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Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr (Reuters)

Defending Starr, Republicans Call Leaks Complaints a Ruse

By John F. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 9, 1998; Page A08

Republicans came to the defense of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr yesterday, accusing President Clinton's lawyers and aides of unfairly maligning Starr's professionalism as a way of avoiding questions about his relationship with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky.

"This is a diversion," said Sen. John D. Ashcroft (R-Mo.) on CNN's "Late Edition." "The real need in this country is for the president to tell us what happened, the president to be accountable to the American people. . . . If there's nothing behind this stonewall, it's time for the president to tear down the stonewall and to tell the American people the truth."

"I think that the attack is totally out of order," said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) on CBS's "Face the Nation." "It's the typical MO for this administration: Attack your accuser -- any accuser -- try to discredit them and destroy them."

Clinton's private lawyer, David E. Kendall, last week accused Starr's office of leaking confidential grand jury information damaging to the president -- an accusation Starr said there is no evidence to support. Over the weekend, Kendall was preparing a formal complaint against Starr that he hoped to file today with the chief judge of U.S. District Court here if it is ready, according to a White House aide.

Meanwhile, a parade of Clinton advisers went on television to echo these complaints against the independent counsel's office.

White House aide Paul Begala, appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," accused Starr of committing more serious transgressions than those he is investigating.

"Sources in Starr's office are leaking, and that might be criminal -- a much more serious crime, frankly, than signing a false affidavit by a 24-year-old kid in a civil lawsuit," Begala said.

Begala was referring to the sworn statement Lewinsky gave in Paula Jones's sexual harassment case against Clinton, in which she denied having a sexual relationship with Clinton. That denial is contradicted in her own words on tapes of telephone conversations made by Lewinsky's former co-worker, Linda R. Tripp, and now in Starr's possession.

With negotiations apparently stalled on a possible agreement to give Lewinsky immunity from prosecution in case it is found that her Jones affidavit is perjured, Starr's office is talking to other witnesses who he hopes will help corroborate Lewinsky's taped confessions of sexual relations with Clinton and her allegation that he urged her to lie about it. One of those witnesses is Ashley Raines, an Arkansas native and friend of Lewinsky who works in the White House Office of Management and Administration.

Raines, who has appeared before the grand jury investigating the controversy, has recounted to Starr's investigators "detailed accounts" of what Lewinsky told her about the relationship with Clinton, according to the new issue of Newsweek magazine. The magazine, citing "lawyers close to Clinton's defense," also told investigators that she listened to messages Clinton left on Lewinsky's answering machine.

A White House official said Clinton's lawyers were aware that Raines was talking with Starr's investigators, but the official emphasized that she was responding to a subpoena and rejected suggestions that she had become a hostile witness against Clinton.

Raines's attorney did not respond to telephone messages.

White House spokesman Joe Lockhart declined to elaborate on the Newsweek report: "We cannot comment on the specifics because there's an ongoing investigation, but in this atmosphere of leaks, all this information should be taken with some care."

On "Late Edition," White House adviser Rahm Emanuel noted that Starr's office has spent more time and money than investigators spent trying to explain the explosion of TWA Flight 800. "One report that's finished in one year; one activity is not done," he said. "And I'll tell you the difference is one is done professionally, the other is done with real questions being raised by serious, serious former prosecutors and legal scholars, wondering what is going on."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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