By Bill Miller
Bob Bittman, one of independent counsel Kenneth Starr's top deputies, told Chief U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson that the prosecutors want the records of Lewinsky's purchases to help determine the nature of her relationship with President Clinton.
Opposing two bookstores' attempt to quash the subpoenas, Bittman said Starr's office was most interested in the as-yet-unidentified book Clinton said, in a sworn deposition, that Lewinsky had given him as a gift. Bittman said prosecutors have broad authority to go after bookstore records, citing the Unabomber case and other criminal investigations as precedents.
Johnson, in a rare open hearing relating to the grand jury investigation of whether Clinton lied about his relationship with Lewinsky or tried to get others to lie about it, said she expected to rule on the subpoenas next week.
Nathaniel H. Speights, one of Lewinsky's attorneys, said Starr's office had no legal right to issue such a wide-ranging subpoena. "Ms. Lewinsky has not been charged with anything," he said. "She has the right to privacy."
Free-speech groups, supporting the booksellers' effort to block the subpoenas, agreed.
"We're flabbergasted the government would attempt to compare Monica Lewinsky to the Unabomber, Tim McVeigh or the defendants in the World Trade Center bombing," said American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Louis Bograd. In those cases, he said, "the government wanted to demonstrate the defendants had motive and were the perpetrators. Here there is no issue of [Lewinsky's] identity, nor any issue concerning motive we could see."
Pamela J. Bethel, an attorney for the Dupont Circle store Kramerbooks, one of the stores involved, argued that customers deserve to know their privacy will be respected when they make purchases.
Outside the courtroom, Ann Kappler, an attorney for the American Booksellers Association, said a ruling in Starr's favor could have a "chilling effect" on book sales because customers could be wary of government prying.
According to the subpoenas, Lewinsky purchased books four times at Kramerbooks and at least 12 times at the Barnes & Noble outlet in Georgetown over a 29-month period.
Barnes & Noble, which is seeking to quash its own subpoena, was not part of yesterday's proceedings, although the chain's lawyers attended the hearing.
Staff writer David Streitfeld contributed to this report.
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