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Court to say if lawyer privacy rule extends to president, his attorney

SHARE Court to say if lawyer privacy rule extends to president, his attorney

With an important point of law and crucial testimony in the Monica Lewinsky investigation at stake, an appeals court is hearing arguments on whether White House attorney Bruce Lindsey can be forced to testify about his discussions with President Clinton.

The oral arguments Monday before the U.S. Court of Appeals focus on the confidentiality of discussions between a president and a White House counsel.The White House insists that Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr has no right to violate attorney-client privacy. Starr counters that in a criminal investigation involving a federal agency, information held by a government lawyer is not shielded from a grand jury.

In legal papers released Friday by the court, the Justice Department disagreed with the White House argument that a presidential attorney-client relationship is always confidential.

Starr made much of the department's position. He said Attorney General Janet Reno and other "political appointees of the president have taken the extraordinary step of filing an amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief contrary to the White House legal position."

"The attorney general's refutation of the legal argument made by the White House speaks volumes about the far-fetched nature of the White House's submission," Starr added.

Chief U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson sided with Starr and ordered Lindsey to testify, after applying a balancing test between attorney-client confidentiality and the grand jury's need for information.