Prosecutors' discussions with reporters covering the Monica Lewinsky investigation broke no secrecy laws, Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr said Sunday.
"We are living up to our professional responsibilities," Starr said outside his home a day after publication of a magazine article that concluded the discussions were illegal. The article quoted Starr as saying he and his top deputy briefed reporters but did not violate grand jury secrecy laws.
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The White House has repeatedly accused Starr's office of leaking sensitive information to the press during the investigation of whether President Clinton had an affair with former intern Lewinsky and then tried to cover it up.
Magazine editor Steven Brill spoke with CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer on CBS News' Face the Nation Sunday morning, defending his article criticizing Starr, published in the inaugural issue of his magazine Content.
Brill said evidence is "absolutely crystal clear" that Starr's office timed leaks to put pressure on potential witnesses and thus strengthen prosecutors' hand.
Grand jury proceedings are secret, and federal law prohibits prosecutors from revealing what witnesses say in the grand jury room. At issue for Starr is whether it is also illegal to disclose what witnesses say outside the room such as in interviews with the FBI or prosecutors.
"It's definitely not grand jury information, if you are talking about what witnesses tell FBI agents or us before they testify before the grand jury or about related matters," Starr said in the magazine article.
Others leapt to Starr's defense Sunday, including Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Prosecutors have an obligation to explain complicated cases as they unfold, Hatch said.
"I would believe Ken Starr over almost everybody else," Hatch said on Fox News Sunday. "If he said he didn't violate, or anybody on his staff didn't violate [rules governing grand jury disclosures], I think you can take that to the bank."
White House adviser Rahm Emanuel called public disclosure of prosecutors' behind-the-scenes role "a bombshell."
"It is now a cloud that hangs over the office of the independent counsel and literally hangs on the legitimacy of that office," Emanuel said.
Court TV founder Brill released portions of a 90-minute on-the-record interview with Starr on Saturday to promote the inaugural edition of his new media affairs magazine.
In a statement Saturday night, Starr called rill's charges reckless and irresponsible.
"The Office of the Independent Counsel does not release grand jury material directly or indirectly, on the record or off the record," Starr wrote.