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Secret Service Director Lewis C. Merletti is keeping his promise to
“fight to the death” to keep his agents from testifying before
Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s grand jury. But is Merletti really
fighting for his agents, the integrity of the Secret Service and the
life of the president? Or is he protecting himself and the reputation of
his boss?

Let’s recap a little history. Merletti, a career Secret Service
agent, was appointed to his position as director just over a year ago,
June 6, 1997. In his previous assignment, he was the special agent in
charge of the presidential protection division — meaning he was
primarily responsible for planning, directing and implementing security
for the president and first family.

A search through news clippings shows Merletti’s name popping up
again on Dec. 17, 1997, when the Associated Press reported that Merletti
denounced a tell-all book about philandering by President Kennedy,
based, in part, on interviews with four former Secret Service agents.
The story was prompted by a Dec. 5 letter from Merletti to 3,200 current
and 500 former agents in which he said the interviews were “regardless
of accuracy, very troubling and counterproductive to the mission of the
Secret Service.”

He warned that talking to anyone about “any aspect of the personal
lives of our protectees” damages the service’s professionalism and its
relationship with those it guards.

“I ask that we all remember our commission book oath as ‘being worthy
of trust and confidence,’” he wrote. “This is a confidence that should
continue forever.”

Those might seem, on the surface, to be well-grounded concerns by a
Secret Service director. Except when you consider that the book in
question, Seymour Hersh’s “The Dark Side of Camelot,” and the concerns
raised by former agents, might actually serve to save the lives of
future presidents as well as to protect the vital interests of the
nation they serve.

Tony Sherman, one of the agents quoted in Hersh’s book, responded to
Merletti with a written demand for an apology.

“He implies that our First Amendment rights are limited, but there’s
no oath and no law, no ‘Official Secrets Act.’” he said.

In one passage in the book, another agent recalled the security
concerns the service had about Kennedy’s womanizing: “You were on the
most elite assignment in the Secret Service and you were there watching
an elevator or a door because the president was inside with two
hookers.”

Is that what Merletti means by defending the “professionalism” of the
Secret Service?

“Why would the current head of the detail want to put his nose in the
tent?” asked Hersh after Merletti’s letter was made public. “Is he
condoning cover-up? Why would the Clinton White House care what happened
35 years ago? Two and two is always four and there are certain things
that are obvious.”

Yes, indeed. But they are even more obvious, sometimes, in
retrospect. You see, Merletti’s letter was sent out on Dec. 5. That also
just happens to be the exact date that the president’s lawyers were
notified that Monica Lewinsky might be called as a witness in the Paula
Jones case. Coincidence?

It must be, because Mike McCurry insisted at the time he had no
reason to believe Merletti consulted with Clinton before sending out his
letter.

“The president expects those assigned to protect him to follow
whatever procedures the Secret Service has,” McCurry said.

I’m sure he does. The question is, what do the American people
expect? Do they like the idea of their taxpayer dollars being used to
hire men to guard elevator and hotel room doors while presidents dally
with hookers? Or did they have a higher calling in mind for the Secret
Service? And, when one of those hookers happens to be an East German spy
– as was the case with President Kennedy — is there no compelling
national security interest at stake? Can the president do anything with
impunity under the watchful eyes of the Secret Service? That seems to be
what Merletti was telling his agents last December — and what he still
maintains today.

It seems Merletti may be more interested in protecting his job than
in protecting the life of the president, the Constitution of the United
States and the best interests of his country.

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