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.