WASHINGTON -- Defending himself against attacks from Monica Lewinsky's lawyer, Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr denied yesterday that his investigators detained and mistreated the former White House intern for nine hours last week.
William H. Ginsburg, Lewinsky's lawyer, has accused Starr of bullying and intimidating the 24 year old since she became the center of the sex and cover-up crisis engulfing the White House and a target of Starr's investigation.
Ginsburg is also puzzled that Starr has not offered Lewinsky immunity from criminal prosecution in exchange for her cooperation in his investigation of President Clinton.
If Lewinsky receives immunity, Ginsburg said yesterday in one of several TV interviews, "then she will be required to tell her story and would be happy to do so."
But in a statement yesterday, Starr asserted that his treatment of Lewinsky had been entirely proper and courteous.
He said she had consented to meet last week with FBI agents and attorneys, and that she called her mother and other family members and was told repeatedly she was free to leave whenever she wished.
"Media statements by one of her attorneys alleging that she was mistreated are wholly erroneous," Starr said in his statement.
Last night, prosecutors began arranging a break-the-ice discussion with Ginsburg, the Associated Press reported.
As details of the investigation continued to surface, reports indicated that on Jan. 16, Lewinsky consented to an FBI search of the Watergate apartment she shares with her mother.
Agents seized gifts she allegedly had received from Clinton, including a hat pin, T-shirts, a book and clothes. The agents also took Lewinsky's personal computer.
Meanwhile, Clinton and his staff pushed ahead yesterday with work on Tuesday's State of the Union speech before a joint session of Congress.
Though political advisers have urged Clinton to give a full account of the Lewinsky story in a televised appearance sometime before the State of the Union, a senior White House official said it was unlikely he would do so before Tuesday night.
"The president has to know not only what the answers are to the obvious questions, but what the answers are to the less obvious questions," said Mike McCurry, the White House spokesman. "We've got to assemble every answer to every question."
Meanwhile, as Ginsburg waged a public campaign yesterday for immunity from prosecution for his client, he accused Starr of trying to "frighten" Lewinsky by having his investigators descend upon her at the Ritz Carlton Hotel on Friday at Pentagon City mall in Northern Virginia.
"I had to ask myself, how many FBI agents and U.S. attorneys does it take to handle a 24-year-old girl?" Ginsburg said yesterday.
This week, in the kabuki dance between prosecutors and defense attorneys over the issue of whether to grant immunity for Lewinsky, Starr has taken a typically aggressive approach.
Many legal experts expected Starr to immediately seek immunity from prosecution for Lewinsky in exchange for her cooperation, since, in secretly recorded tapes, she allegedly describes in detail a sexual relationship with Clinton.
"Given the recordings Starr has, he has a good idea of what this lady is going to say," said Plato Cacheris, a Washington attorney who obtained immunity for his client Fawn Hall in the Iran-contra scandal.
But so far, Starr is withholding immunity for Lewinsky, Ginsburg said. Instead, he is apparently waiting for Lewinsky to first tell him exactly what she will offer as her testimony: the account on the audio tapes that allegedly describe a sexual relationship with Clinton, or the denial of any such affair, made in a sworn affidavit to the lawyers in the Paula Corbin Jones sexual harassment case.
Ginsburg contended that Starr's office has put the "squeeze" on his client, threatening to involve Lewinsky's parents, and making the young woman, who has been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury, a "target" of its investigation.
Such hardball tactics have become the signature of Starr, the independent counsel who has been investigating an assortment Clinton-related allegations for 3 1/2 years. So far, he has racked up 10 guilty pleas in federal court, three convictions, a bill to the U.S. taxpayers of about $34 million and a storm of criticism from those who believe he is on an endless fishing expedition.
The inquiry that began with a look into the Clintons' Whitewater land deal with the owner of a failed Arkansas savings and loan has been broadened to include such activities as the firing of a White House travel office employee and the use of FBI background files by the White House.
The latest expansion of his investigation -- into allegations that Clinton engaged in a sexual affair with Lewinsky and then, along with his confidant Vernon Jordan, instructed her to deny it -- has thrust Starr back in the spotlight. It has also moved Starr's inquiry as close as it has ever been to the Oval Office.
"He's fortunate this chestnut has fallen in his lap," said one prominent lawyer, who asked not to be identified and is critical of Starr's inquiry for having dragged on for so long with so few results.
But Starr's move into this new territory -- which he immediately sought from Attorney General Janet Reno last week after Linda R. Tripp approached him with the tapes of Lewinsky's description of an affair with Clinton -- has given ammunition to critics who contend that the prosecutor is out to get the president, one way or another.
"This gets to the breaking point," said Stanley Brand, a Washington lawyer and former general counsel to the House. "He's hung a sign out saying, 'Bring me all the dirt on Bill Clinton.' He figures if he stays around long enough, eventually he'll get Clinton for jaywalking. He'll get him for something."
But others, even some who are critical of the 1978 law that established the independent counsel position, say that Starr was justified in seeking to expand his jurisdiction in this case.
In seeking the expansion, Starr argued that his office was already investigating allegations that Jordan lined up lucrative consulting jobs for Webster L. Hubbell, a former top Justice Department official, to try to buy Hubbell's silence about the Whitewater deal after he was released from prison.
Hubbell, a longtime Clinton friend, served prison time after pleading guilty to embezzling money from his former law firm. Starr suspects that Hubbell has information about Clinton's activities related to the Whitewater deal, but Hubbell has refused to cooperate with the prosecutor.
Starr's office regards Jordan's efforts to help Lewinsky set up job interviews in New York, which Jordan acknowledged he did, as similar to Jordan's alleged efforts to help Hubbell.
Ginsburg confirmed yesterday that Starr's team wanted Lewinsky to initiate conversations with Jordan and possibly Clinton so that she could secretly tape-record them.
Aside from trying to build a case against the president through Jordan, Starr's office is hoping that Lewinsky's testimony goes directly to Clinton.
Starr, a former solicitor general and federal appellate court judge, has been a controversial figure ever since a three-judge panel, led by a conservative Republican, appointed him in August 1994.
Starr's ties to Republican politics have been a flash point for critics, as have been his speaking engagements before conservative forums and his continued outside work for corporate clients, some of which are Clinton opponents.
So far, his investigation has led to the 1996 bank fraud convictions of then-Gov. Jim Guy Tucker and former Clinton business partners James and Susan McDougal. Susan McDougal was so angered at Starr that she chose to go to jail on a contempt citation rather than cooperate with his investigation.
In June, Starr found himself in the middle of another hot spot when it was reported that his investigators had asked Arkansas state troopers about Clinton's sex life when he was governor. Starr's critics fumed, accusing him of veering out of control in his hunt for damaging evidence.
He insisted he was merely trying to "examine witnesses with whom the subjects of this investigation have been associated, and who therefore may possess relevant factual information."
Pub Date: 1/24/98