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Starr Bargained Hard to Limit Lewinsky's TV Comments

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  • By Howard Kurtz
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Saturday, March 6, 1999; Page A10

    Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr fought hard to limit the scope of Monica S. Lewinsky's appearance with Barbara Walters before agreeing with her lawyers "that the tenor of the interview will be emotional rather than factual."

    Lewinsky's attorneys, for their part, criticized Starr's office "for its broad self-interested and self-perpetuating conception of its control over Lewinsky's First Amendment rights."

    These were among the legal documents unsealed yesterday by U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson, shedding light on a backstage battle over Lewinsky's planned television appearance that had been building since September. The issue: Just how far can prosecutors go in trying to prevent a key witness from speaking out?

    In the end, the parameters of Lewinsky's Wednesday appearance on ABC's "20/20," seen by 70 million Americans, were set not by court order but by an agreement between the two sides. Lewinsky attorney Sydney Hoffman had to be present at the taping to prevent the former White House intern from fielding questions she had agreed not to answer.

    Lewinsky's attorneys, Plato Cacheris and Jacob Stein, asked the court to modify her immunity agreement with Starr's office, under which she could not speak to the news media without Starr's approval. Cacheris and Stein argued that Lewinsky had already fulfilled her responsibility to Starr's investigation and should be free to tell her story.

    "Congress has already released grand jury testimony and intends to disclose more," they wrote Starr in September. "It is fair to say that there are no more leaks because there is nothing left to leak." Prosecutors had given Lewinsky "no reason to think there would be a massive breach of this bargained-for silence."

    The attorneys also told Starr that her "silence is interpreted as confirmation of many matters and comments that put her in a false light. This is unfair to her."

    In October, weeks before the Walters interview was announced, Lewinsky's lawyers proposed to Starr that Lewinsky be allowed to address the following subjects: "the effect that Ms. Lewinsky's position has had on her and her family; what she has learned from her experience; how she hopes to put together a life in the future; who has comforted her in times of distress; advice she might give to others . . . how she understood her emotional involvement with the president (not including the physical aspect of that involvement, which would be off limits); what aspects of her background were helpful or unhelpful to her; and how she has reacted to the press coverage."

    Starr's office then laid out its view of an acceptable interview. A chief condition: "She will not comment on the good faith of the [independent counsel's] investigation."

    The prosecutors said Lewinsky could not discuss "her own prior statements during our investigation . . . Her own credibility . . . The credibility of other witnesses in our investigation . . . Any pending investigations by our office . . . The actions of the White House, its representatives, the president, or their attorneys or investigators . . .

    "When we ask that Ms. Lewinsky not 'discuss' or 'comment on' these subjects, we recognize that the interview may inevitably touch upon some of the above subjects. It would be unreasonable for us to insist, for example, that there be absolutely no mention or reference to the White House. After all, that is presumably part of what makes an interview of Ms. Lewinsky newsworthy."

    What's more, in case Lewinsky strayed from the agreed guidelines, Starr's office asked that "there be some arrangement with ABC to permit the editing of the tape to excise that inadvertent answer."

    The documents contain a broad hint about future prosecutions. As recently as Feb. 17, deputy independent counsel Robert J. Bittman wrote that Lewinsky "has not yet testified at any trials . . . her duties are not complete."

    Lewinsky was bound by the two sides' agreement in talking with ABC, Britain's Channel 4 and Time magazine, which conducted its interview yesterday and will publish it in next week's issue. But her lawyers concluded she was free to say what she wanted in her book.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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