Did Ken Starr Have A Plan To Wire Monica Lewinsky?
Reno considering investigation of Starr; Lewinsky's original lawyer testifies
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, June 18) -- It's a very sensitive issue and has been a mystery for months: Did Independent Counsel Ken Starr's prosecutors ask Monica Lewinsky to be wired so they could eavesdrop on conversations with the president or his friend Vernon Jordan last January?
Now, CNN has learned sealed FBI affidavits could answer that question.
Two sources from different camps hostile to Starr tell CNN three or four FBI agents working for the independent counsel have given secret affidavits in recent months in which they detailed a plan to wire Lewinsky.
In February, Lewinsky's lawyers, Bill Ginsburg and Nathaniel Speights, wrote in TIME magazine: "... they wanted her wired, and they wanted her to record telephone calls with the President of the U.S., Vernon Jordan and others -- at their will."
But in his 19-page letter to the new magazine "Brill's Content" this week, Starr writes: "This Office never asked Ms. Lewinsky to agree to wire herself for a conversation with Mr. Jordan or the President...we had no such plans."
The emphasis in Starr's statement is on Jordan and the president.
Several sources familiar with the discussions that day at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Northern Virginia tell CNN Starr did have a plan to eavesdrop on Lewinsky's phone conversations with Clinton's private secretary, Betty Currie, and perhaps others -- but not necessarily with the president or Jordan. By that point, Starr's investigators didn't believe either man would take her calls.
Sources say that if Lewinsky had agreed to be wired, she would have received immunity from prosecution.
Starr's spokesman, Charles Bakaly, says the independent counsel stands by his letter to Brill but won't comment on the issue of FBI affidavits.
Bakaly says: "The Office of Independent Counsel cannot and will not discuss any aspect of sealed court proceedings including potential mischaracterizations of these proceedings."
Attorney General Janet Reno has begun deliberations to determine whether to investigate if Starr leaked grand jury information to the press, a charge Starr flatly denies, CNN learned Thursday.
After a week of debate within the Justice Department, Reno has begun the difficult task of trying to decide what to do.
The allegations against Starr stem from the controversial "Brill's Content" magazine article in which Starr acknowledged that he sometimes spoke to the press about the Lewinsky investigation. The department has been reviewing the magazine article as well as Starr's 19-page rebuttal to it.
It's unclear how long it will take Reno to decide. One source said her decision could come within days. Another said it may take much longer.
Frank Carter, Lewinsky's first lawyer, testified Thursday before the grand jury investigating the sex-and-perjury allegations against Clinton.
Carter, one of the many supporting actors in the Lewinsky saga, has a key role. He is the lawyer who prepared the affidavit in which Lewinsky denied she had a sexual relationship with Clinton and denied she had been asked to lie about it.
Emerging from the federal courthouse after a day of testimony, Carter's attorney Charles Ogletree spoke to reporters. Though he refused to talk about the substance of Carter's testimony, Ogletree said, "It's fair to say that [Carter] did testify completely and thoroughly and accurately about every question that was presented to him."
Ogletree said Carter was not expected to be recalled before Starr's panel.
Carter resisted testifying previously, arguing that the circumstances surrounding his preparation of Lewinsky's sworn statement were protected by attorney-client privilege. Federal Judge Norma Holloway Johnson, who is overseeing the grand jury, rejected that argument.
"It is a bittersweet experience to, on the one hand, have to testify against a client on the basis of a subpoena. But on the other hand, once you have exhausted your legal options, you are forced to, and will readily comply with, the law," Ogletree said.
Carter was expected to be questioned about how it was Jordan referred Lewinsky to him to prepare the affidavit.
That document is at the core of Starr's investigation because it appears to contradict taped conversations between Lewinsky and her former friend Linda Tripp. In those conversations, Lewinsky claims to have had a sexual relationship with the president.
If Starr is trying to find out whether Lewinsky committed perjury on that affidavit, Carter may hold key information about who might have convinced her to lie.
Meanwhile, oral arguments in the attorney-client privilege dispute involving presidential confidante Bruce Lindsey are scheduled for June 29 at the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington.
Starr has until next Monday to file his brief on the issue. The White House, which filed its brief this past Monday, then has three days to file a written rebuttal.
In setting that filing schedule, the appeals court had said it would hear oral arguments during the week of June 29. One of the lawyers involved in the case told CNN Thursday the court informed the parties this week of the specific date of June 29.
As Reno considers action, the White House is trying to keep the focus of attention on Starr's controversial contacts with the news media.
With the White House's blessing, Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) has joined the call for an investigation of Starr.
"Ken Starr has become a campaign manager, not an investigator," Daschle said. "What he has done in the last several days is admitted that his effort is a political campaign, not a grand jury investigation. I believe Ken Starr ought to be investigated thoroughly."
"Someone needs to find out if there were violations of Rule 6E," said White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry. "That's the allegation in Mr. Brill's article and Mr. Starr strongly denies it and Mr. Brill contends that he's correct, and presumably someone somewhere will want to know what their facts are."
But a former Bush White House counsel says Starr's talking with reporters wasn't illegal. He cites Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh.
"That's a common practice for an independent counsel," said C. Boyden Gray. "Judge Walsh was talking to reporters all the time over a seven-year period. And I think it's entirely appropriate so long as he abides by the general guidelines of the Department of Justice, which it appears he has."
The purpose of the White House assault is to keep Starr off balance as the president's supporters brace for a possible immunity agreement between Starr and Lewinsky.
That is a potential nightmare for the president because Lewinsky would almost certainly claim what she earlier denied, namely that she did have a sexual relationship with Clinton. He has forcefully denied that under oath and directly to the American public.
Several sources familiar with the immunity negotiations tell CNN Lewinsky's new lawyers, Plato Cacheris and Jacob Stein, should know within a week or two whether they will get a deal.
In the meantime, Starr has put on hold plans to bring Tripp before the grand jury.
If Lewinsky gets immunity, she would join Tripp as a cooperative witness for the prosecution. That in turn would enable Starr to wrap up his investigation and send his long-awaited report to Congress.
CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Bob Franken and Pierre Thomas contributed to this report.