The Supreme Court refused Thursday to intervene on an emergency basis and settle two legal disputes between President Clinton and Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr that have delayed the investigation of an alleged presidential affair and cover-up.
The nine justices chose to allow the U.S. Court of Appeals to make the first effort at resolving whether Clinton confidant Bruce Lindsey and three Secret Service employees must answer Starr's questions before a federal grand jury in the Monica Lewinsky investigation."The petition for a writ of certiorari before judgment is denied without prejudice. It is assumed the Court of Appeals will proceed expeditiously to decide this case," the high court said in a two-paragraph statement.
The decision was a major setback in the independent counsel's efforts to speed up an investigation delayed by numerous legal challenges.
The high court has agreed only five times this century to bypass the normal appeals process, including once a quarter century ago in the Watergate investigation of Richard Nixon.
Lindsey, the president's closest adviser and a deputy White House counsel, has refused to answer prosecutors' questions before a grand jury in 14 areas of the Lewinsky investigation, citing attorney-client privilege. Lindsey says, however, he knows of no wrongdoing inside the White House.
Citing an earlier appeals court ruling, Starr has argued that government lawyers like Lindsey are not entitled to claim attorney-client privilege when subpeonaed by a federal grand jury to testify about criminal matters.
A judge sided with Starr and ordered Lindsey to testify, prompting the appeal. The White House originally made an additional claim of executive privilege is trying to block Lindsey's testimony but earlier this week dropped that claim as the matter moved to the high court.
The administration also has refused to allow two Secret Service uniform officers and one agency lawyer to testify before the grand jury investigating whether the president and Lewinsky had an affair and tried to cover it up.
The administration argued Secret Service employees should not be compelled to testify about what they observe protecting the president, arguing it would ruin confidences and possibly increase the risk of assassination. A judge sided with Starr on that issue as well.
Just hours before the ruling, the administration had told the justices it did not believe there was a needed for emergency intervention.
"In the end, we are unable to conclude that this case requires the extraordinary procedure" requested by Starr, Solicitor General Seth Waxman wrote.