Starr Subpoenas Chief of Clinton’s Security Detail
Raising the stakes in the legal battle for information about President Clinton’s contacts with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky, independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr subpoenaed the head of the president’s security detail for testimony, a government source said Tuesday.
The subpoena of Larry Cockell, who commands the plainclothes agents who constantly guard Clinton, came as the Justice Department urged the full U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals here to reverse a ruling by three of its judges that ordered two uniformed agents and a Secret Service lawyer to testify.
Although the administration has failed to secure a legal “privilege” that would exempt Secret Service employees not on the personal detail from testifying before a federal grand jury, it is expected to argue that potential danger to the president’s security posed by testimony from Cockell would be even greater.
The uniformed agents patrol the White House and its grounds and are stationed outside the president’s office. But the personal detail travels with the president throughout the world and is in closer and more frequent contact with him than their uniformed counterparts. Thus it is possible that Cockell, as head of the detail, would have more information about any contacts Clinton may have had with Lewinsky outside the White House.
Whether the full circuit court agrees to reconsider the administration’s claim of privilege for the three previously subpoenaed Secret Service employees, it is unlikely that they would testify before fall because the appeals court ruling is likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court, which next meets in October.
Starr has been criticized for the length of his investigation, and the subpoenaing of Cockell on the strength of previous court rulings appears to be an effort to accelerate the inquiry.
Starr’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
A government source said that Starr’s office, in negotiations with the Justice and Treasury departments, had made it clear that it intended to seek testimony from Secret Service agents in addition to the two uniformed officers and the counsel.
In appealing the three-judge panel’s rejection of a limited Secret Service privilege, the Justice Department said that the panel had “substituted its judgment for that of the agency charged by Congress with protecting the president, an agency that speaks with unique authority regarding the effect of a ruling that imperils the confidentiality essential to the performance of its mission.”
“The failure to protect confidentiality will critically impair the service’s ability to protect the president,” the Justice Department said in summarizing the Secret Service position.
“Basic reason establishes, and experience confirms, that a president must trust that those who protect him will maintain the absolute confidentiality of what they see and hear,” it said.
Starr has contended that Secret Service employees have the same obligation as other law enforcement officers to testify in a criminal inquiry about what they have seen or heard.
In related action Tuesday, Linda Tripp, a key Starr witness in the inquiry into whether Clinton and Lewinsky had a sexual affair and then took steps to lie about it and persuade others to do so, finished her fifth day of grand jury testimony. She is scheduled to return Thursday.
It could not be learned whether Tripp’s unexpectedly long testimony before the grand jury is because of prosecutors’ efforts to authenticate the secret tapes Tripp made of her phone conversations with Lewinsky or because of questions being asked by grand jurors.