By Peter Baker
In asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to overrule Chief U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson, the Justice Department argued that she had no basis to dismiss the warnings issued by former president George Bush and the last three Secret Service directors.
All four argued in statements filed with Johnson that breaking the traditional Secret Service code of silence would prompt presidents to push guards away to shield their privacy, increasing the risk of assassination. Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr presented no rebuttal evidence but argued that no "protective function privilege" had ever been recognized by any court or Congress. In agreeing, Johnson wrote that she doubted law-abiding presidents would put themselves in danger.
"The court provided no explanation for rejecting the uncontradicted conclusions of the Secret Service Directors and President Bush," the Justice lawyers wrote in their brief filed under seal Friday. "That was plainly incorrect. The court could not properly set aside the expert judgment of the official entrusted by law with protecting the President."
As part of his investigation into whether Clinton committed perjury or obstruction of justice, Starr wants uniformed Secret Service officers Gary Byrne and Brian Henderson to testify before a grand jury about what they know of Clinton's relationship with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky. Starr also wants to question Secret Service chief counsel John J. Kelleher about what Byrne and Henderson told him.
The latest brief in the case echoed many of the arguments made before Johnson. "The Secret Service's manner of furnishing protection can be implemented only in an atmosphere of complete trust between the President and his protectors," the brief said. "Secret Service personnel test the food the President eats; they accompany him to restrooms and other private places; and they place their hands directly on the President's body when necessary to ensure his safety."
A dozen former Secret Service agents also filed a friend-of-the-court brief on the administration's side. The appeals court will hear oral arguments on the matter June 26.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company