The first time presidential adviser Bruce Lindsey appeared before the Monica Lewinsky grand jury, he refused to answer some of the questions, saying he was "potentially covered" by a variety of legal privileges.
The next day, the deputy White House counsel got more specific, actually claiming executive privilege, governmental attorney-client privilege and personal attorney-client privilege. It turned out to be a good move."If he had come in here today still not claiming any privileges and simply telling me he wasn't going to answer the questions, he would be in D.C. jail by now," Chief Judge Norma Holloway Johnson brusquely told lawyers on Feb. 19, according to court documents that were released along with the videotape of President Clinton's testimony in the case.
The documents give an inside look at the legal wrangling that went on between the White House and independent counsel Kenneth Starr over who would be allowed to testify to allegations that the president had sex with Lewinsky and then tried to cover it up.
The wrangling is still going on.
In his Sept. 11 referral to Congress, Starr revealed that top presidential aides including Lindsey were making further claims of executive privilege. In the case of White House lawyer Cheryl Mills, the claims cover contact with presidential secretary Betty Currie, a key witness in the Lewinsky probe.
The earlier White House claims on executive privilege and attorney-client privilege were designed to keep Lindsey and other presidential advisers and lawyers from answering questions.
The Secret Service also raised a novel privilege, "protective function," in an attempt to keep its normally tightlipped employees off the witness stand.
Sometimes the battles were refereed by Johnson in the stern fashion displayed in February. But on several occasions the disputes were appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.
Critics say the litigation - much of which the Clinton administration ultimately lost - not only stripped the presidency of much of its luster, but it also dragged out the Lewinsky investigation by months. Starr recently estimated that the probe had cost taxpayers at least $4.4 million this year.
The first conflict occurred Feb. 18, when Lindsey balked at answering some of the questions posed to him by Starr's aides. Among other things, Lindsey invoked executive privilege over a lunch conversation he had with Vernon Jordan, a friend of the president's and someone who had tried to help Lewinsky find a job.
In previously sealed court filings, White House Counsel Charles F.C. Ruff argued that conversations between the president and his aides had to remain confidential to ensure high-caliber decision-making.
"Yet the independent counsel now asks the court to strip away this constitutional protection on the ground that, merely by completing a subpoena form and sending it to one of the president's lawyers or senior advisers, he becomes entitled to invade the legal and other confidential advice on which the president must rely," Ruff wrote.
The White House tried to quash testimony from presidential aide Sidney Blumenthal on similar grounds, but Johnson issued an order requiring Lindsey and Blu-men-thal to testify on May 4. Ruff appealed, but Chief Justice William Rehnquist refused to delay the testimony on Aug. 4. The matter is still being appealed to the full court, although Blumenthal has supplied his disputed testimony.
The Secret Service also launched its own effort to block the testimony of its employees. The documents show a flare-up over the issue on April 16, when Starr's team tried to question a uniformed Secret Service officer, Robert Almasy.
While the deposition stretched for six hours and 20 minutes, only two hours and 15 minutes of its were on the record. After virtually every question, Almasy left the room to confer with attorneys for the Secret Service and the Justice Department.
On May 22, Johnson ruled that there was no "protective function" privilege for the Secret Service. On July 17, the Supreme Court refused to delay the testimony.
Starr immediately brought Secret Service employees before the grand jury for questioning.
"The process for obtaining Secret Service testimony was ultimately worked out cooperatively by both parties," Justice Department spokesman Bert Brandenburg said.