Brace yourselves. The conflict between Republican special prosecutor Kenneth Starr and Democratic President Bill Clinton could get even nastier.
The Supreme Court today turned down Starr's request to bypass the appeals court and resolve two of the legal disputes between his office and the White House.
At issue in the present instance: whether the principle of executive privilege rightfully extends to members of the Secret Service, and to the deputy White House counsel and longtime Clinton confidant Bruce Lindsey.
The President and his allies say yes. The president, any president, needs to feel that he or she can trust the guards assigned to protect him or her, without worrying about eavesdropping or possible court testimony. And, they say that attorney-client privileges should and must extend all the way to the Oval Office.
For his part, Starr and his defenders say that if, for example, a Secret Service agent witnesses something that may be illegal, then the demands of justice outweigh a president's demands for privacy.
Over the many months and years of Starr's investigation, President Clinton's lawyers, as well as attorneys representing the Secret Service and Justice Department, have raised numerous legal challenges, which have indeed had the result-whether intended or not-of dragging out Starr's investigations into a variety of allegations involving President and Mrs. Clinton and their associates.
However, if, as the President and his supporters insist, there has been no wrongdoing, if there have been nothing more than misunderstandings or misinterpretations, or if Starr's investigation is nothing more than a politicized witch-hunt, then it would stand to reason that certain basic principles not be sacrificed to expediency or politics.
Both sides in the investigation have accused each other of playing politics, of using leaks and smear tactics to delay or undermine the other side. Prosecutor Starr's comparisons between the Clintons in Whitewater, and Nixon in Watergate, are now delivered with increasing frequency and vigor.
On the other side, President Clinton's supporters protest the duration, the taxpayer expense, the perceived prurience and partisan vendetta of Starr and his team.
The Supreme Court chose Thursday to stay out of it-for now, at least. Thus, the case will drag on. It's hard to imagine that things could get nastier-but they could-much nastier.
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