WASHINGTON -- Kenneth Starr's former spokesman faces trial next week in a battle over news leaks during the Monica Lewinsky investigation that until now was fought mostly in secret.
The criminal contempt trial of Charles Bakaly, who is being prosecuted by the government, is to begin Thursday, according to documents unsealed at the U.S. District Court.
Court documents show that Bakaly requested that the trial be held in public and that the case be unsealed. That request was granted last week by U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson, who as the chief judge of the federal court in Washington oversees matters involving grand jury secrecy.
Bakaly faces trial over statements he made concerning investigations into alleged leaks from the special prosecutor's office during President Clinton's impeachment ordeal, according to the documents.
The documents made public so far don't specify the exact reason why Bakaly was charged with contempt. But officials have said, and court documents show, that Bakaly was accused by his own office of having a role in a January 1999 news leak during Clinton's impeachment trial. He denied being the source of the leak.
Johnson, who presided over most of the legal cases during the Lewinsky impeachment drama, solicited the views of Clinton's lawyers and Starr's successor, Robert Ray, as to whether sealed documents in the case should be made public at Bakaly's trial.
Bakaly was unavailable for comment, his wife said Thursday.
The trial is the latest twist in a case spurred by Clinton's lawyers.
During the height of the impeachment investigation, the president's attorneys launched a legal assault accusing Starr and his staff of illegally leaking to the news media information covered by federal grand jury secrecy rules about the Lewinsky case.
Starr's office denied any illegal leaks, but his staff was forced to undergo an intense investigation directed by the court.
In the midst of that investigation, Bakaly abruptly resigned in March 1999 as Starr's spokesman after his former boss referred him to the Justice Department in connection with a press leak two months earlier.
The New York Times, citing unidentified sources, reported on Jan. 31, 1999, that Starr had concluded the president could legally be indicted while still in office.
Bakaly went on national television the day after the article appeared and said the ''information did not come from our office. ... We did not leak this information. ... We do not leak grand jury information.''
Starr made the referral to the Justice Department after his office conducted its own inquiry and concluded Bakaly may have been involved in the leak, officials said.
Court documents last fall showed Starr's office took administrative action against Bakaly and informed the court it was withdrawing its earlier denial that the prosecutor's office was the source of the January 1999 leak. Instead, it argued the information in the story was not covered by grand jury rules.
Johnson ultimately concluded there was evidence that Starr's office may have been behind as many as two dozen improper leaks. Starr appealed, and won a key ruling from an appeals court.
Among other things, the appeals court sided with Starr in concluding the information in the Times article was not covered by grand jury secrecy and thus was not an improper leak.
Bakaly, however, was forced to face the criminal contempt charge.
Bakaly defended Starr against an onslaught of criticism as spokesman for the independent counsel's office during the Lewinsky drama.
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