A federal judge says Henry Cisneros' own words may be used against him at his upcoming conspiracy trial. Monday's ruling permits prosecutors to use 22 tapes secretly recorded by the former Housing Secretary's ex-mistress.
U.S. District Judge Stanley Sporkin rejected a defense request to throw out the recordings, which captured conversations of Cisneros and former lover Linda Jones discussing his "hush money" payments to her.
The judge said that, "The vast majority of the tapes contain reliable and accurate representations of the conversations."
However, Independent Counsel David Barrett's prosecutors didn't get all they were asking for.
While Sporkin is allowing the use of 22 tapes in their entirety, he is permitting the government to use only snippets of four other tapes, saying they bear signs that they were heavily edited.
"Certain portions of these tapes contain noticeable breaks in the recording and flow of the conversation that indicate obvious alteration," Sporkin ruled.
During four days on the witness stand, Jones testified that she might have edited as many as 10 of the total 88 taped of phone conversations with Cisneros.
She said she feared legal repercussions if she didn't clean up the recordings to delete passages where she threatened to expose her financial arrangement with Cisneros if the money flow stopped. She also said she removed some sexually suggestive passages and those dealing with uninvolved parties.
The tapes are at the heart of the independent counsel's case against Cisneros. He is accused of conspiring with Jones and two aides to conceal details of his more than $250,000 in payments to her while he was under consideration for a Cabinet post in the Clinton administration.
The recordings, made as the relationship soured, captured Cisneros explaining to her how he had characterized to the Clinton transition team and the FBI agents conducting his background check for the nomination.
During that check, Cisneros acknowledged providing financial support to Jones after their extramarital affair came to light in 1988, ending her marriage and costing her a career as a political fund-raiser. But prosecutors contend he falsely told the FBI he never paid her more than $10,000 annually.
The 18-count indictment against Cisneros alleges he paid her more than $264,000 between 1990 and 1993. He has denied all charges.
During the marathon pre-trial hearing, Cisneros' legal team labored vigorously to quash use of the tapes, noting that the government's own tape expert found that all 88 tapes were copies of since-destroyed originals and many had been altered.
"Tapes, as we all know, are very powerful evidence," Cisneros lawyer Brendan Sullivan said. "Tapes that are altered are powerfully misleading."
In addition to setting aside the defense argument that the tapes were "inauthentic" because of the editing, Sporkin also rejected the claim that they were inadissible under federal wiretapping statutes which preclude the use of evidence made with unlawful intent. Sporkin ruled that Jones didn't have criminal intent when she made the recordings.
Cisneros' lawyers waged an all-out assault on Jones' credibility during the pre-trial hearing, repeatedly labeling the government's star witness a "liar".
On cross-examination, they elicited admissions that she lied on numerous occasions to the FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents investigating Cisneros, as well as the independent counsel's office, a Texas court and even her own lawyers.
Jones is serving a 3 1/2-year prison sentence after running afoul of the independent counsel, in part because she misrepresented the tapes as unaltered originals. Now she is cooperating with the prosecutors in hopes of gaining a reduced sentence.