• Wed
  • Sep 3, 2014
  • Updated: 11:51am

Phone-sex book centre of saga

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 April, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 April, 1998, 12:00am

If Monica Lewinsky once bought a comic novel about phone sex, is that relevant to whether she had an affair with the President? And do investigators have the right to order the bookshop she bought it from to turn over their records? That is the issue at the heart of the latest chapter of the Lewinsky saga, temporarily overshadowed last week by the dismissal of the Paula Jones sexual harassment case.


Two Washington bookshops and the collective might of American publishing have mounted a fierce challenge to prosecutor Kenneth Starr's subpoena of records of all book purchases made by the former White House intern.


The Starr team says it is looking for evidence corroborating other testimony concerning gifts Ms Lewinsky sent to Mr Clinton.


But the shops are portraying the move as a reckless assault on citizens' First Amendment rights under the constitution to read, write and say what they like.


Such is the public interest in the case that the judge in charge of Mr Starr's grand jury, Norma Johnson, took the highly unusual step of opening up a hearing on Friday on whether the two shops would have to comply with Mr Starr's subpoena.


'Our ability to read is exactly what the founding fathers had in mind when the Bill of Rights was written,' said Pam Bethel, lawyer for Kramerbooks, one of the shops involved.


The American Bookstores' Association said the subpoena 'is poisoning the atmosphere in bookstores throughout the country'.


However, not all lawyers agree that the shops are protected by the First Amendment, as they are selling the works, not creating them.


Judge Johnson will rule on the issue in about a week. Meanwhile, author Nicholson Baker is cashing in on the row. His novel Vox - consisting entirely of a phone-sex conversation - is one of those reportedly bought by Ms Lewinsky for the President and is back in demand.


A majority of Americans - 57 per cent - believe the perjury investigation of Mr Clinton is unlikely to lead to charges against him and should be dropped, a Newsweek magazine poll showed.


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