NEWS LEAKS PROMPT LAWYER TO SEEK SANCTIONS AGAINST STARR'S OFFICE.
Opening the fiercest assault yet on Kenneth Starr, the Whitewater independent counsel, President Clinton's personal lawyer on Friday denounced the counsel's office as ``out of control'' and said he would seek contempt sanctions in federal court to stem what he called ``a deluge of illegal leaks.''
Starr responded by accusing the lawyer, David Kendall, of ``media grandstanding'' and ``smearing a lawyer through reckless accusations.'' But Starr said that while he had no ``factual basis'' to suspect his prosecutors or other members of illegally leaking information to the news media, he had begun an inquiry to determine whether any of them had done so.
Opening another front against the independent counsel, Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., on Friday urged Attorney General Janet Reno to conduct an inquiry to determine whether Starr should be disciplined or removed for ``repeated instances of alleged misconduct and abuses of power.'' Conyers is the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.
Both Conyers and Kendall cited numerous news reports based on anonymous sources that they argued could only be within Starr's office. They offered no definitive proof of that accusation.
It is a federal crime for prosecutors to leak information that has been presented to a grand jury, one of which is now hearing testimony about Clinton's relationship with a former White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. Lawyers at the Justice Department said that they were troubled by news reports based on apparent leaks and that they would review Conyers' letter to determine whether the department should investigate Starr's office.
The attacks came as the White House, faced with damaging reports of Clinton's contacts with potential witnesses in the Lewinsky matter, stepped up its own criticism of Starr. In a joint news conference Friday with Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, Clinton raised the possibility of illegal leaking.
``I'm honoring the rules of the investigation,'' the president said, ``and if someone else is leaking, unlawfully, out of the grand jury proceeding, that's a different story.''
White House officials contend that the public is inclined to believe the criticism against Starr.
``They think this guy is over the top,'' said one senior aide to Clinton. ``They've got good instincts out there. The overall sense is that there's a heavy political tilt to what he's saying.''
In a rare and bitter public statement outside his office, Kendall said: ``These leaks make a mockery of the traditional rules of grand jury secrecy. They often appear to be a cynical attempt to pressure and intimidate witnesses, to deceive the public, and to smear people involved in the investigation.''
The leaking violated not only ``criminal rules, rules of court, rules of ethics and Department of Justice guidelines,'' he continued, but also ``fundamental rules of fairness in an investigation like this.''
Kendall said he would go to U.S. District Court, perhaps as soon as Monday, to seek ``appropriate remedies,'' including contempt sanctions.
He also sent a blistering 15-page letter to Starr, detailing numerous news articles that he argued were based on sources in the independent counsel's office. In some cases, Kendall quoted the articles as specifically citing unnamed ``sources in Starr's office.'' But other stories are not so specific.
The letter presents a compendium of contortions by reporters to disguise sources and protect them from potential reprisals. The articles Kendall cited referred to ``sources familiar with the investigation,'' ``a source close to the prosecutor,'' ``lawyers involved in the talks'' and ``officials with knowledge of Mr. Starr's investigation.''
Conyers attached a similar anthology of apparently leaked material to his 12-page letter to Reno. Like Kendall, Conyers cited an article that appeared Friday in The New York Times describing conversations between investigators and Betty Currie, personal secretary to Clinton.
Friday's exchange between Kendall and Starr hinted at complex theories on each side suggesting how the other might be manipulating the news media to strengthen its position, using protected information as a weapon and accusations as a diversion.
Here are Friday's developments in the controversy involving President Clinton and former White House intern Monica Lewinsky:
Questioned about the matter during a news conference, Clinton criticized leaks about the investigation and said he wouldn't consider resigning. ``Never,'' he declared.
Clinton's personal attorney, David Kendall, sent prosecutor Kenneth Starr a 15-page letter complaining of ``intolerable'' leaks. He said he planned to go to court as soon as Monday to seek ``judicial relief.''
Starr called the accusation that the leaks came from his office ``reckless,'' but added that, if they did, he will fire and criminally prosecute any staffers responsible for them. ``If there was an act of unprofessional activity, we'll find out,'' he said.
Lewinsky's attorney, William Ginsburg, said he would try to force Starr to abide by the terms of a signed immunity offer. Asked about going to court, Ginsburg said, ``That's where you would enforce it is in a courtroom.''
The New York Times and The Washington Post reported that one day after Clinton gave a deposition in which he denied having an affair with Lewinsky, he summoned his private secretary, Betty Currie, to discuss her recollection of his contacts with the young woman.
A lawyer for Currie, Lawrence Wechsler, rejected suggestions that Clinton tried to influence her recollections.
SOURCE: The Associated Press