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White House Lawyers: Public vs. Private Duties

In setback for Clinton, a White House attorney must answer questions in Lewinsky case.

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To what extent should a president's White House legal team - paid for by taxpayers and hired to handle official business - advise the chief executive on private matters?

That question, asked amid the theatrics of the Monica Lewinsky matter, has bearing not only on Kenneth Starr's immediate probe into President Clinton's conduct, but also on future relationships between presidents and their legal counsel.

A new court decision - ordering White House deputy counsel and presidential friend Bruce Lindsey to testify in the Lewinsky matter - may help White House lawyers better define that fuzzy line separating a president's public and private lives.

The Lindsey ruling July 27 was just one piece of bad news in a couple of bad days for the White House. Ms. Lewinsky has now apparently reached a deal with Mr. Starr, in which she will have full immunity from prosecution for perjury in return for her testimony about her relationship with the president. Breaking six months of silence, she spoke with Starr's prosecutors earlier this week, reportedly saying she had a sexual relationship with the president but not that he urged her to lie about it.

Lindsey has been called before the Starr grand jury several times already, but has refused to answer some key questions, citing lawyer-client privilege. In particular, Starr may seek to know more about Lindsey's role in debriefing witnesses and lawyers about their testimony before Starr's grand jury - a move that critics say goes beyond concern over official White House business. Starr also seeks information about what other involvement Lindsey may have had in the Lewinsky case.

Unless the White House appeals to the US Supreme Court, Lindsey will again face these questions, since a federal appeals court decided attorney-client privilege does not extend to the White House counsel. As employees of the federal government, the court said, they are ultimately accountable to "the public interest in honest government."

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