White House Lawyers Can Be Made to Testify about Lewinsky Supreme Court Lets Stand Decisions That Narrowly Define Attorney-Client Privilege for the President

By Warren Richey, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, November 1, 1998 | Go to article overview

White House Lawyers Can Be Made to Testify about Lewinsky Supreme Court Lets Stand Decisions That Narrowly Define Attorney-Client Privilege for the President


Warren Richey, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


When Bruce Lindsey was called before the grand jury investigating the Monica Lewinsky matter, he repeatedly refused to answer certain questions.

He says he's one of President Clinton's lawyers and their conversations are thus protected by attorney-client privilege.

Mr. Lindsey is a deputy in the White House counsel's office and is one of the president's closest advisers. But his salary is paid with US tax dollars, which technically means his client is the presidency rather than Bill Clinton. Two appeals courts have ruled that Lindsey is not shielded in the Lewinsky matter by attorney-client privilege because he is not Mr. Clinton's personal lawyer. Yesterday, the US Supreme Court agreed when it declined by a 7-to-2 vote to review those decisions. The high court's action makes clear that Lindsey and other White House lawyers can be compelled to testify before a grand jury. But it leaves unresolved a thorny question about the extent to which the president can rely on the White House counsel's office to help defend himself during impeachment proceedings. Did the Founding Fathers expect that when Congress takes the political action of considering the president's impeachment for alleged personal - rather than official - actions, that the president would not have the full resources of his White House staff to respond? In his brief, Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr argued there is no reason why an attorney-client privilege for White House lawyers should extend beyond the executive privilege that protects all the president's sensitive official discussions. Legal precedent holds that presidents enjoy the protection of executive privilege in their official actions, but that does not apply to private acts of alleged criminal conduct. …

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