by CHRISTOPHER B. COHEN

It is now time for Attorney General Janet Reno to open a formal inquiry to determine if someone, including prosecutor Kenneth Starr, should be disciplined or prosecuted for leaking grand jury testimony.

Recent leaks to the media, including supposedly secret grand jury testimony by President Clinton's secretary, are illegal under federal law and abusive.

If Clinton, the apparent target of this criminal investigation, is eventually charged, it should be done with the appropriate due process and unbiased investigation one would expect of normal criminal investigations. No potential defendant, whether an unknown indigent or a president, should be intimidated or subjected to third-degree tactics.

Rep. John Conyers of Detroit, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, has correctly asked Reno to investigate whether Starr engaged in "repeated instances of alleged misconduct and abuses of power." Abuse of power is not limited to beatings of the type the media exposed in the Rodney King case.

For high-profile targets, abuse can come from leaking secret grand jury testimony so reporters will ask the target questions that a competing attorney cannot ask. This is an underhanded, devious and unauthorized way for a lawyer or prosecutor to "smoke out," or to discover evidence not available through legitimate means.

The leak puts the celebrity in the position of either exercising his right to remain silent and looking like he is stonewalling; or answering outside of court and compromising his legal position.

When the testimony provided by Clinton's secretary was leaked, it allowed the media to question the president about it. The American public could see the president squirm by not answering until trial. The strategy on his part was critical to prevent prosecutors from reading his answers in the newspapers without having to question him themselves and without having to divulge the testimony of their own witnesses.

Conyers asked Reno to examine whether Starr's office leaked grand jury evidence, intimidated witnesses, conducted unauthorized investigations or undermined the ability of the Secret Service to protect the president.

Some recent comments in the media appear to indicate that Starr is highly partisan, could have had conflicts of interest, and may have exceeded his responsibility. If the Whitewater prosecutor wired accuser Linda Tripp before his request was granted to expand his investigation of the Paula Jones case in violation of Maryland's strict criminal eavesdropping laws why should a rogue prosecutor not be prosecuted as any ordinary citizen might be?

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