By Susan Schmidt and Peter Baker
The White House said yesterday it has not authorized private investigators to "dig up dirt" on prosecutors, investigators or reporters looking into the Monica S. Lewinsky case, disputing allegations raised on national television by a prominent Republican lawyer.
Joseph E. diGenova, a former federal prosecutor now working for House Republicans, said he was told that he and his wife, attorney Victoria Toensing, "were being investigated by a private investigator with links to the White House." DiGenova, who has played a peripheral role in the Lewinsky investigation, offered no evidence, attributing his charge to tips from reporters.
"If the White House is condoning the investigation of private citizens, looking into their lives . . . that is truly a frightening . . . development," diGenova said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
The White House fired back hours later, berating diGenova for repeating what it called "blatant lies."
"No one at the White House, or anyone acting on behalf of the White House, or any of President Clinton's private attorneys has hired or authorized any private investigator to look into the background of Mr. diGenova, Ms. Toensing, investigators, prosecutors or reporters," said White House press secretary Michael McCurry.
While it denied employing investigators, the White House did not dispute that Clinton allies may have spread negative information gathered legitimately about deputies to independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, who is investigating whether Clinton obstructed justice by urging Lewinsky to lie under oath about having a sexual relationship with the president.
Numerous news organizations have received detailed information about the pasts of two Starr aides. As a Georgia prosecutor a decade ago, Bruce Udolf was penalized $50,000 after a criminal suspect was held for four days without a bail hearing or lawyer. As a federal prosecutor in California, Michael Emmick supervised the prosecution of a police officer's ex-wife in such an aggressive fashion that a judge dismissed the case, calling it vindictive.
McCurry said he was not aware of White House officials disseminating that information but said it was possible: "Are some of my colleagues here moving that stuff around? I don't want to rule that out. That may be true."
But he and other Clinton advisers said it was legitimate to scrutinize the records of public officials. "I've never hired a private investigator or anything like that, but I do subscribe to the idea that he's a public figure," Clinton confidant James Carville said of Starr. Carville, who has vowed to wage "war" on Starr, suggested the diGenova allegation was a tactic to deflect criticism of the independent counsel.
Some lawyers said a campaign to impugn the credibility of prosecutors by hiring private investigators could be viewed as a deliberate effort to obstruct the Lewinsky investigation.
DiGenova said reporters told him Investigative Group Inc. (IGI), headed by Terry F. Lenzner, is investigating him and his wife. Toensing was approached in December about representing Linda R. Tripp, who turned over to Starr secret tapes she made of Lewinsky describing an affair with Clinton. Toensing said last week that Clinton allies were falsely accusing her of tipping Starr to the Tripp allegations before Tripp went to authorities.
Lenzner has long ties to Democrats and the Clinton White House. He was hired by Clinton's now-defunct legal defense fund in 1996 to investigate contributions from Yah Lin "Charlie" Trie, who has since been indicted for campaign finance violations. Lenzner worked for the Democratic National Committee on an audit of donations last year. He was commissioned by a Clinton backer but not the White House to research Starr's legal work for tobacco companies, according to a source familiar with IGI. The source said IGI, at the behest of Clinton lawyer Robert S. Bennett, investigated who was funding the Paula Jones lawsuit.
Lenzner declined to return phone calls over the weekend about whether his company is investigating Starr or his staff. Mickey Kantor, who represents Clinton as a lawyer in the Lewinsky matter, refused to say whether he has collaborated with Lenzner. As he was speaking to a reporter by phone Saturday, Kantor was overheard telling a family member that Lenzner was on the other line. "I've known him for 30 years," Kantor then explained.
Staff writer Charles R. Babcock contributed to this report.
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