Evidence Links Leaks to Starr Staff
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton’s lawyers have provided enough evidence to indicate prosecutor Kenneth Starr’s staff probably violated grand jury secrecy laws, a federal judge has found according to court documents released today.
Lawyers for Clinton and White House aides ``have established prima facie violations″ of the secrecy rule that prohibits disclosure of any grand jury material, U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson ruled.
Johnson ruled that even one news article with leaked information could establish a violation. ``The court finds that several articles establish prima facie violations,″ she said.
The records also show that the U.S. Court of Appeals rejected Starr’s efforts to stop Johnson’s investigation, allowing her to continue to collect evidence and hold a hearing to determine if Starr’s office should be punished.
The disclosure comes at a sensitive time for Starr, who just brought Monica Lewinsky before the grand jury Thursday and is nearing a decision on whether to send Congress an impeachment report.
Ms. Lewinsky told the grand jury of sexual encounters inside the White House with Clinton, legal sources said, describing an account at odds with Clinton’s earlier testimony.
Ms. Lewinsky, telling 23 strangers on a federal grand jury about her sex life, set the stage Thursday for Clinton’s testimony by closed-circuit television Aug. 17.
Starr has repeatedly denied leaking grand jury information. Johnson’s ruling was based on numerous news articles that claimed to cite grand jury evidence from the Lewinsky case. Her decision means the burden will now shift to Starr to prove his office did not leak the information and should not be found in contempt of court.
The court said that in the hearing, Starr ``now must come forward with evidence, in whatever form the district court requires ... to rebut the inferences drawn from the news articles″ that led to the allegations.
Clinton has denied having sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky _ once in sworn testimony in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit and again in a televised statement.
After spending 8 1/2 hours in the federal courthouse, most of the time in closed session with the grand jury, Ms. Lewinsky, 25, was not told whether she would have to testify again. That raised the possibility that she could be recalled after Clinton becomes the first sitting president to give grand jury testimony in a criminal case that targets his conduct.
Clinton could be asked, as he was by lawyers for Mrs. Jones in her civil lawsuit against him, whether he was sexually involved with Ms. Lewinsky, based on a certain definition of sexual relations.
``I have never had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky,″ Clinton testified in the Jan. 17 Jones deposition after the judge allowed Mrs. Jones’ lawyers to show him ``definition number one.″ Clinton added: ``I’ve never had an affair with her.″
Ms. Lewinsky, a former White House intern, left the courthouse Thursday pale and drawn-looking. Her spokeswoman, Judy Smith, later said she testified ``truthfully, completely and honestly.″
``Monica and her family are relieved that this ordeal finally appears to be coming to an end,″ Ms. Smith said in a statement read to reporters.
The legal source said Ms. Lewinsky stuck to the account she has been telling prosecutors this past week, under an agreement that granted her and her parents blanket immunity from prosecution.
That account includes testimony that Ms. Lewinsky and Clinton had sexual encounters inside the White House, including in a study near the Oval Office, and discussed how they could conceal their relationship. But she says Clinton never instructed her to lie under oath, the source said, speaking only condition of anonymity.
Plato Cacheris, one of Ms. Lewinsky’s lawyers, said his client ``did a fine job.″
Starr is investigating whether Clinton committed perjury in the Jones lawsuit when he denied a sexual relationship with Ms. Lewinsky and then conspired with her and others to cover up their relationship.
A poll taken Thursday night after Ms. Lewinsky’s testimony found that by a 2-to-1 margin, Americans believe the country would be better off if the investigation had never been started.
The CBS News poll of 784 adults also showed that 45 percent of Republicans, who have been more supportive of special prosecutor Starr, believe it would have been better if the probe of an alleged presidential affair had never begun.The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Clinton went about his business at the White House, serving as host of an anti-crime event in the Rose Garden and escaping reporters’ questions about Ms. Lewinsky that were drowned out by the blare of a military band. His aides projected a business-as-usual air.
``His mood is great,″ White House deputy press secretary Barry Toiv said.
``We’re hopeful that this means a four-year investigation that has cost upwards of $40 million is finally coming to a conclusion,″ Toiv said, referring to Starr’s investigation, which started with the Whitewater land deal in Arkansas and expanded to questions of obstruction of justice inside the White House.