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Legal outsider considered to probe Ken Starr's office

February 19, 1999
Web posted at: 11:40 a.m. EST (1640 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, February 19) -- Attorney General Janet Reno is considering bringing in an outside investigator to look into allegations of misconduct by Independent Counsel Ken Starr's office. Starr declined comment Friday on the possibility.

Options being discussed include appointing someone from a U.S. attorney's office outside the Justice Department headquarters to lead the investigation. A former or retired judge is also a possibility.

Sources familiar with the deliberations say the ideal situation would be to appoint someone with a Republican background or an independent.

There are two primary allegations of misconduct against Starr's office. The first concerns the discussion of an immunity deal by members of Starr's team with Monica Lewinsky without her attorney present. The discussion occurred during the January 1998 sting operation against Lewinsky set up by Starr's office with the help of Lewinsky's onetime friend, Linda Tripp. Justice Department guidelines -- which Starr and his staff can choose to follow or not -- warn against such discussions without an attorney.

The other allegation concerns whether the Office of the Independent Counsel withheld information about its contact with attorneys affiliated with Paula Jones when Starr approached Reno for authorization to expand his investigation into the Lewinsky matter.

The key question there is whether the attorney general would have thought previous contacts with Jones' associates would have presented a conflict of interest for Starr.

In addition, the Justice Department is awaiting the results of an investigation into alleged leaks of grand jury material set in motion by Judge Norma Holloway Johnson, who oversees Starr's Washington grand juries.

Originally, Reno had proposed that the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility conduct the investigation of Starr and his staff.

Starr, however, expressed his concerns about Justice Department involvement in a potential probe in a recent letter to Reno. Since that time, Justice officials have been struggling to construct a plan that would appear fair to Starr.

There is some precedent for compromise with Starr's office on allegations of misconduct concerning his investigation. Michael Shaheen, a former chief of the Office of Professional Responsibility, is currently conducting an investigation into whether David Hale -- a key witness against the president in Starr's Whitewater investigation -- received money from Clinton enemies while cooperating with Starr.

The question of an investigation of the latest allegations involving Starr's office is extraordinarily sensitive and has chilled relations between Reno's department and Starr's staff. The reason is that the Independent Counsel Statute provides for no disciplinary action other than removal of an independent counsel if allegations of wrongdoing are found to be proven.

Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder declined to comment on the matter but said the department was keeping its options open.

"I wouldn't want to comment on whether or not we are doing an investigation and where we stand in making that decision," Holder said. "But we would leave, I think, all of our options open as to who might do such an investigation if one were to be done."

In a meeting with Holder a week ago, Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, demanded an independent investigation because the Justice Department would be seen as having a conflict of interest.

On a related subject, Starr also declined to comment on whether he would heed the call of congressional Republicans who have urged him not to indict Clinton on criminal charges now that the Senate has acquitted the president of perjury and obstruction of justice allegations.

CNN's Pierre Thomas and Dave Adhicary contributed to this report.


Investigating the President

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Friday, February 19, 1999



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