Prosecutors in the Monica Lewinsky case called Secret Service officials to testify yesterday just minutes after Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist refused an administration plea for an emergency stay to block the grand jury appearances.
"In my view, the [administration] has not demonstrated that denying a stay and enforcing the subpoenas . . . would cause irreparable harm," Justice Rehnquist wrote.
Meanwhile yesterday, independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr filed a response to another administration request that the full Supreme Court take up the matter. In the 26-page brief, Mr. Starr states why his office wants to question Secret Service agents and officers.
"The [Office of Independent Counsel] is in possession of information that Secret Service personnel may have observed evidence of possible crimes while stationed in and around the White House complex," he told the justices.
"From the beginning of its inquiry into this matter, [the office] has received - and continues to receive - numerous and credible reports that Secret Service personnel have evidence relevant to its investigation."
Justice Rehnquist issued his order at 11:56 a.m., four minutes before a noon deadline. In his two-page ruling, he called an appeals court decision on Thursday compelling the officers to testify "cogent and correct."
Referring to the application for an emergency stay by the Justice Department on behalf of Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin, who oversees the Secret Service, Justice Rehnquist wrote, "If the secretary's claim of privilege is eventually upheld, disclosure of past events will not affect the president's relationship with his protectors in the future."
Mr. Starr wasted no time in calling the Secret Service officials, even though the Lewinsky grand jury does not meet on Fridays. The independent counsel borrowed a separate grand jury at the courthouse in Washington and called two unnamed uniformed Secret Service officers and a retired officer, Robert Ferguson.
The transcripts will be sent to the Lewinsky grand jury.
Four other officers and an agent - Larry Cockell, who has temporarily been relieved of his duties as head of President Clinton's personal security detail pending the grand jury probe - waited throughout the afternoon but did not testify. The Lewinsky grand jury returns to work Tuesday.
Justice Department spokesman Bert Brandenburg said the department did not plan to ask other Supreme Court justices for an emergency stay to block the testimony, which is its right. That means the administration will see if the full Supreme Court accepts its "writ of certiorari" and examines the broader legal issue of a "protective function privilege" when it reconvenes in October.
Mr. Starr said in court papers he would limit questioning to events prior to yesterday and would not immediately call all the officers he has so far subpoenaed. "As a result," he said, "there could not be any conceivable current presidential pushing away caused by denial of the stay - even if the petition for certiorari is granted."
Mr. Clinton, who left for a weekend of golf and fund raising in Little Rock, Ark., yesterday, used a meeting with reporters covering his session with representatives of Girls Nation and Boys Nation to express concern over the decision. Refusing to express his personal anger at the court, Mr. Clinton said he backed the Secret Service bid to block testimony.
"They have strong convictions, they have manifested those convictions. These people risk their lives to protect me and other presidents in a professional way, not a political way," he said, although refusing to repeat his earlier claim - used by the Secret Service in its appeal - that testimony from agents would have a "chilling effect" on their relationship with the president.
He would not say how he felt about the …