Hunting the President

Gil Davis and Joe Cammarata, Paula Jones lawyers of record, werent the sort of attorneys attracted to the highly ideological Federalist Society milieu. But two of the young lawyers working with them, George Conway and Richard Porter, a former Dan Quayle aid who had joined Kenneth Starrs firm Kirkland and Ellis in its Chicago home office, were among the groups active members. At the urging of Conway and Jerome Marcus, another young Federalist lawyer, a group of Federalist-affiliated law professors and constitutional lawyers had signed “friend of the court” briefs in 1994 supporting Jones right to proceedings against the president while in office.

Now, as the date for argument on that issue in the Supreme Court approached, the young Federalist attorneys in the Jones camp called upon two of the organizations legal eminencies to help prepare Davis and Cammarata. During the first week of January, they brought Davis and Cammarata to the Army-Navy Club for a coaching session with Robert Bork, who had addressed the founding conference of the Federalist Society at Yale in 1982, and Ted Olson, the chairman of its powerful Washington chapter.

Bork had lost his own chance to sit with the nations top judges during an exceptionally bitter confirmation battle in 1986, an experience that had left him furious at the liberal Democrats he believed had blocked him. Aside from his legal acumen, Bork could offer informed personal opinions about the courts most influential justices. He regularly played poker with Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Associate Justice Antonin Scalia.

Less renowned than Bork, Olson too had a brilliant reputation as an appellate lawyer [and] substantial Supreme Court experience. Olson had graciously hosted their last session at the downtown offices of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the giant law firm whose Washington operations he managed.

According to Davis, George Conway had wanted to run the coaching session as a “moot court,” with Bork and Olson barking out the kind of sharp questions Davis could expect from the justices. But the scowling, opinionated Bork–possibly self-conscious about mimicking “the Brethren” he would never join–preferred a less formal approach, and everyone else deferred to him.

For two hours the lawyers sat around a table eating sandwiches, as Olson and Bork advised Davis how best to present his brief urging that the case against Clinton proceed immediately to trial. To the justices, Olson emphasized, the most pressing problem would be whether the President should be distracted from his elected job, and how the lower court could address his special needs. He urged Davis to convince the high court that Jones would accommodate the president in terms of court dates, depositions, and other infringements on his schedule.

As they all prepared to leave, Davis said, “Someday somebody will ask me who was present at this meeting.” Did anyone mind his name being mentioned? Olson didnt seem to care, neither did Bork. But Conway and Marcus, who had kept their participation in the Jones case from their law partners–some of whom were Democrats close to the White House–continued to insist upon complete anonymity.

submitted to Congress by the Office of Independent Counsel: “On January 12, 1998 this Office received information that Monica Lewinsky was attempting to influence the testimony of one of the witnesses of the Jones investigation, and that Ms. Lewinsky herself was prepared to provide false information under oath in that lawsuit. The OIC was also informed that Ms. Lewinsky had spoken to the President and the Presidents close friend Vernon Jordan about being subpoenaed to testify in the Jones suit, and that Vernon Jordan and others were helping her find a job. The allegations with respect to Mr. Jordan and the job search were similar to ones already under review in the ongoing Whitewater investigation.

“After gathering preliminary evidence to test the informations reliability, the OIC presented the evidence to Attorney General Janet Reno. Based on her review of the information, the Attorney General determined that a further investigation by the Independent Counsel was required.”

But that wasnt quite how it all happened. The January 12 date, for example, is deceptive. The OIC learned about Monica S. Lewinsky at least several days earlier than the report acknowledges, and from sources whose complicity with his investigation Kenneth Starr had powerful motives to conceal. In Michael Isikoffs version of the story in Uncovering Clinton, “it was not clear who first had the idea” of bringing the independent counsel into the Paula Jones case. Isikoff lists several possibilities: Lucianne Goldberg, Linda Tripp, Jerome Marcus and Richard Porter. Additional candidates would be Ann Coulter and George Conway, two more of the so-called elves helping Jones.

But there is no doubt that the members of this group were in contact with one another from September 1997 onward, and that Goldberg, Tripp, Coulter, and Conway, at least, were regularly in touch with Isikoff. According to the Newsweek reporter (whose book expresses deep discomfort at his having become “a player–one of the acts in the scandal circus”), he never realized he was being used as a cats-paw in a conspiracy against Clinton.

Presumably alerted by Jill Abramson and Don van Natta Jr.s pathbreaking investigation in The New York Times, Isikoff discusses a dinner party that took place in Philadelphia on January 8, 1998. Present were Porter, Marcus, and Paul Rosenzweig, who had joined Kenneth Starrs Washington OIC staff in November 1997. Exactly why Starr hired an ambitious young lawyer at a time when the Whitewater investigation and Filegate, Travelgate, and the Vince Foster investigation were near completion isnt clear. But during the intervening three months, the Times reported, Rosenzweig had spoken with Marcus about the Jones case several times by phone.

Rosenzweig traveled up from Washington for the January 8 dinner at the elegant Deux Cheminees restaurant in Philadelphia. Porter, Kenneth Starrs law partner and Lucianne Goldbergs conduit to the Jones lawyers, flew in from Chicago. “Largely for the hell of it,” Isikoff reports, Conway came by train from New York. It was Conway whose timely leaks to the Drudge Report had helped prevent the Jones case from being settled several months earlier, and who had just that day helped find another Federalist Society lawyer to represent Linda Tripp. “Pure serendipity” is how Jerome Marcus later described the gathering.

Before the others arrived that Thursday evening, according to Marcus, he had informed Rosenzweig “very briefly” about the tale of the president and the intern, Jordans efforts to find Lewinsky a job, and Linda Tripps tapes. “I dont know if its real or not,” he said. “But do you think this is something that your office would be interested in?”

Rosenzweig didnt know, but would make it his business to find out. On the following Monday, January 12, Lucianne Goldberg called Linda Tripp. From Washington, Rosenzweig had called Marcus in Philadelphia, who had called Porter in Chicago, who had called Goldberg in New York, who had relayed the message back to Tripp in Washington. A deputy independent counsel named Jackie Bennett was definitely interested. But Tripp would have to call him directly. For the sake of propriety, the information would have to come in by “the front door.”

Even if the participants accounts are taken at face value, it was surely no accident that the January 8 dinner was omitted from the Starr Report. For Rosenzweig to be meeting with a clique of attorneys who had helped the Jones team was bad enough. But the participation of Porter, as Starrs law partner, presented the OIC with ethical problems. Avoiding even the appearance of impropriety was the whole point of the Independent Counsel Act. It specifically states that “any person associated with a [law] firm with which such independent counsel is associated may not represent in any matter any person involved in any investigation or prosecution.”

Moreover, as Clinton attorney David Kendall pointed out when Porters role came to light, by law “a legal representation of a client by one partner is attributable to all partners.”

Excerpted from The Hunting of the President by Joe Conason and Gene Lyons. Copyright 2000. Reprinted by permission of The Wylie Agency. All rights reserved.

Excerpted from The Hunting of the President by Joe Conason and Gene Lyons. Copyright 2000. Reprinted by permission of The Wylie Agency. All rights reserved.

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