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9. Jumping into the fray
Copyright © 2000 by Dan E. Moldea
On May 19, I delivered a speech at the Martin Luther King Library in downtown Washington. During the talk, while continuing to protect my own OIC sources who had spoken to me off the record, I recounted that one OIC official, who spoke on the record, had explained the OIC's process of leaking to the press. I told the audience:According to Hickman Ewing, Kenneth Starr's chief deputy, the OIC freely provides non-public information on an off-the-record basis to reporters and book reviewers who are personally approved by Kenneth Starr and whose work is in sync with the OIC's position on key issues.I also charged that some of these selected reporters, who were the beneficiaries of the OIC leaks, were covertly providing the prosecution with confidential information about the President from their own sources. To me, this was whorehouse journalism--on par with the performances of most sportswriters who covered the NFL.
This runs contrary to the OIC's public statements about its relationship with the media and is further proof that the OIC's investigation of the Clinton White House--regardless of merit--is political, partisan, and punitive. [The Starr inquiry] is built upon a series of well-timed leaks which have turned gossip into gasoline and some of these approved journalists into lapdogs who are dependent upon their sources' access and goodwill.
In fact, I had cooperated with prosecutors twice during my career. The first time was after a target of a grand jury investigation had threatened my father's life. The second time was after a confessed accomplice in a murder conspiracy indicated that he was willing to testify in support of another member of the conspiracy, falsely absolving him of any guilt.
In both cases, I cooperated with the prosecution openly--not as a confidential informant. As a result, in the first case in 1976, a murder contract was placed on my life; in the second in 1983, the defense was immediately notified of my cooperation, which caused a chain of events that nearly led to my imprisonment just before my father's death.
Also, I had participated in probes about murder and specific acts of violence--not specific acts of sex between two consenting adults, who had allegedly lied about their covert relationship.
CNN filmed my speech and aired its story on May 25--after both Starr and Ewing refused comment. However, OIC spokesman Charles Bakaly insisted that Ewing and I simply had different versions of what we had discussed during our conversation. Nevertheless, Jim Kennedy, a spokesman for the White House, told the Reuters news service that my allegations needed to be investigated.
After CNN's broadcast and the Reuters wire story, Gene Lyons, a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, wrote:It appears Ewing's normally inerrant judgment about which are the independent counsel's trusted pet reporters may have been thrown off by the fact that Moldea was under contract to Regnery, a publishing house owned by a close friend and political ally of Starr's.Also, unknown to everyone but Roger Simmons, I had limited my remarks to my one conversation with Ewing. I did not even mention my subsequent discussion with Jackie Bennett.
In the wake of my speech, I appeared on several of radio and television programs. During one of these interviews, the host charged that I was using the leaks issue to seek revenge on Starr, who, prior to his appointment as independent counsel, had filed an amicus brief for the defense in Moldea v. New York Times.
In response, I admitted, "Well, it's legitimate, I guess, to ask whether I have an ulterior motive for questioning Starr's tactics. But when I had the means and opportunity to do so between the covers of my book about Foster's suicide, I stayed fair and impartial. In fact, I praised Starr and his staff for their work on the Foster case. And, I believe that my sense of fairness in that particular matter has also been applied to this issue about the OIC leaks."
Then, I appeared on Keith Olbermann's nightly program, The White House in Crisis, on MSNBC, in which I went after the reporters covering the OIC, as well as the Starr investigation of the President's sex life.Olbermann (asking about the specifics of my conversation with Ewing): What does "not on the public record" mean, Dan? Is this grand jury information, or is it a catch-all? What does it mean?In its June 6 issue, the National Journal reported that White House press secretary Mike McCurry quoted President Clinton, saying, "Why do the Washington Post and the New York Times cover up Dan Moldea and not write about that?"
Moldea: I can't go further than what Ewing has said, but I think it's important that the journalists who are covering this go back and ask Ewing what he meant by that. Both Ewing and Starr have decided to make no comment on this matter, and they're allowing their flack to speak for them. And everyone seems to be allowing that to be the final word on this matter. I mean, when the President doesn't want to comment about something, the press continues to ask the question over and over again. Why is Ken Starr getting a pass on this? . . . Hey, if you're going to have an investigation, have a fair investigation. But I insist that this is not a fair investigation. And I believe that many reporters are becoming complicit in this particular situation.
In his defense of what I had done, the President specifically accused the Post and the Times, neither of which had mentioned my charges against the OIC, of "covering up" the OIC's illegal activities.
Still, through all of this, I promised that, if subpoenaed, I would cooperate with any investigation of the leaks, including the OIC's own reported internal review.
Not surprisingly, the OIC never contacted me.
* * *
On June 14--twenty-six days after my speech--the New York Times published an article about Brill's interview with Starr in his widely-anticipated new magazine, Brill's Content, which would be released the following day. According to the Times:[Starr] has acknowledged . . . that he and his aides have given information on the Monica Lewinsky matter to reporters. But he also insisted that these leaks were neither illegal, because they did not involve testimony before a grand jury, nor a violation of Justice Department ethics barring leaks of "substantive information" about a prosecution. . . .After reading the story, I reviewed the notes of my on-the-record conversation with Jackie Bennett, who had specifically and repeatedly offered me "substantive information." However, I decided to hold this information, just in case Brill later needed corroboration for his charges.
"I have talked with reporters on background on some occasions," Mr. Starr said in the interview. Mr. Starr also identified three reporters . . . as journalists to whom his deputy, Jackie Bennett, had talked "extensively" about the case. . . . But Mr. Bennett told Mr. Brill he was in no way a source." (Emphasis added.)
Responding directly to Brill's allegations, Starr issued a statement on June 13, insisting:Steven Brill has recklessly and irresponsibly charged the Office of Independent Counsel with improper contacts with the media. The charges are false.Also, on June 16, Starr released a formal nineteen-page response to Brill, adding:
The Office of the Independent Counsel does not release grand jury material directly or indirectly, on the record or off the record. Nor do we violate Dept. of Justice policy or applicable ethical guidelines. . . . The contacts between the Office of the Independent Counsel and journalists have been legal, appropriate and consistent with Dept. of Justice policy.Your reputation suffers grave damage with the publication of 'Pressgate' in your inaugural issue. Your reporting rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of the law and a misrepresentation of the facts--errors that I will detail at length below.But, contrary to Starr's denials in his condemnation of Brill, I believed from my own conversations with Ewing and Bennett that Brill was right: The OIC had engaged in a pattern of cooperation with selected reporters, which included well-timed leaks from the OIC's grand jury investigations.
More disappointing, however, is that your reckless and irresponsible attack borders on the libelous. For this reason, I am compelled to respond publicly.
Ironically, after my bitter war with Brill twenty years earlier, I was now cheering him on and prepared to back him up.
Other than a misspelled name and failing to reveal his financial contributions to the Clinton-Gore campaigns, I was aware of only one other mistake admitted by Brill in his article. According to the June 19 edition of the Washington Post, Brill had become embroiled in a controversy with the Wall Street Journal over one of its reports about the Lewinsky matter. The Post continued:Brill conceded [the] error after learning that Journal reporter Glenn Simpson had [secretly] tape-recorded the interview.Reporter Simpson received no public criticism from the media for secretly taping Brill, who had justifiably attacked several journalists for their sweetheart relationships with Starr and the OIC.
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