By Annie Groer and Ann Gerhart
The independent counsel's demand for records of Monica Lewinsky's book purchases brought howls of protest yesterday from the publishing industry, booksellers and free speech groups. They argued that Starr had corrupted privacy and the First Amendment by asking Kramerbooks in Dupont Circle to cough up Lewinsky's transactions.
Amy Isaacs, national director of Americans for Democratic Action, called the subpoena "an outrageous act, deeply insidious to First Amendment freedoms . . . [and] smacks of some of the worst abuses under a totalitarian regime." Pat Schroeder, the former Colorado congresswoman who now heads the Association of American Publishers, said, "This is a scenario that belongs in Baghdad or Tehran. I don't think the American people could find anything more alien to our way of life or more repugnant to the Bill of Rights than government intrusion into what we think or what we read."
Said Nicholson Baker, author of "Vox," a slim novel of phone sex between two smart but obsessive yuppies that Lewinsky bought at Kramerbooks: "Starr is mining for dirty data in an unprincipled and illegal way. No bookstore should cave in to his intimidation. . . . Starr should get down on his kneepads and beg the country's pardon for undermining the Constitution in this way."
President Clinton said in a Jan. 17 deposition that Lewinsky had given him "a book or two," but he did not identify any specific titles.
"It doesn't really matter what is in [Starr's] mind. It matters what is in the mind of people when they go into a bookstore. If the government can find out what books we are buying, we'll no longer feel free to buy the books we want," said Chris Finan, president of the American Booksellers Association's Foundation for Free Expression.
But Kramerbooks had little choice but to comply with Monday's subpoena, said the store's attorney, Carol O'Riordan, who negotiated with Starr's office to restrict the requested records to four transactions Lewinsky made.
"The company considered a variety of factors, including the possible and probable results of opposing compliance and the cost of obtaining those results and the fact that it is obligated to comply and not obstruct an ongoing federal investigation," O'Riordan said. "The company determined that by negotiating with the Office of the Independent Counsel it could obtain the narrowest response and preserve privacy as best it could."
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