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Starr Finds Unlikely Ally in Appeal

Kenneth Starr
Independent counsel Kenneth Starr (AP)  

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  • Key stories: future of the counsel law

  • Counsels at a Glance
  • By John Solomon
    Associated Press
    Sunday, August 29, 1999; 12:00 a.m. EDT

    Usually antagonists, Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr and the Clinton Justice Department have joined forces to appeal a judge's ruling on alleged grand jury leaks during the Monica S. Lewinsky investigation, according to legal sources.

    Starr asked an appeals panel in mid-July to intervene quickly and overturn the findings of U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

    The Justice Department has had its own inquiries into leaks that may have come from Starr's office. But it has joined Starr in his appeal, the sources said.

    At issue is whether the independent counsel improperly leaked secret grand jury information to the news media. Federal rules prohibit prosecutors and court officials from disclosing evidence brought before a grand jury.

    The Justice Department is not accused of leaking in this case, but may worry that the court is setting an unreasonable precedent. Justice officials have said that if they got involved in the case it would be to ensure that their prosecutors are not hamstrung in giving reporters information in the future.

    The judge's investigation into alleged leaks remains a concern for the independent counsel's office. The prosecutors want to clear their names and avoid possible penalties, including fines or action against their law licenses.

    In his appeal, which remains under seal, Starr argues that Johnson was wrong in ruling that investigative matters not yet brought before a grand jury should be covered by secrecy rules that apply to the grand jury itself.

    Starr also challenged the standard Johnson used to determine there was preliminary evidence to believe that news articles in question likely came from Starr's office, the sources said.

    The sources include lawyers or employees inside the federal courthouse in Washington. They are not members of Starr's office or President Clinton's legal team.

    The sources said the ruling Starr has appealed involved a Feb. 1 complaint filed by presidential lawyer David E. Kendall that alleged additional grand jury leaks by Starr's office.

    Johnson cited 24 news stories she said likely came from Starr's office. She also concluded that "government attorneys may not reveal documentary evidence that is likely to be presented to the grand jury" – even if it was not yet presented.

    Starr disagreed. "It's definitely not grand jury information, if you are talking about what witnesses tell FBI agents or us before they testify," he said last summer.

    Starr also has argued that White House and defense lawyers were the prime suspects for the leaks. Kendall said the White House had no interest in leaking information damaging to Clinton.

    © 1999 The Associated Press

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