With Grand Jury News Leaking, Is Starr's Office Out Of Control?
Clinton's personal attorney plans court appeal to curtail Starr's powers
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Feb. 6) -- With the blessing of President Bill Clinton, the first family's personal lawyer David Kendall took angry aim at independent counsel Ken Starr Friday, calling the special prosecutor's office "out of control," while threatening court action to stop selective news leaks.
"The leaking of the past few weeks is untolerably unfair. It violates not only the criminal rules -- rules of court, rules of ethics, and Department of Justice guidelines -- it also violates fundamental rules of fairness in an investigation like this. We have seen leak after leak which ultimately ... turns out to be false information," said Kendall in a statement Friday.
Kendall continued, "These leaks make a mockery of the traditional rules of grand jury secrecy. They often appear to be a cynical attempt to pressure and intimidate witnesses, to deceive the public and to smear people involved in the investigation."
The president's lawyer has also sent a 15-page letter to Starr blasting the independent counsel's probe and stating his intention to "seek judicial relief from these tactics, including contempt sanctions, as soon as practicable."
Critics of the special prosecutor's probe, led by the White House, have complained bitterly that Starr's team is orchestrating leaks to the media to influence public opinion and immunity talks with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky's lawyers.
Specifically, the Clinton Administration is furious about articles in Friday's New York Times and Washington Post about grand jury testimony given by Clinton's private secretary Betty Currie. And earlier in the week the Wall Street Journal reported on the grand jury testimony of a White House steward.
Such leaks are illegal as they break the secrecy of grand jury proceedings.
Currie's lawyer Lawrence Wechsler said, "I am shocked and dismayed by the numerous leaks regarding Mrs. Currie's grand jury testimony." Wechsler went on to say that news stories of Clinton trying to influence Currie's testimony on his meetings with Lewinsky were "absolutely false and a mischaracterization of the facts."
Starr said he does "not have an explanation" for the news reports but said he too was concerned about possible leaks and was trying to find out what happened. "If there was an act of unprofessional activity, I am confident we will find it out," Starr said Friday in Little Rock, Ark.
Clinton, too, complained mildly about news leaks from the grand jury, but did not single out one source. "I'm honoring the rules of the investigation," he said during a joint news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "If someone else is leaking unlawfully out of the grand jury that's a different story."
But Kendall placed the blame squarely at the feet of Starr's office. In his letter to Starr the president's attorney wrote, "I am making this letter public today because of the calculated tactic your office is now employing of selectively releasing both information and falsehoods in an attempt to pressure, manipulate and intimidate witnesses and possible witnesses, affect public opinion in your favor, and cause political harm to the president."
Twelve pages of Kendall's letter are citations of specific news stories based on sources that Kendall said must have been members of Starr's staff of investigators and prosecutors. One of the specific stories cited is the Times apparently based Currie's testimony.
Part of the White House's strategy for fighting the charges surrounding an alleged sexual relationship between Clinton and Lewinsky, has been a counter-offensive accusing Starr of exceeding his independent counsel mandate as part of a partisan effort to hurt the president.
Lewinsky's lawyer seems to back-up that characterization, accusing the Starr camp of trying to strong-arm his client into lying. "Any question regarding Ms. Lewinsky and her status have been fomented by the Office of the Independent Counsel and their orchestrated campaign to pressure Ms. Lewinsky into statements that are not true," Ginsburg said.
Starr has been authorized to investigate Clinton's relationship with Lewinsky and whether the president, or his friend Vernon Jordan, told her to lie about it.
The Justice Department Friday received a letter from a leading Congressional Democrat calling for a formal inquiry.
Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, called on Justice to determine whether Starr "should be removed or disciplined, or whether members of his staff should be disciplined for repeated instances of alleged misconduct and abuses of power."
Justice Department spokesman Bert Brandenberg said only, "We will review it."
As the questions escalate over the independent counsel's three and half year investigation, Starr has defended the work he is doing. "The law is the law. The law is sacred. The facts have integrity and we're going to go about our job," he said Thursday.
CNN's Wolf Blitzer and John King contributed to this report.