“vast right-wing conspiracy”

Hillary Rodham Clinton described, in a now-famous appearance on the NBC News program ”Today,” how a ”vast right-wing conspiracy” was trying to destroy her husband’s Presidency.

As it turns out, some of the most serious damage to Bill Clinton’s Presidency came not from his high-profile political enemies but from a small secret clique of lawyers in their 30’s who share a deep antipathy toward the President, according to nearly two dozen interviews and recently filed court documents.

While cloaking their roles, the lawyers were deeply involved — to an extent not previously known — for nearly five years in the Paula Jones sexual misconduct lawsuit. They then helped push the case into the criminal arena and into the office of the independent counsel, Kenneth W. Starr.

The group’s leader was Jerome M. Marcus, a 39-year-old associate at the Philadelphia law firm of Berger & Montague, whose partners are major contributors to the Democratic Party.

Although Ms. Jones never met him or knew he had worked on her behalf, Mr. Marcus drafted legal documents and was involved in many of the important strategic decisions in her lawsuit, according to billing records and interviews with other lawyers who worked on the case. As much as any of Ms. Jones’s attorneys of record, Mr. Marcus helped keep Ms. Jones’s case alive in the courts.

Mr. Marcus recruited others to assist his efforts, including several friends from the University of Chicago Law School. One of those who was approached, Paul Rosenzweig, briefly considered doing work for Ms. Jones in 1994, according to billing records and interviews, but decided not to. In November 1997, Mr. Rosenzweig joined Mr. Starr’s office, where he and Mr. Marcus had several telephone conversations about the Jones case.

It was Mr. Rosenzweig who fielded a ”heads-up” phone call from Mr. Marcus on Jan. 8, 1998, that first tipped off Mr. Starr’s office about Monica S. Lewinsky and Linda R. Tripp. The tip was not mentioned in the Starr report, though the information revived a moribund Whitewater investigation that would not have produced, it now seems, an impeachment referral to Congress.

Mr. Marcus did make his views known publicly last month when he wrote an impassioned commentary in The Washington Times urging the impeachment of Mr. Clinton. ”The cancer is deadly,” Mr. Marcus wrote. ”It, and its cause, must be removed.” He identified himself in the newspaper simply as ”a lawyer in Philadelphia.”

In his long efforts to promote Ms. Jones’s lawsuit, and in helping Mrs. Tripp find her way to Mr. Starr, Mr. Marcus found other allies, including another Chicago law classmate, Richard W. Porter. Mr. Porter had worked as an aide to former Vice President Dan Quayle and was a partner of Mr. Starr’s at the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis, based in Chicago.

George T. Conway 3d, a New York lawyer educated at Yale, shared Mr. Marcus’s low view of President Clinton. When the Jones case led to Ms. Lewinsky, Mr. Marcus and Mr. Conway searched for a new lawyer for Mrs. Tripp. Mr. Marcus and Mr. Porter helped arrange for Mrs. Tripp to take her explosive allegations to Mr. Starr.

Their efforts are only now coming into focus, as a few of their associates have begun to discuss their activities and their names appear repeatedly in the final legal bills submitted by the original Jones legal team. Messrs. Marcus, Porter and Conway did not respond to numerous requests for comment.

In their arguments before the Senate this week, the President’s lawyers said that there was collusion between Mr. Starr’s office, Mrs. Tripp and the lawyers for Ms. Jones in the weeks leading up to the President’s deposition last January. If witnesses are called in the Senate impeachment trial, the President’s lawyers may explore the issue further, several Clinton legal advisers said.

Charles G. Bakaly 3d, the spokesman for Mr. Starr, denied there was collusion between the independent counsel’s office and the Jones team, including Mr. Marcus. ”There was absolutely no conspiracy between the Jones lawyers and our office,” Mr. Bakaly said. ”Judge Starr has testified to the circumstances as to how this matter came to our attention, and the actions that we took thereafter.”

Mr. Clinton said in his grand jury testimony in August that his political enemies ”just thought they would take a wrecking ball to me and see if they could do some damage.” That wrecking ball was wielded by Mr. Marcus and his colleagues, who managed to drive Paula Corbin Jones’s allegation of sexual misconduct into the courtroom and beyond.

Three Classmates At Chicago Law School

Mr. Marcus, Mr. Porter and Mr. Rosenzweig were classmates at the University of Chicago Law School, graduating in 1986. Mr. Conway met the others through the Jones case. Some of the lawyers were also involved with the Federalist Society, a legal group that includes conservative and libertarian luminaries like Mr. Starr, Robert H. Bork and Richard Epstein, a University of Chicago law professor.

Mr. Porter was the most overtly political member of the group, having worked on the staff of Vice President Quayle and on the Bush-Quayle campaign, where he did opposition research.

Mr. Porter was also an associate of Peter W. Smith, 62, a Chicago financier who was once the chairman of College Young Republicans and a major donor to Gopac, a conservative political group affiliated with former Speaker Newt Gingrich. Beginning in 1992, Mr. Smith spent more than $80,000 to finance anti-Clinton research in an effort to persuade the mainstream press to cover Mr. Clinton’s sex life. Among others, his efforts involved David Brock, the journalist who first mentioned the name ”Paula” in an article on Mr. Clinton.

Mr. Smith declined an interview request.

In 1993, Mr. Brock said, Mr. Smith helped introduce him to the Arkansas state troopers who accused Mr. Clinton of using them to procure women when he was Governor of Arkansas. Mr. Brock wrote an article based on the troopers’ account of Mr. Clinton’s sexual escapades that was published in the January 1994 issue of The American Spectator, a conservative magazine. According to Mr. Brock, Mr. Smith wanted to establish a fund for the troopers, in case they suffered retribution. Mr. Brock said he opposed payments because they would undermine the troopers’ credibility.

To allay his concerns, Mr. Brock said, Mr. Smith urged him to speak to Mr. Porter, who was then working at Kirkland & Ellis, the Chicago law firm that employed Mr. Starr in its Washington office. Mr. Brock said he had hoped his talk with Mr. Porter would put an end to any planned payments to the troopers, but Mr. Smith did pay them and their lawyers $22,600.

In 1992, Mr. Smith also paid Mr. Brock $5,000 to research another bit of Arkansas sex lore regarding Mr. Clinton, a rumor that has since proved to be baseless. Mr. Brock did not pursue an article.

Mr. Brock’s trooper article in The American Spectator mentioned a woman identified as ”Paula,” and in May 1994, Ms. Jones filed her lawsuit against President Clinton. Ms. Jones’s lawyers of record were from the Washington area, Gilbert K. Davis and Joseph Cammarata, whom Mr. Marcus had helped recruit.

Lawyers of Record Had Help From Start

The Davis and Cammarata billing records show that from their earliest involvement in the case, they were consulting with Mr. Marcus and Mr. Porter. Mr. Conway also helped draft briefs, Mr. Cammarata said.

”Marcus was involved,” Mr. Cammarata said, ”but he insisted that he not be identified. But that was fine with me. We were just two guys involved in the middle of a world war. We welcomed his help.”

No one was more important to the Jones case than Mr. Marcus. Besides helping to write several important briefs, Mr. Marcus spoke numerous times at the most critical moments in the case with Mr. Cammarata and Mr. Davis, offering legal advice that Mr. Cammarata said was ”vital.”

According to the billing records, Mr. Porter also offered ”legal strategy” and once wrote a memo on ”investigative leads” that might embarrass the President.

”Porter was a cheerleader,” Mr. Cammarata said. ”He used to call up and say, ‘Maybe we can find you some money.’ ”

One of President Clinton’s legal advisers said he noticed a marked difference in quality between the routine legal pleadings filed by the Cammarata and Davis team, and the polished, scholarly briefs written by the shadow legal team headed by Mr. Marcus and Mr. Conway.

Mr. Marcus, meanwhile, was so successful at keeping the extent of his role a secret that even Mr. Cammarata only found out recently that Mr. Marcus had trouble finding lawyers to agree to represent Ms. Jones. ”No one wanted to touch this case,” Mr. Cammarata said. ”No one wanted to take on the President of the United States.”

Another friend of Mr. Marcus also briefly considered assisting the Jones lawyers.

In June 1994, Mr. Rosenzweig, a lawyer at a small law firm in Washington, with experience working in the Justice Department, expressed interest in doing legal work on behalf of Ms. Jones, but he did none, lawyers involved in the case said.

Law Firm Included Influential Democrats

Mr. Conway wanted his role kept hidden as well, because his New York law firm, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, included influential Democrats like Bernard W. Nussbaum, a former White House counsel. Mr. Conway’s name does not appear on any billing records.

Although the billing records show communication between Mr. Porter and the Jones lawyers from 1994 to 1997, he denied in a written statement last fall doing legal work for Ms. Jones.

Because Mr. Porter is a partner at the firm where Mr. Starr worked until he took a leave of absence last August, any role played by Mr. Porter in the Jones case could have posed a conflict of interest for Mr. Starr once he became independent counsel. Mr. Starr has said he did not discuss the Jones case with Mr. Porter.

Mr. Starr has acknowledged contacts with Mr. Davis, specifically six telephone discussions the two had in 1994, before Mr. Starr became independent counsel. In fact, Mr. Starr has been criticized for not disclosing the phone conversations to Attorney General Janet Reno when he was seeking to expand his investigation to the Lewinsky matter. Mr. Starr has said it did not occur to him to mention the conversations because he did not do work on the Jones case and simply offered his publicly stated position on a point of constitutional law that Presidents are not immune from civil lawsuits.

Before the Jones lawyers argued before the Supreme Court in May 1996, paving the way to the 9-0 decision that the President was not immune from civil lawsuits, Mr. Conway went to Washington for a practice argument. He joined Mr. Davis, Mr. Cammarata, Judge Robert Bork and Theodore Olson, a Washington lawyer and friend of Mr. Starr, at the Army-Navy Club here.

When Mr. Cammarata and Mr. Davis quit as Ms. Jones’s lawyers after she failed to reach a settlement with President Clinton’s lawyers in 1997, Mr. Marcus and his colleagues established ties to her new lawyers at the Dallas law firm of Rader, Campbell, Fisher & Pyke and the Rutherford Institute of Charlottesville, Va., which helped pay her legal expenses.

In November 1997, Mr. Rosenzweig went to work as a prosecutor in Mr. Starr’s office. And from November to January, Mr. Rosenzweig spoke several times by telephone with Mr. Marcus and discussed the Jones case, a lawyer with knowledge of the conversations said. But Mr. Bakaly, a spokesman for Mr. Starr, said that Mr. Rosenzweig did not tell any of his colleagues about what he learned about developments in the Jones case.

By this time, Mrs. Tripp was cooperating with the Jones lawyers. She was also taping her conversations with Ms. Lewinsky, which her friend, Lucianne Goldberg, a Manhattan literary agent, had incorrectly assured her was legal. In December, Mrs. Tripp became frantic that she might be prosecuted because such taping is illegal in Maryland, where Mrs. Tripp lives. Mrs. Tripp and Ms. Goldberg thought of a possible solution: perhaps she could receive immunity from prosecution from Mr. Starr.

Ms. Goldberg called Mr. Smith, the Chicago financier, and Mr. Porter for advice on how Mrs. Tripp might approach Mr. Starr. In a teleconference during the first week of January 1998, Ms. Goldberg talked to Mr. Porter and Mr. Marcus. Meanwhile, Mr. Marcus sought new lawyers for Mrs. Tripp. Mr. Conway suggested an old friend, James Moody, a Washington lawyer and fellow Federalist Society member, whom Mrs. Tripp retained.

Because he was Mr. Starr’s former law partner, Mr. Porter did not want to be the first one to call the independent counsel’s office on behalf of Mrs. Tripp. So Mr. Marcus made the call to Mr. Rosenzweig.

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