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Executive Privilege Claim Dropped

Switching legal strategies, President Clinton and his lawyers decided Monday to tell the Supreme Court they will drop a claim of executive privilege.

CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller reports that this clears the way for grand jury testimony by Sidney Blumenthal. The White House, however, will invoke attorney-client privilege to keep White House Deputy Counsel Bruce Lindsey from testifying before a grand jury investigating the president.

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The switch came as lawyers tried to counter independent counsel Kenneth Starr's dramatic move last week, seeking to bypass the normal appeals process and ask the nation's nine justices to settle his dispute over executive privilege for two White House aides he subpoenaed in the Monica Lewinsky investigation.Click here for an explanation of executive privilege by CBS News Legal Correspondent Kristin Jeannette-Meyers.

The final decision was made at a meeting Monday between the president and top lawyers, said White House spokesman Mike McCurry. The high court had set a 4:30 p.m. EDT deadline for the response to be formally given, and McCurry said White House lawyers would file the response Monday.

"The filing will confirm the president will not appeal the district court's ruling on executive privilege," McCurry said. "The filing will also confirm the legal counsel's intention to appeal the ruling on attorney-client privilege."Click here for an explanation of attorney-client privilege by CBS News Legal Correspondent Kristin Jeannette-Meyers.

The decision effectively removes the barriers for Starr to question immediately one of the aides, Blumenthal.

The president's appeal will focus on blocking some testimony by Clinton confidant Lindsey on grounds that he was functioning as a lawyer and his testimony is covered by the right of clients to keep their legal conversations confidential.

Anticipating such a move, Starr gave a speech Monday in Charlotte, N.C., suggesting such an appeal was wrongheaded because courts already have concluded that government lawyers don't have such a privilege in criminal cases involving public officials.

"Litigants often try to concoct new privileges by contending that their relationship is just as important as the attorney-client relationship or the spousal relationship," Starr said in prepared remarks. "But their problem is that they make this argument in the wrong forum.

"If you want to expand an existing privilege, to apply it in a new and unusual area, then the place to go is Congress, not the court," he added.

A federal judge ruled last month that Lindsey and Blumenthal had to answer grand jury questions they had previously refused.

Prosecutors want to question Blumenthal about his sources of derogatory information about Starr's office, and Lindsey on a variety of matters, including his contacts with witnesses in the Lewinsky probe.

In her ruling last month, U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson rejected the attorney-client claim based on earlier rulings that while government lawyers have such a privilege it can't be used to block their testimony before a federal grand jury about possible criminal activity.

On executive privilege, Johnson ruled that while the privilege applied to the disputed testimony, prosecutors' interest in the information outweighed the president's right to keep his conversations confidential.

White House lawyers viewed the latter interpretation as a partial victory, and that led to the president's decision Monday to focus the appeal solely on attorney-client privilege.

White House counsel Charles F.C. Ruff and other attorneys in the case met with the president Monday morning, when the final decision was made. It was to be forwarded to the high court.

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