Whitewater prosecutors opened a new front in their investigation Tuesday, summoning a White House aide and a private investigator hired by President Clinton's lawyers in a search for the source of critical news reports about their office.
White House aide Sidney Blumenthal and Terry Lenzner, head of Investigative Group Inc., appeared at the U.S. Courthouse Tuesday. Lenzner has been working for the law firm of Clinton's private attorney since April 1994.A third Clinton adviser, former Commerce Secretary Mickey Kan-tor who has been working as a private lawyer for the president in the Monica Lewinsky investigation, successfully fended off a threatened subpeona. He argued it would violate attorney-client privilege.
The White House launched a blistering attack on Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's latest moves, saying they were designed to chill contact between presidential aides and reporters.
"This is a clear abuse of power that we haven't seen in this town in a long time. The use of subpoenas to silence criticism is outrageous and over the line," White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said.
Starr's prosecutors have told lawyers that they consider the spreading of any misinformation about the independent counsel's office could be investigated for possible obstruction of justice, said an individual familiar with the proceedings.
Blumenthal and lawyers attended a closed session before U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson to object to the subpoena. Emerging from Johnson's courtroom, Blumenthal said he would return to testify later in the day. Starr is delving into an alleged presidential affair and cover-up involving Lewinsky, a former White House intern.
"I'm incensed, outraged," Blumenthal said Monday night. He told NBC's "Today" show Tuesday that he wants the government to "subpoena Mr. Starr and his people and find out how this campaign of leaks has occurred."
His attorney, Jo Marsh, said the subpoena to her client demands phone logs and records of any conversation with reporters about Starr and his office. "It is a very broad subpoena. We view it as an assault on the First Amendment," she said.
In addition to working for the office of Clinton lawyer David Kendall, Lenzner also has done recent work for Robert Bennett, the attorney for Clinton in the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit against the president.
The White House declined to say exactly what Lenzner has been working on, but press secretary Mike McCurry said he was not "investigating investigators, reporters or such."