Brill, mag off to fast start after interview of special prosecutor

WASHINGTON — Steven Brill has pulled off a dramatic debut for his magazine about the media with his own featured interview with special prosecutor Kenneth Starr.

The furor that erupted in Washington over Starr’s disclosure to Brill that he had held briefings with reporters about issues pertaining to his investigation of President Clinton provided Brill’s magazine with invaluable publicity for its launch.

Content controversy

White House outrage and Starr’s insistence that there was nothing improper about the briefings were only the beginning of a controversy that promises to keep Brill’s Content in the news for days to come.

While Starr insisted Monday he didn’t illegally leak evidence gathered from witnesses, the judge overseeing the grand jury in the Monica Lewinsky case summoned key lawyers to her courtroom. The Justice Dept. also is considering whether Starr’s actions violated policy on grand jury proceedings.

Prosecutors from Starr’s office, White House counsel Charles Ruff, David Kendall, the president’s private attorney, and three lawyers for Lewinsky were among those who marched into U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson’s courtroom.

Sources said the judge ordered the meeting closed to the public and its contents kept secret because of the grand jury proceedings.

News groups respond

Two news organizations Starr identified in the article as having received information from Starr’s office also took exception to Brill’s article.

Reporter Susan Schmidt of the Washington Post wrote to Brill that she would never publicly identify confidential sources. She accused him of misquoting her as saying she had gotten certain information from Starr’s office.

“Your article has damaged me and several other fine reporters, but it is your reputation that is stained most deeply by it,” she wrote.

ABC News president David Westin, in a letter to Brill, said: “Although it is tempting to point out the various inaccuracies in your reporting, we will not and should not comment on who our sources are or are not.”

Starr, meanwhile, issued a statement seeking to counter Democratic allegations that his comments in the interview provided proof he violated the law barring disclosure of grand jury evidence.

“Let me now be clear,” Starr said. “The (Office of Independent Counsel) does not release grand jury material, directly or indirectly, on the record or off the record; the OIC does not violate Dept. of Justice policy or applicable ethical guidelines and the OIC does not release (and never has released) information provided by a witness during witness interviews except as authorized by law.”

Brill, the magazine’s editor, founder and author of the story, said Sunday that Starr’s background briefings for reporters “clearly violate the law as interpreted by various courts.”

Starr responded Monday that “Mr. Brill’s statements … are false.”

Brill was not immediately available for comment Monday, his office said.

– From wire service reports

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