The United States Supreme Court has dealt a significant setback to the president and first lady with a decision yesterday. It says that notes taken by White House lawyers during their consultations with Hillary Rodham Clinton should be released to Whitewater prosecutors.
The decision marks the second time within a month that the Supreme Court has rebuffed efforts by the Office of the President to use the White House as a shield from legal action unrelated to the president's official duties.
On May 27, the high court rejected an argument by President Clinton's lawyers that he should not stand trial for sexual harassment charges brought by Paula Jones while in office.
In Monday's ruling, the justices rejected the White House's position that the lawyer's notes should be protected under attorney-client privilege.
Instead, the court let stand an appeals court decision that because the lawyers were employed by the government rather than Mrs. Clinton personally, no attorney-client privilege should attach to the notes or consultations.
While the notes were taken by government lawyers, Mrs. Clinton's personal lawyers were present at the meetings, raising the possibility that some of the information in the notes is opinions or advice that would normally fall within the attorney-client privilege.
At issue are notes taken by White House lawyers during two, separate, private discussions with the first lady. The notes were subpoenaed by Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr as part of an ongoing grand-jury investigation of Mrs. Clinton.
The first set of notes was made during a discussion on July 11, 1995, concerning Mrs. Clinton's actions after the 1993 suicide of Vincent Foster, a White House deputy counsel.
The second set of notes was made Jan. 26, 1996, during a discussion in the White House with lawyers immediately after Mrs. Clinton testified before a grand jury concerning the disappearance and reappearance of her billing records from her tenure at an Arkansas law firm.
It is unclear whether the lawyers' notes contain any information that might be incriminating to the first lady.
Mr. Starr has said that Mrs. Clinton is a "central figure" in his investigation.
Whitewater prosecutors are examining whether Mrs. Clinton may have engaged in obstruction of justice by attempting to hide from federal investigators billing records of her work at the Rose law firm in Little Rock, Ark., in the 1980s. Those records document the extent of her work for Madison Guaranty, an Arkansas savings and loan run by James and Susan McDougal, which was involved in a series of questionable and illegal deals.
The Whitewater investigators are also looking into whether Mrs. Clinton may have engaged in perjury in her testimony before Congress and the grand jury.
The US Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in April ordered the notes turned over to the Whitewater grand jury. It ruled that attorney-client privilege does not apply to a government lawyers' notes when they have been subpoenaed in a criminal investigation.