White House attempts to keep Secret Service personnel from testifying in the Monica Lewinsky investigation suggest a coverup effort, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott says.
"If there's no problem there, tell the truth and be done with it," Lott, R-Miss., said on "Fox News Sunday." "That's why I don't understand about the Secret Service agents, without getting into the legal niceties and arguments that they have. They appear to be hiding something."White House spokesman Jim Kennedy called that an affront to the people sworn to safeguard President Clinton.
"It's regrettable that the majority leader appears to question the integrity of people who put their lives on the line every day in the service of their country," he told The Associated Press.
"The legal issues involving the Secret Service are being handled completely independently by the attorney general and the secretary of the Treasury," Kennedy said. "And they are basing their decisions on the advice of the law enforcement professionals of the Secret Service."
John Czwartacki, Lott's spokesman, said the senator's comment about "hiding something" referred to stonewalling by the White House in the investigation, not to the Secret Service.
Lawyers for some Secret Service plainclothes agents and uniformed officers who have been subpoenaed by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr said their clients have no salacious stories to tell a grand jury about Clinton and Lewinsky, a former White House intern who reportedly told a friend of sexual encounters with the president.
They said concern centers on the side effects of their testimony.
John Kotelly, attorney for the head of the president's personal security detail, Larry Cockell, said on ABC's "This Week" that agents worry that their testimony could erode "the trust that has been built up, and it has to start anew with every president that comes into office." He said the erosion of that trust could mean "the president may . . . feel a need to push the Secret Service away."
Kotelley also suggested the questioning may not turn up much in the way of specifics.
Secret Service agents are close to the president in public situations, he acknowledged, "but in cases where . . . he is in private situations, secure situations like in the White House, the president has privacy and the Secret Service respects that privacy."
Three current or former Secret Service employees testified to a grand jury Friday. Cockell and other agents and officers are expected to be questioned this week.