Fine print in presidential friend Webster Hubbell's agreement with prosecutor Kenneth Starr is giving Hubbell a shot at erasing his guilty plea to a misdemeanor tax charge.
Starr is saddled with an appeals court ruling that makes his tax case against Hubbell hard to prove. Under the agreement with Hubbell, Starr needs to persuade the Supreme Court to overturn that ruling for the guilty plea to remain in place.
This week, Starr asked the high court to hear his appeal and give him a chance to preserve Hubbell's guilty plea. If the court denies review or rules against Starr, he has agreed to seek dismissal of Hubbell's June 30 plea to the tax charge.
However, Hubbell's guilty plea to a felony charge of concealing legal work on a fraudulent Arkansas land project would not be affected. Hubbell, the former No. 3 Justice Department official, was sentenced in June to a year of probation after entering the guilty pleas that wrapped up the Whitewater phase of Starr's work.
The tax charge alleged that Hubbell evaded paying taxes on some of the hundreds of thousands of dollars he received from friends of President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton in 1994 when he was under criminal investigation by Starr's office.
Hubbell had argued that using the papers to prosecute him would violate his right against self-incrimination, granted by the Constitution's Fifth Amendment.
The appeals court decision "essentially requires advance knowledge of the contents of a document as a prerequisite of a right to use the document's contents," Starr's appeal to the Supreme Court said. "That is a daunting standard that no prosecutor is ever likely to meet."
The June 30 plea agreement specified that Starr would take that issue to the nation's highest court. If the court denies review or fails to rule in the independent counsel's favor, Starr agreed to seek dismissal of Hubbell's guilty plea on the tax charge.
The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said Starr would need to show "reasonably particular knowledge" of Hubbell's financial records before they were subpoenaed to be able to use information from them.