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Clinton lawyers to file leak complaint against Starr

Starr says he is 'troubled' by Times article

February 1, 1999
Web posted at: 4:29 p.m. EDT (1629 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, February 1) -- Renewing its charge that Independent Counsel Ken Starr's office has illegally leaked information about President Bill Clinton, the White House on Monday announced that it would file legal papers seeking to have Starr and members of his staff held in contempt for violating grand jury secrecy rules.

Kendall
David Kendall  

The action comes one day after a New York Times story reported Starr was considering seeking a grand jury indictment of Clinton. The Times story, quoting Starr associates, said that Starr had concluded that he had the constitutional authority to indict the president while he is still in office.

In a brief statement read to reporters in front of the White House on Monday morning, presidential attorney David Kendall accused Starr's office of "illegal and partisan leaking."

"We're filing today in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, a motion to show cause why ... Starr and members of his staff should not be held in contempt for improper violations of grand jury secrecy," said Kendall, who declined to answer reporters' questions.

Kendall said the motion would be filed with U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson. She currently is in the midst of an investigation, trying to determine whether Starr's office fed grand jury information to reporters.

The White House action being taken on Monday asks Holloway to add the New York Times story to her probe.

Starr
Ken Starr  

For his part, Starr promised an investigation into the allegations that someone associated with his office leaked secret grand jury information to the Times.

In a statement, Starr said, "We are deeply troubled by yesterday's New York Times report. This office has no desire to inject itself into the constitutional process underway in the Senate. We are launching an internal investigation to determine whether anyone in this office improperly disclosed information to the Times. The announcement of this investigation should not be taken as confirmation of anything in the article."

Earlier Monday, Starr spokesman Charles Bakaly denied that Starr's office was the source of the story. "We have no interest in interposing ourselves in the Senate's business," Bakaly said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

On Sunday, White House spokesman Jim Kennedy accused Starr of being an "out of control prosecutor .... running the risk of appearing to tamper with an ongoing Senate trial."

If Starr seeks an indictment of Clinton, it is certain to provoke a major constitutional clash and generate controversy even among the president's critics.

One example: Robert Bork, the highly regarded conservative legal authority, wrote a legal opinion in 1973 while he was solicitor general that said a president could not be indicted while in office. Bork still holds that view.

White House officials privately say that Starr would be risking a severe public backlash by prosecuting the president at this juncture on the same charges that he brought to Congress for an impeachment proceeding.

Congressional Republicans and Democrats alike said on Sunday it was not helpful for the report about Starr to have appeared during the Senate impeachment trial of the president:

"That's a little bit distracting to have that discussion going on," Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Arkansas) said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

"There's just no end to what this man is willing to do to continue to pursue the president," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) told NBC's 's "Meet the Press."

Durbin
Sen. Dick Durbin  

"I don't think there's any question that if the independent counsel wanted to indict the president while he's serving as president, he could do it," said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). "It just would not be wise to do that," he told "Fox News Sunday."

Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, a close friend of Clinton, told ABC's "This Week" that any move to indict the president while in office would be "highly inappropriate and very unwise."

"I think Kenneth Starr by making this announcement in the middle of the trial truly indicates his vendetta against the president of the United States," said Sen.John Breaux (D-Louisiana).

"It was a distraction and it was unfortunate," Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) told CBS. "The Constitution says a president can be prosecuted after he leaves office. I think we should focus on the case before the Senate."

CNN Correspondent Chris Black contributed to this report

Investigating the President

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Monday, February 1, 1999

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