The chief spokesman for Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr indicated Wednesday that the prosecutor's office traded information with reporters about the investigation into President Clinton's affair with White House aide Monica S. Lewinsky.
The federal court and the District of Columbia Bar Council are investing allegations Starr illegally leaked stories about its work to reporters.
The spokesman, Charles Bakaly III, stopped far short of acknowledging Starr broke any laws against leaking information.
But he told journalists at a briefing it is commonly known that "the reporter here takes a story to a certain point" and then "the prosecutor comes in and breaks things up," that the prosecutor works "like an icebreaker" for the reporter.
Bakaly named no reporters, but he did acknowledge that at least one Starr staffer is in danger of losing his license to practice law because of the probe into leaks.
Bakaly also said the Starr investigation could go on for as long as two more years. This would take the probe close to the end of Clinton's term.
He said Starr will spend most of the next two years prosecuting Susan McDougal, a Clinton business associate, on charges of obstructing justice in connection with the Whitewater investigation, and Webster L. Hubbell, a former law partner of first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, on fraud charges.
Bakaly also added that Starr is "leaving the door open" to filing criminal charges against Clinton himself when his term ends in 2001.
"I'm not trying to send any messages or anything," Bakaly said. "But there's no statute of limitation problems. We have developed a criminal case."
In the unlikely event Ms. McDougal cooperates, he said, another presidential impeachment referral could be made to Congress.
Bakaly declined to answer reporters questions on exactly when Starr decided that Clinton had committed no impeachable offenses with respect to the 1993 travel office firings, the Whitewater real estate scheme, and misuse of FBI personnel files. Starr waited until two weeks after the November elections to exonerate the president on those counts.
Bakaly said Starr did not decide to send a referral citing possible impeachment offenses to Congress until after the president testified before the grand jury on Aug. 17, indicating the prosecutor did not think the president's January deposition in the Paula Jones sexual harassment was in itself grounds for a referral.