compromise. In a letter accompanying the subpoenas, Starr's office complained that Reno's decision to appeal had simply created more delays that were impeding the investigation.
Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor who has filed a brief supporting Starr on behalf of four former attorneys general, said the latest move was a legitimate attempt by prosecutors to get to the bottom of the Lewinsky matter.
"It is not surprising that once Judge Starr was able to secure a beachhead with the Court of Appeals ruling that he would expand the inquiry to other relevant witnesses," Turley said. "This would appear to be much ado about nothing. Any Secret Service agent with relevant testimony should come forward voluntarily."
Starr recently had sent the agency a far-reaching request for records documenting Clinton's whereabouts and movements from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. every evening that Lewinsky worked at the White House and on the days of her 37 visits to the mansion after moving to a Pentagon job in April 1996, sources said. The document request, dated June 30, apparently was not delivered until last week, according to the sources.
Starr separately has been seeking similar records detailing Clinton's activities from the White House but lawyers for the president have resisted the independent counsel's requests, arguing that they are too broad.
Starr is investigating whether Clinton lied under oath during the Jones deposition when he denied having sexual relations with Lewinsky and whether he obstructed justice by urging her to commit perjury as well.
Cockell, who has headed the presidential detail since last winter, was not told what he would be asked, but Starr may be interested in questioning him about what Clinton said to his attorney, Robert S. Bennett, in his limousine on the ride back to the White House from the Jan. 17 Jones deposition.
Clinton had been surprised by the detailed questions about his ties to Lewinsky. After returning to the mansion he called his personal secretary Betty Currie and asked her to come see him the next day, a Sunday. When he met with Currie, sources have said, he reviewed his testimony with her to see if it matched her own recollections about his interactions with the young woman.
If prosecutors ask Cockell about the car ride, however, one lawyer familiar with the matter said the questions would be challenged as a backdoor attempt to breach Clinton's attorney-client privilege with Bennett.
So far, Starr has been able to bring only one Secret Service witness before the grand jury, retired uniformed officer Lewis C. Fox, who said Clinton and Lewinsky spent 40 minutes together in the Oval Office in the fall of 1995.
Outside the grand jury, Starr's prosecutors have interviewed about 20 other uniformed officers, but the Secret Service instructed them to decline to answer questions dealing with what they saw or heard while performing their duties in proximity to the president. The agency argued that revealing such information would shatter its tradition of confidentiality, prompting future presidents to keep them at arm's length and thereby possibly endanger their lives.
Starr then subpoenaed only two of those officers, Gary Byrne and Brian Henderson, as well as Secret Service chief counsel John J. Kelleher, saying in one letter that "we have severely limited the number of Secret Service employees whom we have questioned."
The fight over Byrne, Henderson and Kelleher led to last week's ruling by a three-judge appeals panel that discounted the assassination warning as unproven and found no legal basis for the "protective function privilege" claimed by the Secret Service.
Seven subpoenas were delivered yesterday, including one for Byrne but not any for Henderson or Kelleher, according to sources privy to the situation. In addition to Cockell, the subpoenas sought testimony from five uniformed officers who had not been subpoenaed before.
Michael T. Leibig, an attorney who represents at least two of those officers, said they may have information that is "relevant" to the probe but not conclusive. "The ones I represent don't have anything earthshaking," he said. "None of them saw the president or Monica Lewinsky in a quote embarrassing situation. But some of them were at the White House and around the White House on days she was there."
Leibig said the officers are concerned that if they are forced to testify, their statements would not be kept confidential through the grand jury process and would be turned over to Congress, possibly exposing secret information about security techniques. An exchange of letters with Starr brought no reassurances that sensitive Secret Service testimony would not be shared with lawmakers, Leibig said, and the issue may be brought to a judge.
The subpoenas order Cockell and the officers to appear before the grand jury Thursday, but Starr already has made plans for Linda R. Tripp to return that day. Tripp completed her fifth day of testimony yesterday.
Staff writers Roberto Suro and Susan Schmidt and staff researcher Ben White contributed to this report.
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