ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: For views from around the country on the Secret Service testimony issue we turn to our regional commentators: Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Constitution, Bob Kittle of the San Diego Union Tribune, Mike Barnicle of the Boston Globe, and Patrick McGuigan of the Daily Oklahoman, joined tonight by Jim Boyd of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Lee Cullum is away. Bob Kittle, are the American people's interest served by Secret Service agents being compelled to testify about what they may have seen or heard while guarding the President?
ROBERT KITTLE, San Diego Union Tribune: Yes, Elizabeth, I believe they are. I believe they are because the White House claim of a protective function privilege really was a constitutional absurdity, and every judge who examined that issue, from the trial court judge right up to Supreme Court Justice-Chief Justice William Rehnquist-concluded as much.
The reality is that there's nothing in the Constitution and nothing in the law that says-that supports the White House claim that Secret Service agents somehow are not obligated, as all other citizens are, to respond to a lawful subpoena from the-from a court of law. And, if, in fact, the agents had been allowed not to testify, if the courts had decided that they were somehow exempt, then they would have been placed above the law. And, in fact, the Secret Service agents are sworn law enforcement officers. For them to fail to cooperate with a legitimate inquiry by the U.S. Government I think would have done great injustice to our system.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Cynthia Tucker, would it have done great-grave injustice to our system in your view?
CYNTHIA TUCKER, Atlanta Constitution: Elizabeth, I think the grave injustice that is being done here is by Starr's investigation, which has compelled these agents to testify. Now, I do agree that the court had no choice. I don't believe that the law allowed them to exclude Secret Service agents from testimony. But that is predicated on the notion that these Secret Service agents have actually borne witness to some crime.
And there is very, very little reason to believe that. What Kenneth Starr is trying to do is use Secret Service agents and anything that they may have witnessed, including any times that President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky may have been behind closed doors, to put pressure on Monica Lewinsky. But there is absolutely nothing that suggests-given Starr's tactics so far and given what we've heard so far-that they have borne witness to any crime. After all, it is very difficult to prove that two people have had sex if you weren't in the room and the two people aren't talking.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mike Barnicle, where do you come down on this question?
MIKE BARNICLE, Boston Globe: Well, actually, Elizabeth, I think the whole episode is an indictment of two men: Ken Starr and Bill Clinton. It's an indictment of Ken Starr because of the fact that all you have to do is look in this TV program tonight. We have five separate jurisdictions represented around the country. I can't think of a single district attorney in any one of the jurisdictions who would be attempting to do what Ken Starr is clearly attempting to do-obtain hearsay evidence about an adulterous affair between a married man and a single woman. That's basically what he's trying to do. He is a fool.
The President, on the other hand, ought to be indicted because he has allowed his public appetite to become-his private appetite to become a public humiliation and dragging the country through this for five or six months when a few simple declarative sentences spoken to the truth of this relationship would clear the whole thing up, would enable the Secret Service to do their jobs, rather than stand around in a grand jury hall, and at least get the country back focusing on things that they're better focused on when, in essence, when you get down to it, the bottom line on this thing, this thing is about sex. That's all it's about.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mike Barnicle, both people to blame, Ken Starr and the President?
MIKE BARNICLE: Absolutely, both are to blame.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Mike. I meant to go on to Pat McGuigan. Sorry. Pat McGuigan.
MIKE BARNICLE: Go to Pat, yes.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Both people to blame?
PATRICK McGUIGAN, Daily Oklahoman: Well, Mike often speaks very adequately for me. In this case I disagree, and I'm closer to Bob Kittle. We do not live in a system where our executive power is invested in some kind of a monarch or a duke or an earl. We have a democratic system with laws, of rules of procedure.
Now, I might join Cynthia in some of her criticisms about the grand jury processes all over the country. There we might find some agreement, but given the grand jury process that we have, and the independent counsel provisions that we have, which have been upheld by the courts, people like me lost arguments about a decade ago about the independent counsel, given all those things, the way Ken Starr is proceeding and the kind of evidence that he's trying to acquire is not at all out of line. Again, you can make the case that grand juries shouldn't pursue some of these things. But as long as we have grand juries and as long as there's credible information about possible crimes that have been committed, the prosecutor is bound by his oath of office to pursue information and try to acquire evidence.
And we don't know still to this date exactly what it is that he wants to discover from the testimony of the Secret Service agents. Contrary to what Mike said about this thing just about sex, there's, you know, people like me and Philip Terzian there next door to you at the Providence Journal Bulletin, who think that this is about possible perjury, it's about possible obstruction of justice, and a lot of other very substantive legal issues. Adultery is kind of a side bar issue to the whole thing.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Jim Boyd, do you think the American people's interests are being served by this testimony?
JIM BOYD: Like any editorial writer I'm going to say yes and now. I'm on both sides of this. Yes, if Ken Starr is asking the Secret Service agents to testify to actual knowledge of actual criminal conduct. No if he is using them to get information about presidential conversations or to run through general inquiries about presidential comings and goings.
We don't know at this point what he's doing. And I think there's a heavy burden on him at some point to show that this very serious insertion of himself into a very close relationship is warranted and justified. Further, I think that there ought to be a privilege. Bob is right, that it doesn't now exist. It's not a ludicrous question because no one's really ever tried to get this kind of testimony before. So I think that we ought to remember too that what Rehnquist did was reject a continuation of a stay. The Supreme Court, the full court, still has to consider the basic issue of whether this privilege exists. And if it rejects it, then we got to go to Congress, because it should exist.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Pat McGuigan, what about the safety issue? Do you think that this decision to have the agents testify compromises the safety of the President?
PATRICK McGUIGAN: No, I don't, for the same reasons that the circuit court cited in its decision as this thing built up to the point that the chief justice had rendered a decision on whether or not to continue the hesitancy about these individuals testifying. The circuit court said that the question was if you were involved with the public activity of the President, where he's actually in physical proximity to possible danger, that's the function, if you will, the protective function of the Secret Service. The-to make that case about this kind of setting that apparently--the best that we've been able to determine from what we've read in news stories as to what it is he's seeking-I think it's very difficult to make the case. And I do agree with Mr. Boyd on thing, and that is that Congress could create this statutorily, but they've not done so.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Cynthia Tucker, where do you come down on the question of whether the President could be endangered by this?
CYNTHIA TUCKER: I think that future presidents much more than this one, Elizabeth, could be endangered by this precedent if Congress doesn't act and that is a place that Patrick and I agree on, that Congress ought to create a privilege for Secret Service agents. There are very, very few of us who would want to have all of our intimate private conversations with spouses, loved ones, children, subject to being revealed before a grand jury.
And so I think the inclination of any president-if, for example, he had to harshly scold a teenage daughter, for example, or engage in an embarrassing spat with his wife-would try to move away from, out of ear shot, a Secret Service agent. And that would put him or her-should there ever be a woman president-I believe that there will be-that would put them in jeopardy.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Bob Kittle, do you think that it would put him in jeopardy, and, if so, should Congress act?
ROBERT KITTLE: I don't think Congress needs to act. I don't believe this is a problem, Elizabeth. The reality is that the President when he's in the White House, as a matter of routine, holds confidential conversations out of the ear shot of the Secret Service agents. They normally are not in the room. He's behind closed doors and they're outside. And that's the way it ought to be. It gives the President a certain zone of privacy with the agents still close enough to protect him. When he is in public, that is exactly when the agents need to be in close proximity. And during those times the president, obviously, if he's going down a rope line or giving a speech, he's not engaging in confidential conversations.
So I just don't think that this is a problem. I think this, of course, is the first time it's ever happened. It may well be the last time it has ever happened. And so far as I can tell all that Kenneth Starr is trying to learn from the Secret Service agents is exactly who came and went in the White House at certain times. And that kind of information can be useful when it corroborates other kinds of evidence that he has gathered. So I don't think the Congress needs to act. I don't think this is a problem. I don't think Secret Service agents should be above the law. I don't think the president should be above the law. And that is what the courts essentially have reaffirmed and rightly so.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mike Barnicle, is this testimony damaging to the Secret Service?
MIKE BARNICLE: No. It's not damaging to the Secret Service. And to back track on what members of the group were saying earlier, this has nothing to do with perjury or obstruction of justice, those are tangential issues. The Secret Service is being asked apparently to confirm whether or not Monica Lewinsky was alone with the President of the United States. They're not being asked whether the President was talking with her about Iran's nuclear codes or the Chinese fund-raising operation. They're being asked about sex, about sexual encounters between a president and a young woman. This president needs to be protected from himself, not by the Secret Service. That's the basic issue here.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Jim Boyd, do you think that this is damaging to the Secret Service, having to testify in this way?
JIM BOYD: No, I really don't. I do disagree with Mike Barnicle, though. I don't think it's about sex. I think that especially the December 28th meeting was about whether after Monica Lewinsky had been subpoenaed they had a conversation, not a tryst, about what she would say. I think that's the most substantive issue.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Pat McGuigan, do you agree with what Jim Boyd said before that this puts a heavy burden on Kenneth Starr to justify, to come up with something which justifies his having called these agents?
PATRICK McGUIGAN: Not necessarily, because, again, you know, we often use terms like fishing expeditions and we can be critical of fishing expeditions that happen through grand juries. But I reiterate a point I made earlier-until we change, make some kind of a decision to change federal grand jury proceedings, what Kenneth Starr is doing is not out of line. Prosecutors are entitled to try to piece together all the parts of information. And I think Mike might be wrong about what it is that Ken Starr is seeking.
He's trying to put together, from my reading of the information that's available in public, a string of events, including the December 28th meeting that Mr. Boyd referred to-when things happened, how they happened. And we might get some testimony about what people heard. But a lot of this is tied to White House logs and information that is available elsewhere that might have been changed. So I don't think that their testimony is tangential to what Starr is putting together, which is a string of events.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Thank you all very much. Sorry, that's all the time we have.