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Starr Turn For Blumenthal

White House damage-control expert Sidney Blumenthal accused independent counsel Kenneth Starr Thursday of using intimidation to keep him from talking with journalists about prosecutors on Starr's team.

"I never imagined that in America I would be hauled before a federal grand jury to answer questions about my conversations with members of the media," Blumenthal told reporters after a morning of grand jury testimony.


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Blumenthal, a former New Yorker magazine reporter who has been at the White House for six months. was questioned by two of Starr's top deputies, Jackie Bennett and Robert Bittman.

Blumenthal said he was forced to answer questions about his media contacts regarding Starr's office, notably the reputations of members of Starr's prosecutorial team.

"Ken Starr's prosecutors demanded to know what I had told reporters and what reporters had told me about Ken Starr's prosecutors," Blumenthal said. "If they think they have intimidated me, they have failed, and if any journalist here or elsewhere wants to talk to me I'll be glad to talk to you."

In the increasingly bitter public conversation between the White House and Starr's office, Blumenthal spoke to reporters after testifying before the grand jury probing allegations that President Clinton had an affair with a former White House intern and then pressured her to lie about it under oath.

For his part, Starr said the testimony of Blumenthal and other Clinton administration officials was needed to determine whether critical information about his team was obstructing its efforts to investigate the White House sex scandal.

"Our office was being subjected to a remarkable torrent of misinformation, false information," Starr told reporters Thursday. "And the grand jury has a right to know when false information is being communicated about career prosecutors."

The White House had hinted earlier that it was considering invoking executive privilege to prevent Blumenthal and other White House personnel from testifying.

While careful to avoid using any names, Starr reflected Thursday on how invoking special privileges to avoid a grand jury testimony can hinder an investigation. "If a witness says, 'I invoke a privilege' then the grand jury, to that extent, is being kept from getting information that's valuable to them," Starr said.

Acknowledging that the law provides for certain privileges, Starr added, "There's no privilege that can't be waived by a witness."

"And so we would hope that, in the interests of moving forward as promptly as possible, that witnesses wh have relevant information to the investigation would come forward and would answer those questions."

Nancy Hernreich, who as director of Oval Office operations saw nearly everyone who had contact with the president, is expected to continue her testimony later Thursday. Hernreich testified Wednesday.

In another development, the Osias Foundation, a non-profit group that studies women in the workplace, said it would contribute $10,000 as seed money for a legal defense fund for Lewinsky.

"Having been ambushed by the legal system, she now finds herself pitted against a prosecutor with access to unlimited funds in a city that devours its young," said Rosalie Osias, president of the foundation.

©1998 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report