By Roberto Suro and Susan Schmidt
The Justice Department's action requires Starr to determine whether he faces a conflict or even the appearance of one in investigating the charges regarding Hale because of Scaife's potential involvement, and thus for the first time obliges the independent counsel to address in a formal manner longstanding concerns raised by Clinton supporters that he is tainted by partisan associations.
In a letter to Starr, Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said that if Starr believes he has a conflict over the matter he could refer the allegations back to the Justice Department, which then would conduct an investigation.
Hale provided testimony that helped bring convictions against President Clinton's Whitewater business partners in Starr's most successful prosecution thus far, and under a cooperation agreement with the independent counsel, he has alleged that Clinton was directly involved in a fraudulent loan scheme when he was governor of Arkansas.
In response to media reports, the U.S. attorney's office in Fort Smith, Ark., and the FBI last month began investigating allegations that Hale had received money from individuals associated with Scaife, a Pittsburgh millionaire, who has openly financed efforts to turn up scandalous information regarding the president, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and their close friends.
Scaife was the major financial backer for a new school of public policy at Pepperdine University that Starr announced last year he was resigning to head. Starr reversed his decision four days later after a public furor.
After more than a week of deliberating over how to handle the matter, the Justice Department informed Starr yesterday that federal prosecutors in Arkansas had conducted a preliminary inquiry into information suggesting that Hale "may have received cash and other gratuities from individuals seeking to discredit the president during a period when Hale was actively cooperating with your investigation."
Holder said in his letter that the Justice Department had confirmed "that the information warranted further investigation" and that Starr had jurisdiction over the allegations which, if proven, could amount to witness-tampering and other serious crimes.
The money allegedly originated with Scaife, a virulent critic of Clinton who bankrolled several anti-Clinton investigative projects and gave more than $1 million through his foundations to the American Spectator, a magazine that first published a number of allegations against Clinton including those that led to the Paula Jones lawsuit.
A spokesperson for Starr's office said the letter had just been received and there would be no immediate comment on it.
Scaife financed an investigation into whether deputy White House counsel Vincent Foster's death in 1993 was the result of foul play, and has been highly critical of Starr's office for an investigation that concluded Foster died by suicide. Starr has privately told associates that he believes Scaife and others on the far right are irresponsible, sources said.
Meanwhile, Linda R. Tripp, key witness in another part of Starr's investigation, said in a brief statement yesterday that she has dismissed one of her lawyers, James Moody. "Any information provided by Mr. Moody to the media since Feb.. 4, 1998, was not authorized and is wholly disavowed," said the statement.
Moody has served as Tripp's spokesman since it became public that she had taped conversations with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky in which Lewinsky allegedly said she had a sexual relationship with Clinton and had been asked to cover it up.
An associate of Tripp's said she believes Moody has had contacts with reporters against her wishes. On Feb. 4 she told Moody that only attorney Anthony Zacagnini of the Baltimore law firm of Sems, Bowen and Sems could speak to the news media on her behalf, the associate said. Zacagnini was unavailable yesterday.
Moody, reached in California where he is doing work on other cases, said Tripp and he were parting ways because she "wants to keep a low profile, and that's the way it is. She has been very concerned about comments to the media," he said. "She doesn't want to be appearing in print any place and doesn't want me appearing in print any place."
New York book agent Lucianne Goldberg, a Tripp friend who has been in regular contact with Zacagnini, said she believes Moody has been "love-bombed" by a swarm of television producers vying to line up Tripp's first interview after she testifies before the grand jury in the coming weeks. "He's been promising her to the media when he hadn't run it by her," said Goldberg.
Yesterday the grand jury heard five hours of testimony from White House steward Glen A. Maes.
White House stewards are often stationed at a small pantry off the Oval Office, and that proximity gives them a unique vantage point to witness what goes on there. Maes works closely with Bayani Nelvis, another steward who has appeared three times before the grand jury. Like Nelvis, the 40-year-old Maes is a career Navy employee.
Maes and his attorney, Joseph T. Small Jr., declined comment as they left the courthouse.
Clinton said in a sworn deposition taken in the Paula Jones civil case that he did not have sexual relations with Lewinsky. Starr is attempting to determine if Clinton lied in the deposition and if Lewinsky lied when she denied any sexual relationship in an affidavit in the Jones matter. Prosecutors have sought to learn whether the stewards or others on the White House staff ever saw Clinton and Lewinsky alone together.
In other courthouse developments yesterday, Chief U.S. District Court Judge Norma Holloway Johnson has told Starr's prosecutors that they must make a stronger case before she upholds subpoenas issued to two bookstores for records of purchases by Lewinsky.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company