WASHINGTON -- When President Clinton's private lawyers ask a federal judge next week to call special prosecutor Kenneth W. Starr to account for "leaks" about his investigation of the Monica Lewinsky matter, they are free to suggest a variety of punishments, some potentially severe.
The chances that any punishment would actually be imposed, according to criminal law experts, will rise or fall depending upon whether President Clinton's lawyers can prove that Starr or his own staff leaked secret information to the news media.
Here, the experts say, are the possible sanctions that a judge could impose, from the mildest to the severest:
A command, worded either gently or harshly, for Starr to stop the disclosures.
A gag order, barring him and his aides from saying anything public about their investigation while it continues.
A requirement that Starr justify in court any further subpoenas to be issued by the grand jury at his direction.
A public disclosure by Starr of all the information he has gathered so far.
A contempt-of-court citation against Starr or individual attorneys FBI agents, backed up by fines or perhaps even a jail term.
A dismissal of the current grand jury.
A call to Attorney General Janet Reno to consider dismissing Starr as special prosecutor for misconduct.
The legal assertion that the Clinton lawyers will make in court, as early as Monday, is that Starr and his staff have violated federal court Rule 6(e), which is designed to protect the secrecy of grand jury investigations.
It bars government lawyers and others (except witnesses) from disclosing to anyone "matters occurring before the grand jury." Some court rulings suggest that that phrase refers not only to what is said in a grand jury room, but also to any information or evidence that may suggest the direction or scope of the $H investigation.
The rule specifies that individuals break the rule only when they are aware they are doing so -- when they know their obligation to keep those matters secret yet fail to do so. The rule itself lists only one potential punishment: a contempt-of-court finding.
But, criminal law specialists say, a lawyer who believes that a client has been harmed by grand jury leaks can suggest a wide range of other remedies, on the theory that even severe penalties are necessary to protect the client's interest.
But those familiar with the process say judges will demand explicit proof that prosecutors, like Starr and his staff, are the source of the leaks.
Clinton's private attorney, David E. Kendall, actually began the process of building his case yesterday with his 15-page letter complaining to Starr.
Pub Date: 2/07/98