May 29, 1998
Our pundits discuss the executive privilege case and new events in the Starr investigation.
JIM LEHRER: Now, some Shields & Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot.
JIM LEHRER: Paul, the executive privilege case, Kenneth Starr versus the President, now has gone to the Supreme Court. What's your reading of the significance of this?
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: Jim, I think that if Bill Clinton's political team was as effective as his legal advisers have been, Bob Dole would be president today. I mean, these guys are on the wrong end of a no hitter. They have not won a single judgment of privilege.
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: His legal team. His legal team, rather than is political team.
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
PAUL GIGOT: They've lost everything they've tried. Ken Starr moves inexorably ahead, and while these decisions are legal, primarily legal and allow him to gather evidence, they do have, I think, a political echo or consequence, and that is that as he wins and manages to build credibility through the judiciary and through judicial decisions-in other words, they look at his evidence and they say, well, okay, there's enough there that we should move ahead with this. They give him credibility, and they underline the argument that he is some kind of a rogue prosecutor out on a vendetta, because it gives him more credibility.
JIM LEHRER: Because a judge has looked at what he's getting at and has ruled that in this case executive privilege-in an earlier case Secret Service, et cetera, et cetera, he's won every one of them after a judge has looked at what he wants.
PAUL GIGOT: That's right. And particularly in this case of executive privilege the judge's ruling was based on a request for evidence, that is, she said that there's a balancing test here. There is something called executive privilege, she said, but it has to be balanced by competing interests. And she said in this case the evidence that Ken Starr's showing so far suggests that there's reason to get more.
JIM LEHRER: And there's that Watergate echo out there, is there not, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: I believe there is, Jim. The fault lines, I think, are clearly drawn in the Clinton White House between the political people who argued against appealing this judge's decision on executive privilege for the very fear that comparisons would be drawn and Ken Starr in his brief emphasized-actually took Leon Jaworksi's 1974 briefs against Richard Nixon and used large parts of it in which Jaworski prevailed unanimously in the court.
JIM LEHRER: And, in the case-that had to do with the tapes-
MARK SHIELDS: That's right.
JIM LEHRER: --that had been made at the White House. In this case it has to do with the testimony of two aides, Bruce Lindsey and Sidney Blumenthal.
MARK SHIELDS: Sidney Blumenthal. Exactly. And they also argued that-the legal team-that this whole matter had been a distraction to the President, in spite of the fact that Mike McCurry, the President's press secretary, and the President had had sort of the same line of patter, which was this was sort of a-this whole Lewinsky matter was a mosquito at a picnic, and the President was getting up every day, going to work, doing the job for which the American people had hired him twice! And so, again, you've got a divergence of argument being made from a legal side and the political side.
JIM LEHRER: What about Paul's line-Paul's point that Ken Starr may be losing-didn't quite put it this way-but that Kenneth Starr may be losing the PR campaign, I mean, with the polls and all that, he's winning the legal thing that it'll eventually-winning the legal things is going to help him PR-wise?
MARK SHIELDS: I think-I think there's-certainly he's been on a winning streak, there's no doubt about it. It's been a comeback time. He hasn't done anything, except win. He hasn't appeared at Pat Robertson's college, or pleaded the case for tobacco companies in court. I mean, he's been-you know, nose to the grind stone, and he's been winning. And there's a sense that we're heading toward resolution on this. He's still, I think, probably is overreaching when he's subpoenaing book receipts, receipts from a bookstore that Monica Lewinsky-I think people kind of question that-but you can see the case he's building, and it's pretty obvious.
JIM LEHRER: Do you feel-have a feeling, Paul, that this thing is moving toward a conclusion?
PAUL GIGOT: I think it's still sometime off. I still think he has a lot of evidence gathering to do. And the Supreme Court, after all, they said in Starr's request that the Supreme Court give an expedited hearing of the executive privilege claim and set a date of June 29th. So not much is going to happen before that probably.
JIM LEHRER: And that would be-they would argue it on June 29th, and then they want a decision-Starr asked for a decision before they go away for their summer break, which would be sometime in July.
PAUL GIGOT: That's right. So I mean the people who thought this was going to all be settled by June, I think, are premature. When? I don't know. And Starr has a big decision to make at some point regarding Monica Lewinsky and whether or not he accepts the offer that she's made of evidence, or goes ahead and decides to indict her.
JIM LEHRER: And that was the other development this week, that she gave samples of-a voice sample and a couple of other things to the FBI in Los Angeles.
MARK SHIELDS: Do we have time for one quick anecdote-why I think Bill Clinton-
JIM LEHRER: Quick, quick.
MARK SHIELDS: Jim Rhodes was governor of Ohio 20 years-1963 to '83-all but a four-year period. He had a guy on his staff, Henry, everybody complained about. Everybody said he was untrustworthy, a jerk, dumb, deceitful, a total political liability. Cabinet members complained; legislators complained, the State House press corps complained. Everybody said, you got to get rid of Henry, so you're going to get rid of him. Jim Rhodes, very earthy sort of blue collar Republican, said, not on your life. And they said, why? He said, "Because you never take the punching bag out of the gym." In other words, as long as people are focusing their wrath and their ire and their irritation on Henry, then I, the governor, am okay. Shrewd move.
PAUL GIGOT: Are you the punching bag here, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think quite frankly Bill Clinton has had wonderful punching bags. I mean, if you think about it, the press originally, the speaker now is over with his foreign policy in Israel, Dan Burton, Ken Starr has had a chance-I mean, Bill Clinton has been blessed with punching bags.
PAUL GIGOT: None of them are going to be in court.
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