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Former Starr spokesman cleared of contempt charges

WASHINGTON (CNN) - The former spokesman for Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr was cleared Friday of criminal contempt charges stemming from a controversy over leaks to the news media during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson Friday found Charles G. Bakaly III not guilty of the charges. Bakaly had been accused of leaking information about President Clinton to the media and then denying it.

Bakaly
Bakaly  

"Even if some of his statements are misleading by their negative implication that Mr. Bakaly was not a source of information that he in fact supplied or confirmed, such a finding does not provide a sufficient basis for a criminal contempt conviction for making false statements," Johnson wrote in a 50-page ruling.

Holloway had initiated the case after Clinton's lawyer, David Kendall, filed a complaint. Johnson conducted a six-day, nonjury trial of Bakaly in July. The Justice Department, which had declined to indict Bakaly, served as prosecutor at Johnson's request.

One of Bakaly's lawyers, Robert Weinberg, said Friday, "We are pleased and gratified and we believe that the judge reached the right result." Another Bakaly lawyer, Michele Roberts, said, "He's in the clear... He and I and the rest of the defense team are very pleased."

Bakaly was charged with contempt for denying under oath that he was a source for a New York Times article which ran on Jan. 31, 1999, in the midst of Clinton's impeachment trial. It said Starr had decided that a sitting president could be indicted.

Bakaly initially denied he was a source for the article during an investigation launched by Johnson, which dealt with whether certain leaks from Starr's office violated grand jury secrecy rules. But Bakaly later admitted that he might have "inadvertently confirmed" some of the information for the New York Times, forcing his resignation from Starr's staff in March 1999.

"The defendant was untruthful with many falsehoods and lies," Justice Department prosecutor Alan Gershel said in his closing argument. "This lie is built on a house of cards. One lie begets another lie. At the end of the day, it all falls apart."

Gershel contended Bakaly initially tried to hide his role from Starr's investigators and the court, but later changed his story and admitted he provided some information for the article.

However, an appeals court ultimately ruled the Times article did not involve secret grand jury material.

In her closing, defense lawyer Roberts scoffed at the accusation that Bakaly revealed secret matters, describing the material he disclosed as "garden variety" information discussed in every newspaper and talk show during the Lewinsky investigation.

 
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