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Lewinsky Asks Court to Clear TV Interview

Monica Lewinsky Monica Lewinsky inside the Mayflower Hotel on Monday. (Reuters)

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  • By Susan Schmidt
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, January 26, 1999; Page A12

    Monica S. Lewinsky, who tried unsuccessfully over the weekend to avoid an interview with House Republicans managing the Senate impeachment trial of President Clinton, has been seeking court clearance to tell her story to ABC's Barbara Walters.

    Lewinsky's lawyers have petitioned for a hearing Thursday to try to force independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr to lift restrictions on what she may discuss publicly, including in a planned interview with Walters on ABC's "20/20" news program, according to legal sources.

    Under the terms of Lewinsky's immunity agreement with Starr, she may not make statements to the news media without approval of the independent counsel, "pending a final resolution of this matter." When that may be is unclear, and Lewinsky appears to have grown tired waiting. The motion that prompted Thursday's hearing is under seal, however, and lawyers for neither Starr nor Lewinsky would comment.

    The planned hearing was obliquely referred to Friday in proceedings before Chief U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson, when Lewinsky's lawyers unsuccessfully tried to block Republican House managers from interviewing her.

    Two of the three attorneys who represented Lewinsky at the hearing, Jacob A. Stein and Plato Cacheris, showed up at the 5:30 p.m. emergency session Friday wearing tuxedos, having been summoned as they were heading to a dinner at the Mayflower Hotel where, two days later, Lewinsky would meet with the House prosecutors.

    A transcript of those proceedings, made available yesterday, shows that Stein argued that the independent counsel's authority ended with the submission of an impeachment report to Congress.

    "Once they gave the case to the House their right to participate is over," Stein said.

    But Starr attorney Robert Bittman argued that Lewinsky's immunity agreement provided that she submit to such interviews. "The agreement stands for itself. The rules of the Senate [do] not control this agreement," he said, an argument that Johnson agreed with in an order the following day.

    Yesterday Stein said Lewinsky was not trying to hinder the impeachment trial by going to court.

    "Ms. Lewinsky raised the issue of OIC's role simply because it put her in the false light of appearing as a partisan. She has met with the managers and fully cooperated with their questioning. She answered every question they asked," said Stein.

    "She now has a compelling personal interest in avoiding her use by others into what cannot be anything but an unseemly circus," he added.

    During the Friday hearing Bittman revealed that members of Starr's staff interviewed Lewinsky about two weeks ago in New York on an unspecified issue covered under the terms of her immunity agreement. Knowledgeable sources said the interview concerned former Lewinsky friend Linda R. Tripp, but it could not be learned what issues were discussed. Starr is investigating whether tape-recordings of conversations with Lewinsky that Tripp provided his office were doctored or duplicated.

    Johnson yesterday also unsealed litigation stemming from efforts by Lewinsky's first lawyer, William H. Ginsburg, to enforce an immunity agreement he claimed to have concluded with Starr's office. The documents show that the agreement fell apart over a slight change in what Lewinsky was willing to say Clinton had told her about concealing their relationship.

    In her Feb. 1 handwritten proffer to Starr, Lewinsky said Clinton told her that if she was ever asked why she had been visiting his office, she "should say she was bringing him letters . . . or visiting [Clinton secretary] Betty Currie." Two days later she amended the statement to say Clinton had made the suggestion before she received a subpoena to testify in the sexual harassment suit Paula Jones brought against the president.

    Johnson rejected Ginsburg's claim that the immunity agreement was valid, saying Lewinsky's addition to her statement constituted a "material change" subject to review and approval by Starr.

    Also yesterday, Starr's office asked a judge to prevent Julie Hiatt Steele, a Richmond woman indicted in the Kathleen E. Willey investigation, from revealing materials her lawyers received through discovery in preparing for trial, saying release of the materials could jeopardize the ongoing probe.

    Steele is charged with obstruction of justice and making false statements. She is accused of telling a grand jury a false story to undermine Willey's allegation made in connection with the now-dismissed Jones suit that the president made an unwanted sexual advance toward her.

    Steele has pleaded not guilty.

    "The government still has pending criminal investigations related" to the Lewinsky controversy, Starr told the court. "Disclosure of some of the discovery materials the government may provide poses a substantial risk of impeding and influencing those investigations."

    Staff writer Peter Baker contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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