Lenzner, Through a Darker Lens

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Terry Lenzner, chairman of the Washington-based Investigative Group International, is no stranger to scandal. In fact, it's his livelihood.

Since founding I.G.I. in 1984, Lenzner, 61, has assembled a client list that ranges from Mike Tyson to Ivana Trump, plus such corporations as Drexel Burnham Lambert, the lottery operator Gtech and AOL. The lawyer and former civil servant has dished dirt on tobacco whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigand and the United Way's wayward William Aramony. In the early '90s, Lenzner even investigated the Paula Jones case for the Clinton camp, sealing his reputation as an official FOB, or Friend of Bill.

Lenzner's brand of "oppo research" isn't unique. Muckraking in Washington and on behalf of FORTUNE 500 companies is pretty much s.o.p. in the p.i. world. So Oracle's hiring of I.G.I. to try to get the goods on Microsoft's secret support of three "advocacy groups" isn't all that shocking. Neither is the fact that I.G.I.'s investigation uncovered Microsoft's financial support of the groups.

Though accusations of wrongdoing remain unproved, officials from the California-based Independent Institute, one of the groups in question, say news stories documenting their links to Microsoft may have been drawn from records kept on office laptops that went missing last June, begging this question: Were the tips Oracle leaked to the press based on data stolen by I.G.I.?

The firm's loyalties are in question too. Earlier this year, I.G.I. was hired by Microsoft (through one of its law firms) for a weeklong assignment. "We weren't told by I.G.I. that they were working against us," says Microsoft spokesman Vivek Varma. "Normally we are told of conflicts of interest."

Sources close to the Harvard-trained Lenzner say client-confidentiality agreements and his attorney's sense of ethics often prevent him from speaking publicly about I.G.I. investigations. In a statement last week, Lenzner asserted that all I.G.I.'s actions have been legal. In Washington, where he earned his stripes as co-chief counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee in 1972, Lenzner has amassed a circle of powerful friends that includes Cokie Roberts, former Senator Tim Worth and Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and his wife Brooke Shearer. Lenzner's son Jon, 26, defended his dad's professional tactics: "As a civil rights lawyer, Watergate prosecutor and chairman of I.G.I., he has remained committed to a high ethical standard." The Lenzners are hoping that claim won't go out with the trash.