Three Secret Service agents testified before a federal grand jury yesterday, and the surprisingly swift development captured the leads at all three papers–the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times. The agents were cleared to testify when Chief Justice William Rehnquist denied a last-ditch DOJ appeal to stay their testimony. Even before Rehnquist issued his decision (“just four minutes before a high-noon deadline,” says the ever-dramatic WP), Kenneth Starr summoned Secret Service personnel to the courthouse for two hours of afternoon hearings. Such was Starr’s haste that he had to use a different grand jury–one that has never previously handled the Lewinsky matter–to hear the testimony. Larry Cockell, Clinton’s top bodyguard, did not testify though he may be called next week.
Among the legal subtexts to Rehnquist’s decision: Even if the Supreme Court agrees to hear the government’s case that Secret Service agents should not be allowed to testify–and, further, in the unlikely event that the Court overturns the U.S. Court of Appeals’ decision discounting the Secret Service claim of “protective function privilege”–the Secret Service’s testimony in the Lewinsky matter will stand. In a widely quoted statement, Rehnquist said, “Disclosure of past events will not affect the President’s relationship with his protectors in the future.” Starr’s regular grand jury will hear more testimony by the Secret Service next week.
The Friday burial of Russia’s last czar, Nicholas II, and his family–80 years to the day after their gory cellar deaths the Ural mountains–takes front space at all papers. Although President Yeltsin decided to attend the St. Petersburg ceremony barely 24 hours before it took place, his remarks were heavy with remorse. “All of us are guilty,” he said (the LAT uses a slightly different translation). The NYT notes that when Yeltsin was a Communist Party leader in the Urals, he ordered the destruction of the house and cellar where the executions took place, in order to eradicate a potentially important symbol for pro-czarist factions. The impact of the ceremony is open to interpretation. While the WP is optimistic–“The ceremony fulfilled the hopes of organizers who wanted the event to provide a grand gesture of reconciliation”–the NYT story takes the tone of its headline–“Russia’s Conflicts on Display at Burial.”
On the front pages of the WP and the LAT (but inside at the NYT) is the approval of an international criminal court by a UN conference in Rome. The court will prosecute perpetrators of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity. However, the United States–fearing that internationally deployed U.S. troops could be prosecuted by a politically motivated court–voted against the treaty, which was a major blow to its proponents. The final tally was 120 to 7 (with 21 countries abstaining); in dissenting, the United States joins such human rights luminaries as China, Sudan, Turkey, and Indonesia. Implementation of the treaty is probably years away, since it must be ratified by at least 60 countries, according to the NYT and the WP (the LAT says 80). The court will have 18 judges and convene in The Hague.
With less than a week elapsed since the World Cup, the NYT just can’t enough of French sports. A front-page story reveals that the entire top team in the week-old Tour de France has just been expelled for drug use. The team masseur was caught on the border of France and Belgium last week in a car packed with drugs, and the team coach has since admitted to giving illegal drugs to his riders “to optimize performance under strict medical control.” The news probably won’t impair the World Cup celebrations in Paris.