When Monica Lewinsky was interviewed by Barbara Walters for the March 3 edition of 20/20, she was under strict orders from Kenneth Starr not to talk about her experiences with his office. Why was Starr allowed to dictate the terms of the interview, and specifically, how could he forbid discussion of his own office?
In the July 1998 agreement that immunized her from prosecution for perjury, Lewinsky promised Starr's office that she wouldn't speak to the media without first obtaining permission. Immunity agreements can contain any and all stipulations to which the prosecutor and witness agree. They're technically legal as long as they're signed voluntarily by the witness. So because Lewinsky consented to the agreement, Starr could indeed bar her from speaking to news organizations.
Moreover, immunity deals can be modified even after they're originally signed. Hence Lewinsky consented to the ABC interview last November in the expectation that Starr would eventually allow her to talk. He finally gave permission last week, but according to ABC, the conditions included that she 1) not contradict her grand jury testimony, 2) not talk about the conduct of the Independent Counsel's office; 3) not discuss her initial questioning last January by FBI agents and prosecutors; 4) and remain silent about any potential legal proceedings to come. The OIC offered no explanation of the restrictions.
Why did Starr prohibit questions about his office's activities? The OIC offered no public explanation, and refused to return Explainer's phone call. So we can only speculate that Starr wants to shield both Lewinsky's testimony and the methods and practices of his office from scrutiny. Doubts about the former could raise questions about his entire case against president. Doubts about the latter could fuel a Justice Department probe of his office.
Could Lewinsky challenge the restrictions on her right to say what she pleases? The only way would be to violate the restrictions, and if prosecuted by Starr, to claim that the agreement was invalid. She might choose to argue that it violated her 1st Amendment right to free speech. She could also try to prove that she signed it under duress.
Explainer thanks Professor Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School and Professor Stephen Salzberg of George Washington University Law School for their assistance. This item was written by Jodi Kantor.