WASHINGTON — The Justice Department told a federal judge on Wednesday that it does not oppose the release of a long-secret report that could shed light on whether lawyers working for Ken Starr, the independent counsel who investigated President Bill Clinton, violated the law in disclosing information to news organizations.
Brett M. Kavanaugh, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, was among the lawyers in Mr. Starr’s office, which was accused by Mr. Clinton’s lawyers of violating grand jury secrecy rules. It is not known whether Mr. Kavanaugh, now a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, was named or criticized in the 1999 report.
“With the exception of redactions to protect the privacy of one individual discussed in the report — an individual who is not Judge Brett Kavanaugh — and subject to the ordinary review process of the National Archives, the government does not object to the report’s unsealing,” the Justice Department’s filing said.
The report, from a special master appointed by a federal judge, has been the subject of extraordinary secrecy. American Oversight, a liberal watchdog group, asked for its release last week, saying that “Judge Kavanaugh’s potential involvement” in misconduct “is a matter of great public importance and current national debate.”
The judge considering the request, Royce C. Lamberth, of the Federal District Court in Washington, would have to move quickly to order the release of the report in time for Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, which are set to begin on Sept. 4.
Only four copies were prepared, and until recently their whereabouts was unknown. In a court filing on Tuesday, lawyers for American Oversight said the National Archives had recently located a copy.
The report was prepared by a special master appointed in 1998 by Judge Norma Holloway Johnson of the Federal District Court in Washington in response to complaints from lawyers for Mr. Clinton and others that Mr. Starr’s team had violated the law by disclosing information protected by grand jury secrecy rules.
Judge Johnson, who died in 2011, said at the time that there was reason to think Mr. Starr’s team had violated the law by providing information to journalists for many news reports, including some in The New York Times.
She appointed a special master, Judge John W. Kern III, who sat on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, a local court, to investigate. He died in January.
According to a 1999 filing, Judge Kern prepared “exactly four copies of his report,” retaining two and delivering one each to Judge Johnson and to a lawyer for Mr. Starr’s office. The report was not filed in court.
Nonetheless, a Newsweek article citing confidential sources soon reported that Judge Kern had been critical of the conduct of some members of Mr. Starr’s team but stopped short of concluding they had broken the law.
Judge Johnson was not pleased. “The special master’s report was to be kept strictly confidential and under seal,” she wrote. “The court was deeply disturbed to discover that the existence and substance of the special master’s report was leaked to the press.”
Democrats said the report could provide important information about Judge Kavanaugh.
“We know Ken Starr played a dangerous game of using the news media to prosecute his case in the court of public opinion, and we know that Brett Kavanaugh was an important part of Starr’s team,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island. “This report may show us whether Kavanaugh stepped over a critically important line for all prosecutors.”