By Bill Miller and Susan Schmidt
In one of the busiest days at the federal courthouse here since the investigation of the Monica S. Lewinsky matter began, two grand juries took testimony from a parade of witnesses, including the head of President Clinton's security detail, at least four other Secret Service officers and former White House deputy chief of staff Harold M. Ickes.
It marked the first time that independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr has simultaneously presented testimony to grand juries in the Lewinsky investigation. The regular Lewinsky jury wrapped up its 26th week yesterday. But after Starr issued subpoenas last week to Secret Service special agent Larry L. Cockell, six uniformed officers and a retired agent and winning a court fight to get their testimony his prosecutors are moving rapidly to get their accounts of what they saw or heard about Lewinsky while guarding the president.
Starr's spokesman, Charles Bakaly III, called the pace of grand jury activity "fast and furious," and said Starr's office is "trying to complete the investigation as expeditiously as we can."
Cockell's testimony the prospect of which generated much consternation from the president's legal team when he was subpoenaed last week lasted only an hour, and his lawyer said he would not be recalled. Others who have been before the grand jury this week include uniformed Secret Service officers and presidential secretary Betty Currie. The array of witnesses left no time Wednesday for Linda R. Tripp, whose secretly made tape recordings of Lewinsky talking about an alleged affair with Clinton set off Starr's inquiry.
Lawyers close to the case suggested that Starr may be trying to secure the Secret Service testimony as quickly as possible to try to head off any debriefing of witnesses a practice that Starr's prosecutors have complained about in the past.
Ickes told reporters he was subpoenaed to testify more than a week ago, before Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist cleared the way for Starr to begin hearing from Secret Service personnel. He said he testified for "25 minutes, maximum," and was asked a series of basic questions, such as "name, address, when I worked at the White House." Ickes, who has been an adviser to Clinton since the controversy erupted in January, said he expected to be summoned before the grand jury again, but was not given a return date.
Ickes, known around the White House for his plain speaking and short fuse, grew impatient yesterday afternoon while waiting for more than an hour outside the grand jury room, one of his associates said. Ickes told one of Starr's lawyers he wanted to return to his office until prosecutors were ready to take his testimony, the associate said. When the prosecutor said they were ready for him, Ickes demanded to be taken before the grand jury right away or allowed to leave.
"'You said you were ready. Were you lying?'" the associate said Ickes told the attorney. He then announced prosecutors should call him when they truly were ready and left the courthouse for two hours.
Cockell, a 17-year veteran of the Secret Service who took over as head of the presidential protective division in February but was temporarily relieved of his post last week because of the subpoena, would not comment on his testimony.
"We believe all of his obligations under the subpoena have been satisfied," said his lawyer, John T. Kotelly. "Agent Cockell testified to every question asked of him. He testified truthfully. He did not have to invoke a privilege for any of the questions that were asked."
Kotelly said that Cockell hopes to return to his post as Clinton's closest protector. "Agent Cockell obviously is anxious to go back to work as soon as possible," Kotelly said. "No decision obviously has been made as to whether he will be resuming his position as special agent in charge of the president's protective detail."
Sources said that top Secret Service officials were consulting late yesterday on whether Cockell can return to his job.
The experience has taken a toll "personally and professionally," Kotelly said. "He will not be anonymous because of the notoriety. His picture has been in every newspaper. He's been on TV. He's had cameras outside his home," he said. "Obviously, he regrets losing that anonymity because in some ways that affects his ability to do his job in protecting the president."
"This is a man who by experience and training is primarily there to protect the president. He's not there to eavesdrop, he's not there as a listening post for anyone," Kotelly said. "So he is concentrating on doing his job, and to testify about it is contrary to his experience and training."
In addition to Cockell, grand jurors heard testimony yesterday from three unidentified uniformed officers represented by lawyer Michael T. Leibig. Also called yesterday was Robert Ferguson, a retired agent who testified last Friday.
Staff writer Lloyd Grove and staff researcher Nathan Abse contributed to this report.
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