White House Seeks Investigation of Leaks -- Blames Starr
February 9, 1998


As subpoenaed witnesses continue to testify before the grand jury for Kenneth Starr's investigation into the president's relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, there has been a steady stream of leaks to the news media describing what these witnesses are saying while under oath.

On Friday, David Kendall, President Clinton's personal counsel in the Whitewater investigation, read an open letter to Kenneth Starr saying, "The leaking of the past few weeks is intolerably unfair. It violates not only the criminal rules, rules of court, rules of ethics and Department of Justice guidelines, it also violates the fundamental rules of fairness in an investigation like this." Kendall went on to say that Starr's office "is out of control."

While witnesses before grand juries and their lawyers are permitted to speak openly about their testimony, prosecutors and members of grand jury panels are strictly forbidden to do so and may be prosecuted for contempt of court if they disobey.

 

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Reportedly, the White House will seek an investigation, as early as Monday, into whether any leaks are originating from Kenneth Starr's office.

Starr was quick to respond to Mr. Kendall's open letter and a copy of this response was obtained by ABC News on Friday night.

In it, Mr. Starr's writes: "Your role [Mr. Kendall's] as private defense counsel and your loyalty to your client does not qualify you to lecture me on professional conduct and my legal responsibilities." Starr also writes that Mr. Kendall's accusation is based in "mere suspicion...without any facts other than the press's often-misleading attributions of sources."

One of the most recent and significant leaks to hit the newsstands since witnesses began appearing before the grand jury was an account in the New York Times on Friday of what Betty Currie, the president's personal secretary, has allegedly described to the grand jury. Sources told the Times that Ms. Currie has confirmed receiving packages from Ms. Lewinsky containing gifts to her from President Clinton.

As many media analysts spent Thursday evening and Friday morning saying Ms. Currie's testimony has the potential to be very damaging to the president, Mr. Kendall no doubt began crafting his open letter in an effort to squash future leaks and to educate the public on the possible illegal and/or unethical nature of their origin.

While it is certainly illegal for Kenneth Starr's office to leak grand jury testimony, Mr. Kendall's letter may sway some public sympathy towards the White House regardless of whether evidence is produced which links Starr to the leaks. In the scheme of things, Kendall's accusations may be more valuable as a public relations strike against Kenneth Starr than anything else.

An element that adds to the persuasive strength of Mr. Kendall's letter is that the prosecution's office is one of the most obvious places to look for leaks, since it has placed little evidence before the public since the initial Lewinsky bomb was dropped two weeks ago. With its case being developed behind the closed doors of the grand jury, Starr's investigation has seen the release of poll after poll indicating the American public seems to perceive Starr's apparent lack of progress as an indictment of the overall legitimacy of his investigation.

However, Starr's office is but one of the many involved parties which might have an interest in leaking grand jury testimony. For instance, the White House itself might decide to leak self-damaging information so that it could then blame Mr. Starr's office.

But the fact is that anyone involved in this case, no matter how tangentially, might want to endear himself or herself to a journalist by providing grand jury testimony. Some sources simply believe in whistle-blowing. Others expect the journalist to return the favor sometime in the future. The possibilities are endless.

Ultimately, no source would provide such information without an agreed guarantee of anonymity. Since no journalist is going to reveal a source after making this guarantee, it is highly unlikely much will come of this latest exchange between the White House and Kenneth Starr.






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