Judge: Lewinsky book purchases are fair game for Starr

Thursday, June 4, 1998

Norma Holloway ...
Norma Holloway Johnson
WASHINGTON — U.S. District Court Judge Norma Holloway Johnson agreed that Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr’s subpoena seeking records of Monica Lewinsky’s purchases from a Washington bookstore did raise First Amendment concerns #151; but ruled in his favor nonetheless after Starr’s office convinced her that the material was vital to his investigation.

The determination that Starr needed the materials he sought in the bookstore subpoenas to continue the grand jury investigation of Lewinsky’s relationship with President Clinton came in more than 100 pages of court filings previously sealed by the court but made public today at the request of the store, Kramerbooks & afterwards. The grand jury is looking into the nature of that relationship and whether Lewinsky lied under oath about it at the behest of the president or his close aides.

The documents made public today included an order signed by Judge Johnson refusing three motions — by Kramerbooks and another bookstore, Barnes & Noble, and by Lewinsky’s attorneys — to quash the Starr subpoenas. In the order, the judge said that the bookstores and Lewinsky’s attorneys “persuasively alleged a chilling effect of their First Amendment rights.”

Because the First Amendment was involved, the judge required Starr’s office to “demonstrate that it had a compelling interest in the information sought.” She also ordered the Office of Independent Counsel to “show a sufficient connection between that information and the grand jury investigation.”

Starr did that on April 13, the Johnson order revealed, and the materials persuaded the judge to allow the subpoenas despite her First Amendment concerns.

“After careful consideration of the OIC’s in camera submission, the Court finds that the OIC has in fact shown a compelling interest in certain materials that may be found in the bookstores’ records,” the order said. “It has also shown a substantial relationship between the specific evidence sought and the grand jury’s investigation. It is likely that the bookstores can ‘supply information to help the government determine whether illegal conduct [has] occurred’ (the standard set in a related court case cited by the bookstores).”

Johnson did agree with the bookstores that some of the information sought by Starr was not needed for his investigation. Accordingly, she ordered the bookstores to turn over the materials to her first for her review, after which she would decide what needed to go to the special prosecutor to meet his “compelling interest” needs.

The judge also refused the efforts of Lewinsky’s lawyers and Barnes & Noble to make public Starr’s submission to the court outlining his need for the bookstore records.

In his motion urging the court to allow the subpoenas, Starr cited an exchange from President Clinton’s deposition in a civil sexual harassment case filed against him by Paula Jones, a case that has since been thrown out by an Arkansas judge.

“The relevance of the subpoenaed documents is readily apparent from a review of the deposition of the president in Jones v. Clinton,” Starr wrote. “Clinton testified as follows:

Q: Has Monica Lewinsky ever given you any gifts?
A: Once or twice. I think she’s given me a book or two.”

The special prosecutor noted a previous ruling by the Supreme Court stated that a grand jury investigation “is not fully carried out until every available clue has been run down and all witnesses examined in every proper way to find if a crime has been committed.”

“Every available clue concerning the Lewinsky matter has not yet been run down,” Starr told the court. “The subpoena issued to Kramerbooks seeks to do just that: run down available clues.”

Motions filed by attorneys for Kramerbooks, while not identifying specifically what materials were being sought, indicated that Starr was looking for at least four books that might have been purchased by Lewinsky.

According to the bookstore’s motion to quash the subpoena, Kramerbooks employees “located documents relating to the three specifically identified check transactions set forth in the subpoena” and a “fourth item, for a purchase made by credit card identified in a letter” from Starr’s office. The bookstore said the store documents “can be used to identify the title of the books which were purchased by the customer Ms. Lewinsky.”

The names of the books that Lewinsky may have purchased have never been publicly released, but The Washington Post‘s “Reliable Source” column, which broke the story on the Starr subpoena, identified one book as Vox, a novel about yuppie phone sex written by
Nicholson Baker.

Kramerbooks has yet to turn over any documents to Starr and his investigators. After Judge Johnson refused to quash the subpoena but did limit its scope, the bookstore announced it would appeal that decision. The bookstore has asked the court for a stay of the order until the U.S. Court of Appeals can rule.

In its filings, Kramerbooks told Judge Johnson that the government should not be able to force a bookseller to reveal book purchases made by a customer until it has explored other ways obtaining the information that would be less intrusive on an individual’s First Amendment rights. The bookstore’s motions also revealed that Kramerbooks has suffered a significant drop in business since the initial news reports about the Starr subpoena.