After publication of an article on Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr's contacts with reporters, a federal judge summoned key lawyers for an unusual evening proceeding behind closed doors.
Two of Starr's deputies were among a crowd of lawyers who arrived at the U.S. courthouse Monday night. White House Counsel Charles Ruff and a deputy were there, along with David Kendall, President Clinton's private lawyer; Neil Eggleston, the private attorney representing the White House in a dispute over a presidential aide's testimony; and the three-man legal team representing Monica Lewinsky: Plato Cacheris, Jacob Stein and Nathaniel Speights.While nobody would comment on the proceeding on orders of Chief U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson, Starr took aim at a magazine article that asserted he was illegally leaking evidence from grand jury witnesses by giving background briefings to reporters.
"Let me now be clear," Starr said in a statement. "The OIC (Office of Independent Counsel) does not release grand jury material, directly or indirectly, on the record or off the record; the OIC does not violate Department of Justice policy or applicable ethical guidelines and the OIC does not release (and never has released) information provided by a witness during witness interviews except as authorized by law."
Starr's office pressed ahead Tuesday with its grand jury investigation, summoning Nancy Hernreich, the president's chief of Oval Office operations, to testify again before the grand jury. The White House aide, who would know details about Clinton's visitors, has made at least five other grand jury visits in the Lewinsky probe.
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said the article published over the weekend in Brill's Content, a new magazine on the media, "raised profound questions about whether he (Starr) is qualified to remain serving as independent counsel."
Starr acknowledged to author Steven Brill that he and a top aide gave briefings to reporters about his investigation of the alleged presidential affair and cover-up involving Lewinsky, but only on condition the sources of the information not be identified. Brill said Starr broke the law.
Starr responded Monday that "Mr. Brill's statements are false."
Johnson called the hearing to discuss Brill's allegations after the president's private attorney, Kendall, inquired about the status of his earlier complaint accusing Starr of illegal leaks, said a source familiar with the proceedings.
The judge set a hearing for July, the source said.