Privilege Invocation Has GOP Up in Arms
Sammon, Bill, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
****SOME REPUBLICANS SEE THE PRESIDENT'S LIKELY GAMBIT AS MOVING HIM CLOSER TO IMPEACHMENT.****
President Clinton's decision to formally invoke executive privilege in the White House sex-and-lies scandal makes him the first president since Richard Nixon to fight a criminal prosecution by refusing to reveal his closest secrets.
The high-stakes gambit drew denunciations yesterday from some Republicans, who said it brings Mr. Clinton one step closer to impeachment proceedings.
"Perhaps for the first time, they've taken a step that really smacks of Watergate," said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican. "It certainly looks bad - like there's something serious there that they're trying to hide."
The president is said to have decided to invoke the privilege, but it is not clear if he already has done so.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Mr. Clinton's attempt to prevent his closest aides from testifying about certain conversations with the president demonstrates the seriousness of the scandal.
"There's something terribly wrong here," said the Utah Republican. "You cannot invoke executive privilege to hide a crime or criminal activity."
Mr. Hatch and others doubted the legal merits of the move, which they characterized as a desperate attempt to stall the investigation of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr.
"This is a huge step," said Peter Schramm, executive director of the John M. Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs at Ashland University in Ohio. "I mean, invoking executive privilege is a massive legal and political act that's full of implications.
"For one thing, during the Nixon era, when this was invoked, the implications of it politically were clear - there was something to hide, something other than national security," Mr. Schramm said. "The reason that it's ultimately unjustified in this case, it seems to me, is the exact same reason it was not justified in the Nixon case, which is that this has to do with a criminal proceeding.
"The president has no right to invoke it - according to the court in the Nixon decision - in the case of a criminal proceeding. Furthermore, they can't possibly invoke it on national security grounds."
Mr. Clinton has been considering for more than a month whether to take the politically risky step of claiming executive privilege in order to shield aides such as Bruce Lindsey, Sidney Blumenthal and John Podesta from revealing presidential conversations before a federal grand jury investigating the scandal.
In recent days, he decided to invoke the privilege, although it was not clear yesterday whether he actually signed the formal assertion.
"They've made a decision to assert it," said a source close to the case. "Whether they've actually signed the piece of paper, it's really just semantics."
White House spokesman James Kennedy would not confirm whether Mr. Clinton has formally invoked executive privilege.
Former White House counsel Lanny Davis defended the president's latest defense.
"The analogy to Richard Nixon is far fetched," Mr. …