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White House loses another argument

A federal judge persuasively ruled against President Clinton’s
specious argument that Secret Service agents should not be required to
testify in grand jury investigations of criminal conduct.

Chief U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson rightfully rejected
the Justice Department’s efforts to create a new “protective function
privilege” that exists nowhere in existing statute or legal precedent.

Clinton said the decision will have serious ramifications: “At least,
it will have a chilling effect, perhaps, on the conversations presidents
have and the work they do and the way they do it.”

But Judge Johnson had a priceless rejoinder to such arguments: “When
people act within the law, they do not ordinarily push away those they
trust or rely upon for fear that their actions will be reported to a
grand jury. It is not at all clear that a president would push Secret
Service protection away if he were acting legally or even if he were
engaged in personally embarrassing acts.”

How true! Presidents who obey and uphold the law should have nothing
to worry about. Gee, I wonder why this president is so concerned? What
does he have to hide? Did he think the U.S. Secret Service was his own
private palace guard like the state troopers he used so indiscreetly in

As Johnson made clear, “the Secret Service is composed of public
employees who are law enforcement officers. The Secret Service’s law
enforcement obligations and its duty to report criminal activity …
provide persuasive policy reasons in favor of compelling grand jury

Though she was not willing to create a new law out of whole cloth —
as too many judges are — Johnson said Congress is free to do so.

But the court test brushes aside just one of many attempts by the
White House to stonewall probes of perjury, abuse of power and a pattern
of criminal activity by the president and his subordinates. Worse yet,
the administration has vowed to appeal the decision all the way to the
Supreme Court, if necessary.

So, what happens in the meantime? Can Independent Counsel Kenneth
Starr summon Secret Service agents to the grand jury? Well, he can, but,
once again, the White House is prepared with a new stonewall tactic —
seeking a temporary stay from the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Time is running out. Clinton knows there’s a clock in this game, and
it’s running. His goal appears to be to stall facing any serious accusations
of criminal wrongdoing. What’s he waiting for? Is his goal to get to the
finish line of his presidency and take his chances with a historical
legacy? Or is he hoping some national crisis arises that will push all
of these criminal issues to the back burner?

Knowing the character of this president, I have no doubt it’s the
latter. And the trouble is, the president has lots of power in the event
of national emergencies — real or manufactured.

Every day I get a letter from at least one American citizen who
suggests this president has no intention of leaving office willingly and
voluntarily as all of his predecessors have — including Richard Nixon.
It’s time for both Democrats and Republicans to begin considering that
awful “what if” scenario. What if Clinton refuses to go? What if he uses
the same kinds of quasi-legal, scorched-earth strategies he has employed
in fighting criminal probes to remain in office — to reject the normal,
historical transition of power we have come to expect in America?

One scandal leads to another, yet there is never any resolution. Can
anyone tell me how the White House Travel Office fiasco was resolved?
Can anyone tell me what became of the hundreds of FBI files illegally
used by the White House? Until recently, when new questions about funds
from Chinese military intelligence and national security arose, the
administration skated through overwhelming evidence of campaign finance
abuse without paying any political price or being held accountable
legally. It has weathered nagging questions about the violent deaths of
Deputy Counsel Vincent Foster and Commerce Secretary Ron Brown. Deny,
defame, change the subject. The strategy has paid off, so far.

He is a skilled lawyer and political street fighter. He plays to win
— and, thus far, despite enormous evidence has managed to remain
reasonably popular with average voters and to instill fear in his
political opponents.

Inevitably, there will be a day of reckoning for all this criminal
activity. But will it be Bill Clinton who pays the price — or the
American republic?