Agreeing with the courts that Congress should decide the legal obligations of Secret Service employees, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee says he will seek legislation next year to define what those who guard the president must testify about what they see.
A federal appeals court last week unanimously rejected the Justice Department's contention that agents need a so-called protective function privilege allowing them to remain silent about what the president says and does in their presence. Without that privilege, trust between a president and his bodyguard would be lost, the department contended.Justice is deciding whether to appeal the ruling that would compel agents to testify before the grand jury investigating allegations that President Clinton had a sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky and then lied about it.
But the Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, urged the department not to appeal, saying it would only delay the conclusion of independent counsel Kenneth Starr's investigation.
Instead, he said, "I would look for a legislative remedy" that would strike a balance between requirements that Americans abide by laws and the need to protect the president.
"It may not be everything that the Secret Service would want," Hatch said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I think they themselves would admit there is no way that Secret Service people should not want to testify when crimes are being committed."
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, agreed that a line must be drawn between agents testifying on crimes and keeping silent on other matters, and that it was up to Congress to decide where that line should be.