The U.S. Court of Appeals refused Thursday to reconsider a panel's decision ordering Secret Service officers to testify at the Monica Lewinsky grand jury but gave the administration until noon Friday to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Sending a strong signal to the Justice Department, the full appeals court said not one of its 11 judges wanted to reconsider the earlier decision by a three-judge panel.The ruling came just hours after the appeals court issued an emergency order stopping President Clinton's chief bodyguard and eight other Secret Service officers from testifying until it made its decision.
Now that the court declined the case, the Justice Department has one last recourse: an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Anticipating the need, Justice lawyers had sent protective paperwork to the Supreme Court that would ask Chief Justice William Rehnquist to block the testimony and take the case when the high court returns in October.
The Justice Department had made a mad dash from the District Court to the Supreme Court seeking to head off the testimony of Special Agent Larry Cockell, who leads Clinton's security detail, and other officers subpoenaed by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr.
Summoned to appear Thursday morning, and uncertain of the status of the legal wrangling, Cockell and the officers arrived grim-faced at the courthouse and waited outside the grand jury room for more than an hour until the appeals court issued the temporary stay at 10:20 a.m. They left immediately to resume the work of protecting the president.
But their status was immediately thrown back into doubt when the appeals court decidednot to review the legal dispute.
Attorney Mike Leibig, who represents two of the Secret Service officers, said his clients were prepared to testify but were relieved to have been spared having to do so until the courts settle what they can and cannot talk about it.
With all the legal drama outside, key prosecution witness Linda Tripp, whose secret tape recording spurred the Lewinsky investigation, quietly walked into the grand jury room and began a sixth day of testimony.
Starr is moving toward a new and sensitive area of his investigation with the grand jury probing possible suborning of perjury, witness tampering and obstruction.
Clinton's lawyers opened another line of defense in the case - declaring the subpoenas a "backdoor attempt" to find out about Clinton's confidential conversations with his lawyers.
Attorney General Janet Reno refused Thursday to describe what appeals her department was making in the case because they involve grand jury matters that are secret by law. But, she said, "What's at stake, based on what the Secret Service has advised, is the safety of the president of the United States, now and for years to come. And I think that's too important not to pursue in every way possible."
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch on Wednesday criticized Reno for pressing ahead with the court appeals.
"The decision to appeal at this time calls into serious question the real motivations of both the Department of Justice and the Secret Service," Hatch, R-Utah, told Reno at a hearing.
"I tell you . . . with all my heart" the court appeal "is not done for delay," Reno replied.