Probes of Clinton Have Caused a Squeezing of the Presidency as Lawyers Haggle over Whether Clinton Will Testify in Lewinsky Matter, Scholars Say Investigations Weaken the Presidency

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The enduring investigations into the conduct of President Clinton are leaving an indelible mark on the presidency that could impact chief executives for years to come.

While many experts believe the institution is resilient enough to survive, others argue that - intended or not - the cumulative impact of the probes is to undermine the ability of a chief executive to govern effectively.

Indeed, Allan Lichtman, a professor of history at American University in Washington, now believes that the effect on the executive branch is worse than at any other time in history - including Watergate. "The real significance of all this goes way beyond Bill Clinton and {special prosecutor} Ken Starr," says Mr. Lichtman. "It erodes not just the power of the presidency, but the effectiveness of the presidency."

Even some Republicans are worried about the precedents being set in courtrooms and judicial chambers. "It's something I've thought about a lot," says Sen. Fred Thompson (R) of Tennessee, a potential presidential candidate. "I'm troubled by a lot of these things."

Still, Senator Thompson, like many other Republicans and critics of Mr. Clinton, also believes the probes are warranted and that much of the dimmunition of power will affect only Clinton. "He's brought an awful lot of things on himself," Thompson says. "He's done some things that have weakened the institution, and I don't know if it's permanent or not."

The court decisions that have hampered executive authority during Clinton's tenure include a Supreme Court ruling that allows a sitting president to be sued, a decision that Secret Service agents can be forced to testify about the man they guard, and restrictions on attorney-client privilege with government lawyers.

"To open any presidency up to nonstop investigation has a corrosive effect on the institution over time," says White House spokesman Mike McCurry. …