Are independent counsel Kenneth Starr and the Washington media out of control? This was the question addressed to a full house Saturday afternoon by Robert S. Weiner '69 (below) and William J. Kramer '68--both called to testify before the Whitewater Grand Jury during Starr's investigation of the alleged affair between President Clinton and former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The symposium, sponsored by the 1967, '68, and '69 reunion classes, also featured Ted O. Gest '68, national news editor of U.S. News & World Report, who has covered the Whitewater investigation extensively, and legal ethics author and attorney Richard A. Zitrin '68, of Zitrin & Mastromonaco, a San Francisco law firm.
Weiner, the chief of press relations and director of public affairs for the White House Office on National Drug Policy, testified before the jury, although afterwards sent Starr a personal letter demanding an apology for making him do so. In the letter, Weiner expressed his outrage and criticized the independent counsel and his staff for questioning him about personal phone calls that Weiner and his wife made from their home in Maryland to friends in a local Democratic party group.
In relaying his experience to the symposium audience, Weiner chastised the system that permits an invasion of privacy and a disregard for First Amendment rights. In his letter to Starr, Weiner compared Starr's "highly inappropriate line of questioning" to tactics used by Senator Joseph McCarthy during the Senate hearings on Communism in the 1950s.
Also sharing his story was William Kramer, co-owner of Kramerbooks in Washington, D.C., who made national headlines this spring for his refusal to both testify before the grand jury and supply them with records of Lewinsky's book purchases at his store. "When we got the subpoena, early word leaked out to the press, and that word was that we were going to cooperate," said Kramer, adding that a segment of the public reacted as though the store was "consorting with the devil" to even consider cooperating.
"What is the implication for society when the very idea of responding to a subpoena
by a lawfully created body could create such a public furor?" he asked. The news
reports led to a one-day boycott of the store and letters from patrons who were
concerned that records of their book purchases might be divulged. Kramerbooks,
which had no intention of testifying or releasing the records, successfully appealed
to the U.S. District Court, which agreed that the government had to prove a
compelling interest in the material being sought.
Wrapping up the panel discussion was Zitrin, who spoke at length about the power and actions of Kenneth Starr that aren't subject to checks and balances. "A prosecutor has a sworn duty to do justice," he said. "Kenneth Starr has forgotten his duty as a prosecutor, and, in forgetting that, has abused his power in a way which is unethical for a prosecutor.
Still, said Zitrin, the experience may do our society and our justice system a great
deal of good. "Starr has so far overstepped his bounds that he's going to fall. And
when he falls, he's going to fall hard, and I think what will triumph are the freedoms
that we've all been talking about today. I think what will triumph is the freedom of
the judicial system from some of the shackles that have been brought about by people
like Ken Starr." The independent counsel would have been hard pressed to find an
ally in the Oberlin audience, which failed to publicly produce even one dissenting
Editor's note: For an audiotaped copy of this symposium, please mail $12 (check
payable to Oberlin College) to the Oberlin Alumni Association, Bosworth Hall, 50
W. Lorain St., Oberlin, OH 44074-1089.
Editor's note: For an audiotaped copy of this symposium, please mail $12 (check payable to Oberlin College) to the Oberlin Alumni Association, Bosworth Hall, 50 W. Lorain St., Oberlin, OH 44074-1089.