L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
On repeated occasions, for administrative and economic convenience, the original 1994 mandate to investigate the Whitewater land deal in Arkansas has legally been extended. This placed the White House Travel Office firings and the alleged misuse of FBI files by White House personnel squarely within Starr's jurisdiction.
When Starr recently sought to broaden his probe, he rightly justified this new investigation by pointing out that his office was already in the process of inquiring into allegations involving presidential friend and confidante, Vernon Jordan. Starr was attempting to determine whether Jordan tried to buy the silence of Whitewater figure Webster L. Hubbell by lining up several consulting jobs for him. Following the course of conduct that any competent prosecutor would, an FBI investigation followed. This yielded information that Jordan had allegedly urged Monica Lewinsky to lie by denying that she had been involved in a sexual affair with Clinton or had been assisted by Jordan in finding work. This new information is closely related to the earlier Whitewater investigation of Jordan.
However, the prudent approach of Starr did not end there. As an additional measure of caution, Starr sought and received judicial permission from a three-judge panel to expand his probe in order to follow up on the newly acquired information. This approval to proceed was warranted due to the previously stated connection between Jordan and Hubbell.
Authorization by Attorney General Janet Reno and the Justice Department was not really required. A 1996 court ruling allows independent counsels to bypass the Justice Department when seeking expansions into areas that are considered to be related. Still, Starr had the foresight to realize that Reno's approval would help to insulate him from the inevitable, political criticism that would most certainly follow.
The investigation into this delicate matter was conducted by a designated group of FBI agents who were part of the expanded Whitewater investigation. Initially the Office of the Independent Counsel had as many as fifty agents assigned to the investigation. At the time of inquiry into the Jordan/Lewinsky matter, the number of agents had decreased to seven. These seven agents had been working with Starr for years and fully understood the purposes of his investigative mandate. To prevent conflicts of interest, there must be a firewall between the Justice Department and the FBI on one hand, and Starr's independent investigation on the other.
The discussions taking place between Ginsburg and Starr have been filled with the typical posturing for which criminal defense attorneys are noted. Immunity occurs when a prosecutor agrees to furnish a person protection from criminal charges in return for meaningful assistance. Ginsburg appropriately is seeking the highest level of protection from prosecution that he can obtain for his client. Likewise, Starr is attempting to secure the strongest possible commitment that the testimony in question will be valuable to his cause. At this point, Starr's currency is immunity.
Negotiations may turn on whether or not Lewinsky will receive
limited, or use immunity, as opposed to absolute, or transactional
immunity. Limited immunity affords protection to the witness
from the use of the furnished testimony in a future prosecution.
A witness may still be prosecuted using information not obtained
from the immunized testimony. Absolute immunity grants a witness
complete protection from prosecution for offenses related to
the compelled testimony.