Clinton scorns Watergate parallel

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The Independent Online
WITH THE scandals surrounding his presidency still refusing to disperse, President Clinton yesterday scorned any suggestion that his present legal predicament resembled that of Richard Nixon during Watergate. "The facts," he told reporters yesterday, "are quite different in this case."

Mr Clinton had been asked about a judge's ruling that he, like the scandal- plagued Nixon, was not entitled to the cover of "executive privilege" - a president's legal right, by virtue of his office, to confidentiality - except in very particular circumstances. The effect of the ruling was that two of Mr Clinton's closest aides must testify before the grand jury in the Monica Lewinsky case.

During Watergate, Nixon had persisted with his claim to "executive privilege" right up to the Supreme Court, and lost. The handover of Oval Office tape- recordings that ensued then led directly to the threat of impeachment and his resignation in 1974. The term rings loud bells in American ears and made invoking "executive privilege" a politically risky enterprise for Mr Clinton.

White House advisers were yesterday mulling over the still riskier decision of whether to lodge an appeal. The two aides concerned, Bruce Lindsey, a long-time friend and legal adviser of Mr Clinton's, and Sidney Blumenthal, a friend of Mrs Clinton's and media strategist to the President, had refused to answer questions about conversations with Mr Clinton on the grounds that they were protected.

Their right to keep the conversations private had been contested by the independent prosecutor in the case, Kenneth Starr, and a federal judge ruled that the prosecutor's need to uncover the truth outweighed the President's need for confidentiality. Mr Starr is trying to establish the truth of allegations that Mr Clinton had an affair with Ms Lewinsky, who was then a White House trainee, lied about it under oath, and prevailed upon her to lie about it, also. Any White House appeal of the judge's decision would keep the Watergate parallel in the public eye, to Mr Clinton's likely disadvantage. The odds on an eventual legal victory are also regarded as slim.

An appeal, on the other hand, would buy time for Mr Clinton in the Lewinsky case, delaying an already protracted investigation still further. There is still the possibility, too, that Mr Lindsey could claim lawyer-client privilege to preserve the confidentiality of at least some of his conversations with Mr Clinton.

Meanwhile Mr Clinton's personal secretary, Betty Currie, was making her second appearance before the grand jury in the Lewinsky case. Part of Mrs Currie's job was to function as "gatekeeper" to the Oval Office; she is also recorded as having authorised Ms Lewinsky's admission to the White House on numerous occasions after the former trainee was transferred to work at the Pentagon.