The Lawyers By Dan Morgan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 22, 1998; Page A30
Documents released yesterday show that as lawyers for President Clinton and independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr fought over serious legal issues-such as executive privilege and Starr's constitutional authority to subpoena a president-the personal animosity between the attorneys grew.
The day after one White House Secret Service officer gave a deposition in the Monica S. Lewinsky matter, deputy independent counsel Jackie M. Bennett Jr. fired off an angry letter charging the witness and government lawyers with "unprofessional conduct that was utterly beyond the pale."
Bennett was furious about the repeated, long delays caused when Secret Service Officer Robert Almasy broke off his April 16 testimony to consult with Justice Department and Secret Service attorneys. Bennett termed the interruptions "an effort by sworn officials of the Executive Branch to hinder this investigation." As a consequence, he wrote, the independent counsel would henceforth force Secret Service officers to testify before the grand jury.
The April 17 letter to Deputy Attorney General Eric M. Holder Jr. was one of many documents released yesterday that detail the vitriolic relations between the independent counsel's office and lawyers representing President Clinton or his administration.
In letters back and forth, the warring legal camps impugn each other's ethics and integrity, raise allegations of conflicts of interest, collusion and illegal activity, and lace their correspondence with sarcastic comments.
Hostilities escalated sharply on Feb. 9 when David E. Kendall, the Williams & Connolly attorney for Clinton, filed a sealed contempt of court motion in U.S. District Court, accusing Starr's office of leaking grand jury testimony.
Four days earlier, on Feb. 5, Kendall wrote Starr demanding that the independent counsel "immediately request that the FBI, using agents not affiliated with your office," investigate the leak of a Starr letter to the New York Times.
Starr responded by citing several leaks that he indicated came from the White House.
In letters to deputy independent counsel Robert J. Bittman on March 4 and 18, Kendall continued the attack, indicating his concern "about some of the well-publicized and questionable investigative techniques used by your office," and citing several examples.
Kendall declared that the subpoenaing of a private investigator hired by his office, an apparent reference to Washington lawyer Terry F. Lenzner, who runs The Investigative Group, was "a blatant and unwarranted attempt to intrude into and violate the legal privileges enjoyed by every citizen."
In addition, Kendall wrote, his office was investigating the legal implications of Starr's use of tapes made by Linda R. Tripp of her conversations with Lewinsky. On March 18, Kendall wrote to Bittman that the Tripp tapes, which triggered Starr's investigation after they were first brought to him in January, were based on "felonious audiotaping" by Tripp in violation of Maryland law.
On April 3, Bittman responded to a Kendall charge that the independent counsel had "colluded" with attorneys for Paula Jones, plaintiff in a sexual harassment suit against Clinton. He retorted with a suggestion that Kendall's law firm may have tampered with key evidence in Starr's Whitewater investigation.
Referring to a box of billing records from the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, which turned up at the White House in January 1996, Bittman wrote: "The forensic value of the records was in fact compromised after handling by your office."
In his April 17 response, Kendall provided a detailed denial of the allegation. His letter concluded with a sarcastic comment about the "Alice in Wonderland nature of this whole enterprise," a reference to the overall Starr investigation.
In some cases, the legal tactics that infuriated one side or the other appear to have had substantive consequences.
For example, Bennett alleged that two-thirds of Secret Service Officer Almasy's six-hour deposition was taken up by consultations between Almasy and government attorneys. Until then, Bennett wrote to Holder, Secret Service officers had been permitted to give their testimony in private depositions, sparing them a grand jury appearance.
"We have regretfully concluded that it will [now] be necessary to compel the testimony of Secret Service personnel before the grand jury," Bennett wrote.
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