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.
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CBS News Correspondent Bill Plante reports that U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson is known to dislike the publicity that has surrounded the case, and has placed many of the proceedings under seal.
While nobody would comment on the unusual Monday night iproceeding on orders of 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."
But Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said the article published over the weekend in Brill's Comment, a new magazine on the news media, "raised profound questions about whether he (Starr) is qualified to remain serving as independent counsel."
The president's advisers have demanded an investigation of Starr, charging that he had violated the grand jury secrecy rule.
"The president concurs with those who say there are serious issues raised in that article about whether or not there have been violations of federal rule 6-E, " said Wite House spokesman Mike McCurry, "and they ought to be pursued independently by people who are in a position to get to the truth."
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 claimed Starr broke the law.
Star responded Monday that "Mr. Brill's statements ... are false."
Brill was not immediately available for comment Monday, his office said.
Leaking grand jury material is a federal crime and discussing evidence in pending criminal investigations violates Justice Department policies.
The Justice Department was examining the article and beginning to decide what, if anything, it should do, a senior official said.
Former independent counsel Lawrence Walsh, whose Iran-Contra investigation also consumed much time and money, told CBS there's precedent for what Starr did.
"I set aside one day a week to talk to each of them (reporters) individually, to keep them up to date, if they wanted the interviews, and most of them did, " Walsh said.
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