WASHINGTON DESK - The Clinton administration has been shocked and disappointed with appellate and Supreme Court rulings this past week.
Word of the latest judicial setback arrived on Friday after chief justice William Hubbs Rehnquist refused a Clinton administration urgent request that Secret Service agents be exempted from testifying before special prosecutor Kenneth Starr's federal grand jury investigating possible perjury, witness tampering, and perjury by president Clinton.
When news reached the Clinton White House on Friday, it hit home with a vengeance. Clinton's legal team is still reeling from the Supreme Court's opinion last year in striking down a dubious expansion of presidential powers in a law signed by Clinton adding unconstitutional presidential line-item veto authority.
On Monday, independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr had summoned Clinton's bodyguards to testify in a D.C. grand jury investigation. The Justice Department, acting immediately to intercede on behalf of the Clinton administration, actually filed court papers with the federal Appellate Court in Washington D.C., presenting a lengthy and confusing argument seeking a Protective Order blocking Secret Service agents from appearing and testifying in the Starr investigation.
The appeal brief was signed by attorney general Janet Reno and claimed as a pretext a faulty legal theory based on a vague foundation of 'presidential safety'. Reno's brief set-up an improbable scenario in which Secret Service Agents, if required to testify about their knowledge of possible criminal activity of the president, would somehow breach presidential trust in his bodyguards. That might, according to Reno's shallow logic, 'endanger the president's safety'.
On Thursday, the D.C. Appellate court was unanimous in rejection of the Reno brief as a transparent '...Constitutional absurdity...'.
Reno immediately appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court's chief justice Rehnquist. On Friday, Rehnquist made a routine rejection of the Reno contentions on ground that the Justice Department had not shown that agents' testimony would cause any 'irreparable harm' to president Clinton.
Friday's decision by justice Rehnquist set the stage for grand jury testimony by White House aide, Bruce Lindsey.
In the Lindsey ruling, the Appellate judge said Starr's needs for information on the possible commission of criminal activity by Clinton, were so great the president could not avail himself of an executive privilege claim.
Making matters worse, immediately after justice Rehnquist's ruling upholding the D.C. Appellate Court, the White House filed yet another appeal on the grounds of attorney-client privilege they claimed is absolute and would possibly block any Lindsey testimony.
The latest Clinton administration move might result in a delay of a month or more depending on whether or not there is another Supreme Court appeal involved.