January 26, 1999
New York Times
229 West 43rd St.
New York, NY 10036
Your article and editorial condemning Chief Judge Norma Holloway Johnson’s ruling (January 25) miss the mark. Here are the facts.
When Monica Lewinsky declined to be interviewed by the House Managers, they asked us to enforce the immunity agreement provision requiring her to cooperate with congressional proceedings. Chief Judge Johnson, in turn, ruled that the agreement means what it says. Ms. Lewinsky chose not to appeal the ruling.
The Supreme Court faced a far different issue in the case discussed in your news article, the impeachment of Judge Walter Nixon. Judge Nixon contended that, because of flawed procedures, the Senate’s action removing him from office was invalid. The Supreme Court ruled that the Senate is free to establish procedures for impeachment trials without the second-guessing of the judicial branch — a position, incidentally, advanced by then-Solicitor General Kenneth W. Starr.
Here, in contrast, Chief Judge Johnson merely construed the terms of an agreement between federal prosecutors and a witness. Judges issue declaratory judgments on the meaning of contracts every day. This hardly qualifies, in the ominous phrases of your editorial, as “a severe attack on the Constitution” or as “coercive and unconstitutional.”
While we take no position on the merits of having witnesses testify in the Senate trial, we will cooperate if and when either party to the proceeding — the House Managers or the President’s attorneys — wishes to interview witnesses subject to immunity agreements with this Office.