The fixer

How Starr's law partner covertly worked for six years to trap Clinton in a sex scandal

Published October 6, 1998 7:00PM (EDT)

WASHINGTON -- Richard Porter, a law partner in Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr's private practice, provided advice and shared information with a covert investigation of President Clinton's sex life conducted between 1992 and 1994, Salon has learned.

In addition, Porter has been involved in a wide variety of efforts to damage the Clinton presidency, including "opposition research" for the Bush campaign in 1992, the "Troopergate" scandal, the Paula Jones case and the Linda Tripp tapes getting into the hands of Starr's staff last winter. These revelations raise new questions about whether Starr's inquiry has actually been independent from parallel efforts by conservative partisans to discredit the president.

Porter, a partner of Starr's at the Chicago office of Kirkland & Ellis and a former senior aide to President George Bush, worked in the spring of 1994 to find competent legal counsel to represent Jones in her sexual harassment lawsuit against Clinton, according to two attorneys who worked on the case.

In addition, as the New York Times has reported, Porter is one of three conservative attorneys who secretly assisted Tripp in obtaining legal counsel, and in bringing her tapes and other information about Monica Lewinsky to the attention of the independent counsel's office. The information about Porter's role in the earlier investigation of the president's sexual conduct and in assisting Jones in finding legal counsel has not been previously reported.

The private investigation of Clinton's sexual conduct was initiated during the 1992 presidential campaign and privately financed by Peter W. Smith, a Chicago businessman and conservative activist and a major fund-raiser for House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Porter's role in these various endeavors has been a particularly sensitive and contentious issue both for Starr and for Porter's employer, Kirkland & Ellis. During his tenure as Whitewater independent counsel, Starr has been under constant attack from partisans of the president, who have criticized Starr because he has been a part-time prosecutor and some of his law firm's clients have been adversaries of the president. Earlier this year, the law firm began an internal investigation into whether Porter had worked on the Jones sexual harassment case without the approval of the firm's other partners. To date, the firm has declined to comment about that inquiry.

At the time that Porter first began assisting Smith, he was directing an "opposition research" effort against Clinton for the Bush reelection campaign. Sources say that Porter continued to advise Smith regarding the private investigation of Clinton after Porter became a partner at Kirkland & Ellis, practicing from its Chicago office.

Through his attorney, E. Mark Braden, Smith declined to comment. Porter did not return phone calls seeking his comment.

Smith spent at least $80,000 from September 1992 to March 1994 to fund a private investigation of the president's sexual conduct. Much of that money was ultimately spent to publicize the allegations of four Arkansas state troopers, who had served on the personal security detail of Clinton when he was governor, that Clinton carried on numerous extramarital affairs with their assistance.

Indeed, it was Smith who first introduced the troopers to reporter David Brock, who published the first story about their allegations in the American Spectator in January 1994. Smith also paid some of Brock's expenses for researching the article, according to Brock.

Smith was assisted in his efforts to promote the so-called Troopergate story by a Republican consultant, Eddie Mahe, a longtime friend and advisor to Gingrich. In an interview with Salon in April, Mahe said that Smith had paid him $25,000 in consulting fees over a two-year period for providing advice about how best to publicize the troopers' allegations: "I evaluated what they came up with to see if there was any way that the establishment press might be attracted to the story," Mahe said.

In March 1994, Smith also made $21,000 in payments to two of the troopers and one of their attorneys. Roger Perry, one of the troopers, said that he had requested the money from Smith after he lost a part-time job as a result of having spoken to the press about Clinton's indiscretions.

Two people involved in Smith's investigative effort of the president said that Porter provided advice about how Smith might financially assist the troopers if they were fired from their state jobs for speaking out about what they knew about Clinton.

The American Spectator article by Brock indirectly led to the Jones lawsuit. The Spectator first described an encounter between Clinton and a woman identified only as "Paula" at the Excelsior Hotel in Little Rock, Ark., in May 1991. Angered over the article, Jones sued the president and one of the troopers.

Two lawyers who have played a role in the Jones lawsuit have told Salon that in the spring of 1994, Porter was one of numerous attorneys who worked behind the scenes to help Jones obtain legal counsel to sue the president. Porter's assistance came at a crucial juncture for Jones' legal battle against the president. The statute of limitations was quickly approaching, and Jones did not have adequate legal counsel to pursue her claim.

During the Jones case, attorneys for Clinton subpoenaed Kirkland & Ellis in an attempt to find out more about Porter's possible role in the case. Kirkland & Ellis fought to quash the subpoena, according to attorneys involved in the Jones case. But the question became moot last March when a federal judge dismissed the case.

And on Sunday, the New York Times alleged that Porter was one of three conservative attorneys who assisted Linda Tripp in finding legal counsel, and also in bringing her tapes of her conversations with Monica Lewinsky to the attention of Starr.

The Times alleged that one of the attorneys, Jerome Marcus, provided the first tip to Starr's office about the president's relationship with Lewinsky. According to the Times account, Marcus contacted Starr's office about the Lewinsky allegations at least a week before Tripp contacted prosecutors. Yet, in his impeachment referral to Congress, Starr asserted that it was Tripp who first contacted his office about Lewinsky.

Tripp ally Lucianne Goldberg told the Times that Marcus was used as a "cutout" to obscure Porter's role in helping Tripp, because of Porter's close ties to Starr.

Charles G. Bakaly III, a spokesman for the Office of the Independent Counsel, said in a statement that although his office received a "heads-up call that some information may be coming or may be out there," the information provided at that time was at best "vague" and "sketchy." Therefore, he asserted, it was too insignificant to have mentioned in the impeachment report to Congress.

In private comments, Starr had much harsher things to say about the Times account: "Did Sidney Blumenthal get a job at the Times?" Starr commented, according to two people who heard the comments. Blumenthal is an advisor to the president who has spearheaded a public relations effort to discredit Starr and his investigation.

By Murray Waas

Murray Waas is a frequent contributor to Salon.

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Bill Clinton George W. Bush The New York Times