The Supreme Court Thursday refused to intervene on an emergency basis and settle two legal disputes between President Clinton and Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr that have delayed the investigation of an alleged presidential affair and cover-up.
Starr had wanted the justices to bypass the normal appeals process, and quickly settle the disputes over whether White House deputy counsel Bruce R. Lindsey is protected by attorney-client privilege, and whether Secret Service agents can be compelled to testify about what they observed while guarding the president.
The disputes have delayed Starr's investigation of an alleged presidential affair and cover-up.
The White House is applauding the move. Counsel Charles Ruff said, "The Supreme Court acted appropriately." And in a jab at Starr, Ruff said the attorney-client privilege is not a "new" privilege - despite what he says were Starr's claims to the contrary.
Clinton spokesman Mike McCurry said if there's any delay in Starr's investigation, it's not the administration's fault. He told reporters it's the 1,400th day of Starr's tenure as independent counsel - and that it's costing taxpayers $30,000 a day.
The nine justices chose to allow the U.S. Court of Appeals to make the first effort at resolving the issues.
"The petition for a writ of certiorari before judgment is denied without prejudice. It is assumed the Court of Appeals will proceed expeditiously to decide this case," the high court said in a two-paragraph statement.
The decision is a major setback in the independent counsel's efforts to speed up an investigation delayed by numerous legal challenges.
The high court has agreed only five times this century to bypass the normal appeals process, including once a quarter century ago in the Watergate investigation of Richard Nixon.
Lindsey, the president's closest adviser and a deputy White House counsel, has refused to answer prosecutors' questions before a grand jury in 14 areas of the Lewinsky investigation, citing attorney-client privilege. Lindsey says, however, he knows of no wrongdoing inside the White House.
Citing an earlier appeals court ruling, Starr has argued that government lawyers like Lindsey are not entitled to claim attorney-client privilege when subpeonaed by a federal grand jury to testify about criminal matters. Click here for an explanation of attorney-client privilege by CBS News Legal Correspondent Kristin Jeannette-Meyers.
Earlier Thursday, Solicitor General Seth Waxman told the court there is no need to bypass the bnormal appeals process.
"In the end, we are unable to conclude that this case requires the extraordinary procedure," Waxman wrote.
Waxman said that one reason is "this court may benefit from review by the court of appeals in a case of this importance, since the single district judge who rejected the claim of privilege...is the oly judge to have passed on the question at any level."
Starr has asked the Supreme Court to bypass the appeals court and rule on whether two Secret Service uniformed officers and one agency lawyer should be compelled to testify to a grand jury in the Lewinsky investigation.
The administration claims Secret Service employees should not be compelled to testify about what they observe while protecting the president, arguing it would ruin confidences and possibly increase the risk of assassination.
A lower court already has rejected that claim.
Starr is investigating whether Mr. Clinton and Lewinsky lied under oath when they denied in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit that they had sexual relations.
Prosecutors also want to know whether Mr. Clinton and presidential friend Vernon Jordan encouraged Lewinsky to lie by finding her a job and a lawyer, and whether other presidential aides tried to obstruct the investigation.