News Organizations Ask For Access To Lewinsky Proceedings
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, April 8) -- A dozen media companies met with an appellate court Wednesday seeking access to proceedings and records related to the Monica Lewinsky investigation.
"It is obvious that the public interest in a matter where an independent counsel has been appointed to investigate the president's conduct and other government officials' conduct is of grave public importance, and extraordinary public interest," media representative Ted Boutrous said following the hearing. "It is precisely the kind of issue that the framers of our Constitution had in mind when they enacted the First Amendment. (416K wav sound)
"The notion that publicity is bad is just wrong when you look at the history of our country," Boutrous said.
The news organizations argued for opening hearings on legal challenges to Independent Counsel Ken Starr's investigation. The organizations said a denial by a lower court was "a mockery of the First Amendment."
Specifically, the media companies requested:
- Access to briefs and arguments relating to two executive privilege hearings that occurred on March 20 and March 24.
- Procedures to give the press and the public advance notice of a hearing and an opportunity to argue for access to the hearing.
- Admittance to the hearing on the president's show cause motion concerning alleged grand jury leaks and for other briefs and materials relating to that proceeding.
- Access to the transcripts, the briefs and other materials relating to the appearance of Lewinsky's first lawyer, Frank Carter, before the court in March.
The news organizations have not filed a request for access to the information or hearings relating Lewinksy's claim that she has been granted immunity by the independent counsel, but they are still considering making that claim, according to Boutrous.
The grand jury is looking into allegations President Bill Clinton had an affair with Lewinsky, a former White House intern, and attempted to cover it up. Clinton has denied the allegations.
Judge Norma Holloway Johnson, the judge in charge of the grand jury, denied the news media's request for access on March 18.
Starr's office has not expressed a position on the request, according to Johnson. But lawyers for the White House have said they support the media's request for open hearings on the question of executive privilege.
"Secrecy is essential to ensure the proper functioning of the grand jury," Johnson concluded in a series of related orders. Johnson also refused to adopt "extraordinary procedures" that risked disclosing ongoing grand jury matters.
"The First Amendment does not guarantee the press a constitutional right of special access to information not available to the public generally," she said.
While the media lawyers argued their case in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, Starr's grand jury met in the same courthouse.