By jgerstein@politico.com (Josh Gerstein)

Two decades ago, as Brett Kavanaugh labored on independent counsel Ken Starr’s team, the young prosecutor had some less-than-pleasant interactions with a man who would go on to become one of President Donald Trump’s closest confidants: Christopher Ruddy.

At the time, Kavanaugh was responsible for re-investigating the death of Clinton White House attorney Vince Foster, which had become part of Starr’s sprawling probe.

And Ruddy, reporting for the conservative Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, was one of the chief conspiracy theorists casting doubts on earlier investigations into Foster’s apparent suicide in Fort Marcy Park, just outside Washington on July 20, 1993.

Records from Starr’s office obtained by POLITICO suggest that Kavanaugh didn’t think much of Ruddy and his conservative media colleagues, who were dismissed in the mainstream press for peddling the idea that Foster was murdered — and that the Clintons may have played a role.

“Most of the conversation involved Ruddy ranting and raving about various matters,” Kavanaugh wrote to Starr and other senior aides in a May 1995 memo. The young lawyer and former Supreme Court clerk said the chat followed very persistent outreach by Ruddy, who called eight to 12 times over a two-day period.

The memos provide an intriguing glimpse into Kavanaugh’s extensive work on the Starr Report and provide just a taste of what other details might emerge as more documents come to light.

POLITICO reviewed the memos this week at the National Archives, where they can be found scattered in records relating to Foster’s death. However, the bulk of Kavanaugh’s records from his years working for Starr — an estimated 20,000 pages — remain inaccessible to the public, as do hundreds of thousands of pages from Kavanaugh’s tenure as a White House staffer and lawyer. Democratic senators are expected to press for the records to be disclosed prior to any hearing on Kavanaugh’s nomination.

In the meantime, the handful of records already made public reveal an interesting overlap between Trump’s Supreme Court nominee and the now-Newsmax CEO, who has become one of Trump’s highest-profile surrogates.

Ruddy would go on to write a book that challenged investigators for ignoring evidence at the scene of Foster’s death and failing to chase down leads that might have established that Foster was murdered. The book, published in 1997, is careful not to assert outright that Foster was killed, but Kavanaugh said Ruddy was more definitive in their conversation.

“Ruddy said Foster’s death is the classic staged suicide. Ruddy thinks he know how it all happened,” Kavanaugh reported. “When I asked him to tell me his theory/facts, he refused.”

Despite their tense interactions two decades ago, Ruddy seems to have warmed to Kavanaugh over the years and forgiven any differences.

“The Starr investigation was controversial, and many today look at it with a 20/20 view,” Ruddy said in an email Wednesday. “At the time I may have differed with the Starr probe, but I believe Ken Starr and Brett Kavanaugh did an honest job. Brett has had a long, respected and stellar career in government and on the bench. When evaluating anyone you have to look at the big picture.”

The records show that Starr deputy Hickman Ewing appears to have defused one showdown between Kavanaugh and Ruddy over claims that the prosecutor gratuitously asked a grand jury witness a question that suggested the witness was engaged in a sexual encounter when he visited the park where Foster’s body was later found.

A transcription of a voicemail from Ruddy says the reporter informed Ewing that the issue would be left out of an upcoming story.

“I wanted to let you know that I have removed, there is no reference to genitals or anything really in the sexual issues ah in this article I’m doing,” Ruddy said, according to the transcript. “You can assure Brett of that ah also assure him there’s nothing in the piece that would be considered an attack on his person in any way … even though [the witness] swears up and down that he did say it. Ah, I am doing this because of your request and the Christian gentleman I am.”

The records show Kavanaugh participating in extensive strategy discussions about how to deal with the onslaught Starr’s office was facing from Ruddy, as well as conservative groups like Accuracy in Media and the Western Journalism Center, as well as publications like the London Sunday-Telegraph and Insight Magazine.

The files could fuel accusations Kavanaugh is already facing that he had a part in what critics regard as improper or even illegal leaking to the media by Starr’s team.

“While working for Ken Starr in 1998, Kavanagh [sic] routinely skirted or violated Rule 6 (e) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure by leaking details of Lewinsky probe. Mueller’s team obeys the law; Starr’s didn’t,” author and Daily Beast columnist Jonathan Alter wrote on Twitter Monday. “Reporters didn’t bust Brett because they benefited. Will one now?”

Alter later deleted that tweet, but added another: “I should have been more tentative in saying that Kavanaugh was among the Starr prosecutors leaking in 1998. That was what my Newsweek reporting turned up at the time but 20 yrs later I need more evidence before claiming he did so ‘routinely.’ Lewinsky-era reporters — Plse weigh in.”

In an interview Wednesday, Alter declined to discuss specifics, but said: “Twenty years ago, I had indications that Kavanaugh was in contact with reporters and because it involves potential violation of federal law, those contacts need to be thoroughly explored in the confirmation process.”

While violations of grand jury secrecy can be considered contempt of court, a federal appeals court ruling in 1999 held that most of prosecutors’ deliberations outside the grand jury are not covered by that restriction.

The small fraction of Starr papers currently available suggest some caution from Kavanaugh in dealing with reporters. In the memo about his talk with Ruddy, Kavanaugh says he “generally listened … without responding.”

When Ruddy referenced the potential role of a personal aide to the Clintons, Carolyn Huber, Kavanaugh says he …read more

Read more here: ‘Ranting and raving’: The time Kavanaugh knocked Chris Ruddy

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