Did Ken Starr Break The Law By Speaking To The Press?
By Pierre Thomas/CNN
WASHINGTON (June 16) -- Did Independent Counsel Ken Starr break the law when he talked to reporters about the Monica Lewinsky investigation?
Well, that depends.
"It might be illegal because of certain rules that protect the privacy and secrecy of what goes before a grand jury," former Justice Department prosecutor Martin Pollner said.
But former U.S. attorney Henry Hudson says, "I don't believe that [Starr] did. But I have to say, this is a very unclear area."
Former attorney general Dick Thornburgh agreed it's a murky legal area. "There is no flat prohibition on discussions between prosecutors and reporters," he said. "Under rule 6E of the federal rules of criminal procedure, however, it is unlawful to disclose in any unauthorized way information that has been obtained by a grand jury."
Starr has maintained neither he nor anyone in his office discussed secret grand jury testimony with reporters. "We have conducted ourselves properly and lawfully," he said.
Justice Department guidelines generally ban law enforcement officials from discussing ongoing criminal cases, but there are a few notable exceptions, including:
- Investigative matters "that have already received substantial publicity."
- Where the release of information is "necessary to protect the public interest, safety or welfare."
While there are some matters Starr could discuss with the press, grand jury testimony is extremely sensitive. And a number of courts have issued rulings broadly prohibiting any discussions related to grand jury proceedings.
Justice Department officials had hoped that allegations about leaks from the independent counsel's office would fade away. Now the issue is back in clear focus.
Sources tell CNN the Justice Department is now debating whether the time has come to investigate Starr's office.