White House Sends Big Legal Guns to Courthouse

Article excerpt

Deputy White House Counsel Bruce R. Lindsey testified for a second day before a grand jury in the Monica Lewinsky inquiry as White House lawyers sought to limit what President Clinton's most trusted adviser can say about conversations he had with his boss.

Mr. Lindsey was accompanied to the courthouse by a phalanx of 10 White House and private practice lawyers, including White House Counsel Charles F.C. Ruff and Washington attorney Neil Eggleston.

Mr. Eggleston was hired by the president to advise him on whether executive privilege protects from grand jury scrutiny the confidentiality of conversations Mr. Lindsey and other top White House aides had with Mr. Clinton about the Lewinsky scandal, which is being investigated by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr.

"White House Counsel Charles Ruff is continuing to try to resolve this matter concerning the confidentiality of communications," said White House Special Counsel James Kennedy. "We are unable to discuss anything that was before a sealed hearing or before the secret grand jury."

Only the president can invoke executive privilege to limit questioning by prosecutors, although White House officials have said he is reluctant to do so - fearing comparisons with President Nixon's 1974 attempts to similarly close down the Watergate probe.

Mr. Ruff and Mr. Eggleston, a former White House counsel, spent an hour behind closed doors before U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson to discuss Mr. Lindsey's testimony before he returned to face the grand jury.

It was not known if Mr. Clinton planned to invoke executive privilege in the probe. Asked as he left the White House on a fund-raising trip if he planned to, Mr. Clinton said, "It's my understanding that the White House counsel is trying to resolve that issue, and while he's working on it, I don't think I should comment."

Meanwhile, Attorney General Janet Reno noted in a letter this week to Mr. Ruff that the White House had requested Justice Department representation for "the possible assertion of the presidential communications and attorney-client privileges" in the grand jury probe.

While she agreed that providing lawyers would be "in the institutional interests of the United States," she suggested the White House "appoint a special attorney" for any claim of executive privilege. Miss Reno has made every effort not to intervene in Mr. Starr's investigation.

The suggestion prompted the White House to hire Mr. Eggleston, who successfully represented the White House in an executive-privilege claim over papers in independent counsel Donald Smaltz's investigation of former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy.

During his time as associate counsel for the White House, Mr. Eggleston served as a member of the damage-control team responsible for responding to public revelations in the Whitewater probe. Team members answered to Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes and included Mr. Lindsey, White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum, Chief of Staff Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty and senior adviser George Stephanopoulos.

In 1993, Mr. Eggleston obtained a secret copy of a Small Business Administration report on defaulted loans by Capital-Management Services Inc. …