Starr Tried to Limit Leak Probe, Keep It Secret
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 7, 1999; Page A26
Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr fought to limit a court-ordered investigation into allegations that his office illegally leaked grand jury material to reporters and asked the court to keep the probe secret, according to documents unsealed yesterday.
Starr lost both legal battles before Chief U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson, who in October made public a ruling that cited 24 news stories as possible violations of secrecy rules and named a special master to determine whether personnel in Starr's office were the sources for those stories. Starr wanted that ruling to remain under seal until the leak investigation was completed.
At the time of Johnson's decision the House Judiciary Committee was in the midst of considering Starr's report on the Monica S. Lewinsky investigation. "Divulging the subject matter and scope of the proceeding at this time will provide a road map for prying and intrusion into it, and necessarily into grand jury matters in an ongoing investigation," Starr wrote to Johnson on Oct. 1.
The documents released yesterday include 220 pages of legal arguments stemming from the allegations that Starr's office violated rule 6(e) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which prohibits prosecutors from revealing information about matters before a grand jury. In the papers, Starr's office vigorously denied breaking any rules and argued that any such information appearing in media reports came from other sources familiar with the proceedings.
The leak investigation was prompted by complaints to Johnson last spring from attorneys for President Clinton and two of his top aides, Bruce R. Lindsey and Sidney Blumenthal. In June, Johnson found that there had been "serious and repetitive leaks." She followed up with the September ruling that launched the special master's probe based on the finding that the 24 news stories constituted prima facie evidence of violations, a minimal legal burden met when Clinton's attorneys submitted news accounts containing information on grand jury activities that could have come from Starr's office.
At Starr's request, the judge did not identify the special master. Sources have subsequently identified him as John W. Kern III, a senior judge with the D.C. Court of Appeals.
Starr also attempted to remove more than half of the contested 24 articles from the court's review. For example, he argued that eight stories concerning immunity negotiations with Lewinsky should not be considered because they did not involve issues then before the grand jury. He also argued that other articles about a semen-stained dress kept by Lewinsky should be exempted from the inquiry because the clothing did not come to Starr through a grand jury subpoena. Besides seeking to limit the investigation, Starr asked Johnson to keep the September ruling under seal because public disclosure "could be exploited by the criminal defense bar in an effort to undermine the integrity" of his investigation.
Lawyers for Clinton, Lindsey and Blumenthal countered: "It is extraordinary that the [Office of Independent Counsel] would try to hide questions about its own conduct for no reason other than that it might be criticized." Johnson unsealed the ruling Oct. 30, roughly five weeks after it was issued.
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