- The Washington Times - Friday, July 7, 2000

Charles G. Bakaly III, the once highly visible spokesman for independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, was charged Thursday with criminal contempt for news leaks involving Monica Lewinsky and was ordered to stand trial next week.

U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson, who oversees grand jury matters, will preside over the trial, which begins Thursday.

Court records show Judge Johnson signed an order June 29 granting a request by Mr. Bakaly for a public trial on the contempt charge. Federal authorities said the charges relate to comments he purportedly made to investigators in connection with their probe into suspected leaks of grand jury material.

The previously sealed case came to light only Thursday when the notice for the trial was put on the court calendar. The documents made public so far provide no details about the charge.

But in 1998, Judge Johnson said there was evidence showing Mr. Starr's office may have been responsible for two dozen media leaks concerning secret grand jury information about the Lewinsky probe.

The judge ruled in September 1998 that President Clinton's attorneys had established "a prima facie" case showing prosecutors might have broken secrecy laws. She said the evidence suggested Mr. Starr's office knowingly leaked grand jury testimony or other secret information as early as Jan. 21, 1998, the day the Lewinsky scandal broke.

A federal appeals court later overturned the ruling, saying the judge used the wrong standard for determining there was sufficient preliminary evidence of an illegal leak. The three-judge appeals court panel cleared Mr. Starr and his staff of illegally leaking information for the 24 Lewinsky stories.

Mr. Bakaly resigned in March 1999 after an internal investigation by Mr. Starr and a request by the independent counsel for a Justice Department probe. Mr. Starr said at the time he was concerned about "possible unauthorized disclosures to the New York Times" and, as a result, had referred the matter to the Justice Department.

Mr. Starr accepted the Bakaly resignation with "regret," but it was clear at the time the findings of his internal probe into the source of leaks for a Jan. 31, 1998, article in the New York Times played a role in Mr. Bakaly's decision to quit.

Mr. Bakaly was not available Thursday night for comment. He previously has denied any wrongdoing and pledged to cooperate in the Justice Department probe.

The Jan. 31, 1998, article, quoting "several associates of Mr. Starr," said the independent counsel had concluded he had the constitutional authority to seek a grand jury indictment of Mr. Clinton before he left office in January 2001. The article quoted Mr. Bakaly as declining to discuss the matter "in any way, shape or form."

Mr. Starr and his staff were the targets of a blistering public assault by White House lawyers and Mr. Clinton's personal attorney, David E. Kendall. He first raised the issue of media leaks in February 1998 and later persuaded the court to investigate the matter.

Mr. Kendall accused Mr. Starr of illegally leaking grand jury information on the president's liaison with Miss Lewinsky. In a 15-page letter to Mr. Starr released by the White House, Mr. Kendall said he intended to "seek judicial relief from these tactics, including contempt sanctions."

Mr. Starr at the time called the attacks "an orchestrated plan" to divert attention from the Lewinsky scandal. He said the leaks may have come from the White House, which had a "clear and manifest motivation" to release information "to lessen the painful impact of such evidence when it is revealed through official proceedings."

Judge Johnson has asked Mr. Clinton's attorneys and Mr. Starr's successor, Robert W. Ray, if sealed documents in the Bakaly case should be made public at trial.

Mr. Bakaly was hired in May 1998 as Mr. Starr's counselor. He had served as counselor and spokesman for independent counsel Donald C. Smaltz in the probe of former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy.

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