FEBRUARY 18, 1998
Atttorneys for President Clinton requested that Paula Jones' sexual harrassment suit against the president be dismissed. Executive privilege became an issue when Mr. Clinton's adviser Bruce Lindsey testified before Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr's grand jury. Margaret Warner discusses the latest developments in the Starr investigation with Dan Balz of The Washington Post.
MARGARET WARNER: For an update on the Starr investigation we return once again to the Washington Post newsroom and joining us once again is Dan Balz, a correspondent from the Post's national staff.
Dan, Bruce Lindsey, the deputy White House counsel, was before the grand jury today, I understand, for a number of hours. First of all, explain, who is Bruce Lindsey and why is he important to Starr's investigation?
DAN BALZ, Washington Post: Margaret, Bruce Lindsey--although he's not very well known to the public--certainly not a household name--is actually one of the President's closest friends and longtime advisers. They were college students together back in the 60's. They met working for Senator Fulbright. When President Clinton, then Governor Clinton, lost his re-election bid in 1980, he went to work in Bruce Lindsey's law firm. In 1991, when he began his presidential campaign, Bruce Lindsey was always there right at the beginning, traveled with him tirelessly. He's now a person who is almost always at his side, always travels with him on trips. He's a card playing friend. But, more importantly, he's somebody with whom the President shares a lot of conversations. And he's someone who's often asked to clean up messes when they occur with the President.
MARGARET WARNER: And so, in other words, you believe that Starr is interested in him both for what he may know about what the President's activities and related matters in this investigation?
DAN BALZ: I think there are a couple of areas where Starr's investigators may be questioning Bruce Lindsey, and obviously first because he has the kind of relationship that he has with Clinton. No doubt, the Starr investigators would like to know about some of the conversations he might have had with the President having to do with how to deal with some of these scandals and particularly the Paula Jones case and related the Lewinsky matter. In addition to that, we know or we believe that Starr's people want to talk to him about the so-called talking points, this document that Monica Lewinsky gave to Linda Tripp, the woman who was a Pentagon associate and who taped a lot of conversations with Monica Lewinsky.
And these were talking points that suggested to Linda Tripp how she might alter a story having to do with an encounter President Clinton had to do with another woman that would make it appear less damaging to the President. So we believe that he was looking for that. In addition to that, Bruce Lindsey also had a conversation on this subject with Linda Tripp at some point last year, and it's likely that they wanted to talk about that as well.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, White House officials have said to reporters that Bruce Lindsey is one White House aide over whose testimony they might want to invoke executive privilege. First, briefly explain to us what is executive privilege and why might Bruce Lindsey fall under it?
DAN BALZ: Executive privilege is a concept that although it's not in the Constitution it has been declared by the Supreme Court as something that the President has a privilege to invoke. Basically what it means is that the court ruled in 1974 that the President has the right to say, I want to keep certain things confidential. It's designed to assure that there is a free flow of ideas and discussion within the executive office of the President and that the President can have unvarnished advice from his closest advisers without feeling that every time he has that kind of a conversation it could end up in a court of law. Now, the problem with executive privilege is that it has not been defined by the court in any real sense.
It came up in 1974 in the case involving President Nixon and the tapes. But the court ruled in that case that while the President was free to invoke executive privilege and while it did exist, and in that case he couldn't protect the tapes by invoking executive privilege. He had to turn over the tapes. So it's a murky area, and both sides are very carefully stepping up to this line. It's a delicate matter for both sides.
MARGARET WARNER: Is it fair to say too that it would--if it applied, it would only apply to conversations Bruce Lindsey or anyone else had with the President, not to conversations he might have had with Linda Tripp or anyone else?
DAN BALZ: That's right. His conversations with any other citizen would not be covered by executive privileges, as far as we understand it. But it only has to do with executive communication.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, what happened today? There were some wire reports that said Bruce Lindsey's testimony was abruptly broken off.
DAN BALZ: There was at one point this afternoon that he left the grand jury room and had about a 45-minute conversation or discussion with the chief judge who oversees the grand jury. We don't know what the discussion was about at this point. The White House says at this point they have not invoked executive privilege and, in fact, only the President can invoke it. Mr. Lindsey could not have invoked it. But it may have been that they were getting into areas that, according to the White House, were in those areas that they might want to at least consider whether to invoke executive privilege. And it may be that there are further discussions going on at the White House tonight about exactly how far they are prepared to allow Ken Starr to go in his questioning before they might invoke it.
MARGARET WARNER: Because he's coming back.
DAN BALZ: He is due back tomorrow. He was there for four or five hours today, but he indicated when he came out that if you wanted to find him tomorrow, a good place to look for him would be up at the courthouse.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, also the lawyer for Monica Lewinsky's mother, Marsha Lewis, was at the courthouse today, though she, herself, wasn't. What was that about?
DAN BALZ: Well, as you recall, Monica Lewinsky's mother had a very difficult day before the grand jury last week. She was there two days, and, in particular, the second day she left looking very distraught. It was a tough day on the stand. We don't know what was asked. But she certainly showed coming out that it was a tough day. Her attorney, Bill Martin, was in court today, and he told folks afterwards that he had asked that she be given an excuse not to testify today, that she is still distraught and overwhelmed, emotionally distraught from what happened last week and was not in any position to testify. She, apparently, was given the leave to--not to testify today, but she's still under subpoena, and her testimony isn't done, so we will probably see her back at some point.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, now, separately, yesterday, the President's lawyers in the Paula Jones case did file before the judge asking that the case be dismissed. On what grounds? What's the strategy behind this? DAN BALZ: Well, it's a common strategy after they've gone through the stages they've gone through for the defendant to ask for a summary judgment and dismissal. And Robert Bennett, who's the President's attorney, had indicated they were going to do this. They did it on a much faster timetable, which, again, suggests that they want to get this case out of the way as quickly as they can. Essentially, the argument they made is that even if you accept Paula Jones's facts, which they dispute entirely, but even if you were to accept her facts, the case is not proven. They say that on the basis of the evidence that has been presented so far, or that has been presented in discovery, that her case hasn't been proved.
MARGARET WARNER: Meaning under sexual harassment statutes and the other laws that she was invoking.
DAN BALZ: That's right. I mean, there are several things she has been trying to get the court to accept, or get a jury to accept. One, is that there was sexual harassment involved; another is that there--that her civil rights were in one way or another infringed. Mr. Bennett's brief yesterday said that there is nothing to suggest that she was sexually harassed in that her job was not affected; she was not demoted; she continued to get regular raises.
He also says in his filing that in no way could she make the argument that as a result of all this, she was working in a hostile environment, which is another measure that's often included in these cases. He said that the encounter with the President was only for a limited amount of time; that even, again, if you accept her version of events, it was an advance that was rebuffed, and nothing happened after that. And, again, he disputes the nature of those facts.
MARGARET WARNER: And how long do Paula Jones's attorneys have to respond?
DAN BALZ: They have two weeks to respond.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thanks again very much.
DAN BALZ: Thank you, Margaret.