By Lorraine Adams
LITTLE ROCK, Jan. 29—A federal judge today excluded all evidence relating to former White House aide Monica S. Lewinsky from the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit against President Clinton.
Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr had asked U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright to block all pretrial gathering of evidence in the Jones case because of the "inevitable effect of disrupting" Starr's investigation into possible perjury, obstruction of justice and other allegations tied to the White House.
Wright rejected Starr's broad request but, in a written ruling, banned further evidence gathering by Jones's lawyers in "those matters that concern Monica Lewinsky." The judge also ruled that "any evidence" regarding Lewinsky will be excluded when the Jones case against Clinton comes to trial, scheduled to begin May 27.
Starr's 13-page motion, placed under seal but obtained by The Washington Post, complains that Jones's attorneys had attempted to "shadow" government criminal investigators by issuing subpoenas to witnesses being questioned by Starr. "The White House, the Department of Defense, the Department of State and [U.N.] Ambassador Bill Richardson" were all subpoenaed by Jones's legal team this week, the motion asserts, and the subpoena to the White House requests "all documents" given to Starr's office.
The 24-year-old Lewinsky's taped conversations with a friend reportedly assert a sexual relationship with Clinton and efforts to conceal that relationship from investigators. Starr is trying to learn if Clinton lied under oath about his ties to Lewinsky, tried to get her to commit perjury or improperly tried to help get her a job at the Pentagon, with Richardson's U.N. office or elsewhere.
Jones's suit contends that Clinton, while still governor of Arkansas, made a crude sexual advance to her when she was a low-level state employee. Her lawyers see Lewinsky's case as potentially corroborating a pattern of sexual misconduct by Clinton.
"The court acknowledges that evidence concerning Monica Lewinsky might be relevant to the issues in this [Jones] case," Wright wrote in her order. "The court determines, however, that it is not essential to the core issues in this case."
The president's legal team hailed the decision as a major victory that will make it much easier to win the Jones case. "That's huge," said Clinton's chief attorney Robert S. Bennett. "That means we try the Paula Jones case and not the Monica Lewinsky case. That's huge, man."
The Jones side would not concede that the ruling was a substantial blow, but complained it was unwarranted and unfair. David Pyke, one of her lawyers, said the decision was "erroneous, plain error and abuse of discretion," and would take away a key piece of evidence in their drive to prove Clinton "has sex with women and those who succumb to his advances get jobs and promotions. She's an excellent example."
John Whitehead, head of the Rutherford Institute, a Virginia-based foundation partially funding Jones's lawsuit, said her attorneys probably will appeal the decision to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. It was not clear tonight whether Starr also will appeal.
Whitehead complained that Starr was a latecomer to the matter and should not be able to sidetrack Jones, who has been pursuing her case for nearly four years. "It isn't fair," he said. "Just because he has a criminal investigation, we should be able to complete our case. It isn't fair to Paula Jones."
The evidence gathering or "discovery" phase in the Jones case ends Friday, although either side could ask for an extension to pursue specific matters that need more research. Bennett has asked Wright to move up the trial date and the Jones camp has until Monday to respond to that request.
"The circumstances which have brought us to this unhappily chaotic juncture were not of the United States' making," Starr said in his motion. The hastily drafted motion followed a blizzard of subpoenas in the past 24 hours from both the Jones and Clinton legal camps.
For example, Jones's lawyers Wednesday subpoenaed Betty Currie, Clinton's personal secretary, a day after she appeared before the grand jury in Starr's investigation. "Such deliberate and calculated 'shadowing' of the grand jury's investigation will necessarily pierce the veil of grand jury secrecy," the Starr motion stated.
Whitehead noted that any "shadowing" was done by Starr's office, since it was Jones's investigators who first uncovered Lewinsky's tale.
Clinton's attorneys also attempted to "shadow the criminal investigation," Starr's filing stated, by sending a subpoena directly to Starr's office. Although the documents filed here do not specify witnesses or records subpoenaed by the president's team, Bennett is seeking the tapes of Lewinsky made by her confidante Linda Tripp as well as any statements made by Tripp.
Starr's intensity in pursuing the current investigation comes through clearly in today's court filing.
"The pending criminal investigation is of such gravity and paramount importance that this court would do a disservice to the nation if it were to permit the unfettered -- and extraordinarily aggressive -- discovery efforts currently underway to proceed unabated," the filing asserts.
"The criminal matter raises issues of the gravest concern," the document adds, "and their resolution may moot many of the discovery questions pending."
Starr's legal footing on the matter is not entirely clear. Although civil proceedings sometimes are postponed until pending criminal matters are be resolved, there is also no prohibition on grand jury witnesses testifying or speaking of what they testified to in the proceedings.
"The subject of grand jury secrecy doesn't mean that the witness who appears before the grand jury is silenced," said former federal judge Marvin Frankel, who has co-written a book on grand juries. "The requirement of secrecy is imposed on the prosecution and the grand jurors, but the witness is perfectly free to say whatever he or she wants to."
Staff writer Peter Baker in Washington contributed to this article.
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