To Brill Report
By Ruth Marcus
Clinton partisans have suggested that Starr colluded with Jones's lawyers to trap Clinton into committing perjury during his Jan. 17 deposition. Starr made his comment about Tripp as part of his third response -- this one a 19-page, single-spaced rebuttal -- to a magazine story detailing his contacts with reporters and suggesting Starr engaged in improper leaks.
Starr's team is now examining Clinton's deposition statements -- and his actions following the deposition, such as summoning secretary Betty Currie to the White House to discuss his testimony -- as part of the investigation into whether the president committed perjury or obstruction in the Jones case.
In his statement, Starr said that when Tripp left a meeting with Starr's investigators Jan. 16 and went to brief the Jones lawyers "we were unaware of any contacts between Mrs. Tripp and the Jones attorneys" and remained so "for many days thereafter."
Starr also said that his investigators did not actually listen to Tripp's 20 hours of tapes of her conversations with Lewinsky about an alleged affair with Clinton before they sought approval from the Justice Department to investigate.
Starr's letter to Steven Brill, editor of a new media magazine, provided a few new facts about the early days of his investigation into the Lewinsky matter as part of Starr's effort to rebut the article. In an interview with Brill, Starr described how he -- and to a greater extent, deputy independent counsel Jackie M. Bennett -- spoke at length with the press.
Brill pounced on Starr's comments, particularly his point that not all information the prosecutors discussed was covered by the prohibition against leaking grand jury material, as evidence that the office had violated a host of laws and rules against disclosing such information.
In his rebuttal, Starr said Brill's piece "borders on the libelous" and "rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of the law and a misrepresentation of the facts." He specifically denied that the office leaked information about a witness who may have observed the president with Lewinsky or about statements by Currie.
"There is, fundamentally, a great deal of difference between releasing information on background for the purpose of creating the impression that the target of an investigation is guilty (which this office does not do) and speaking on background to correct misinformation and prevent incomplete and inaccurate stories from being printed," Starr wrote.
Clinton lawyer David E. Kendall, responding to what he called Starr's "public relations initiative" in two previous statements prompted by the Brill article, said Starr's acknowledgment of his contacts with reporters was "at breathtaking variance" with his previous assertions.
"What is so astonishing about your comments in the Brill article is that they contradict not simply our view but your own frequently and publicly expressed views both about the need to put a stop to leaking and your own protestations about your and your own staff's utter innocence in that regard," he said.
Kendall, who is rarely quoted on the record, told Starr that he would do better not to talk on a background basis. "What possible justification do you have for secrecy?" Kendall asked. "It's irresponsible and (under the circumstances) hypocritical."
Brill, in his own statement, said he was pleased that Starr "again does not dispute any of the quotes attributed by me to him." He said Starr could clear up any dispute about the propriety of his contacts with reporters by releasing them from their pledges of confidentiality.
The continuing volleys came as Nancy Hernreich, director of Oval Office operations, testified for the fifth time before Starr's grand jury and deputy chief of staff John Podesta made a long-delayed second appearance. His testimony had been on hold because he was prepared to refuse to answer some questions on the grounds of executive privilege, but the White House has since dropped that part of its legal attack. Lawyers for the two said both would likely return for further questioning.
Staff researcher Ben White contributed to this report.
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