Ex-Starr Aide Played 'Risky Game'

Former independent counsel aide Charles Bakaly III admitted to the FBI that he played "a risky game" by cooperating with a New York Times reporter, but he also tried to help investigators find the sources for news leaks, two agents testified at his contempt trial Friday.

Agents Thomas Lewis and Michael Erbach were among the investigators searching for the anonymous "associates" of then-Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, who were quoted in a Jan. 31, 1999 Times article. Written during President Clinton's impeachment trial, the story said Starr concluded a sitting president could be indicted.

Bakaly is charged with contempt of court, accused of misleading U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson when he denied in court papers that he provided any information for the article. She is hearing the case without a jury. Bakaly could receive up to six months in prison if convicted.

Erbach acknowledged that Bakaly volunteered names of possible sources for the Times story, admitted he may have inadvertently confirmed some of the material and provided additional information about indictment discussions in Starr's office.

Erbach was followed to the stand by FBI agent Thomas Lewis, who said Bakaly identified information in the article that he had provided, and admitted he told the reporter, "Don't burn me on this."

Describing his interview with Bakaly, Lewis quoted the former spokesman as saying he felt "sick and betrayed" when the article appeared, because it would be clear to the independent counsel staff that he had provided some of the material.

"I played a risky game and I got burned," Bakaly said, according to Lewis' account. Lewis said Bakaly refused to provide a signed statement with these comments, telling the agent: "I would be disbarred and prosecuted because of what I told you here today."

The government is trying to prove that Bakaly tried to conceal his role as a source for the article from Judge Johnson. Bakaly's statements to the FBI about his cooperation were not in documents he initially submitted to the court, but the defendant blames independent counsel attorneys for the omissions.

The judge ordered the contempt trial to proceed, even though the U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled that nothing in the Times article involved secret grand jury material.