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Jewish World Review April 15, 1999 /29 Nissan 5759

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Starr’s last stand?

(JWR) ---- (
KEN STARR CAME TO CAPITOL HILL last Wednesday, urging honorables to abolish the law that gave him his job and his notoriety.

Starr's appearance occasioned considerable curiosity in a town that already seemed bored with a three-week old war in Yugoslavia. But it also yielded something unexpected --- insight.

The epiphany arrived during a tense exchange with Sen. Robert Torricelli of New Jersey. The senator was attempting to cast Starr as a decent man driven buggy by unbounded power. He portrayed a vindictive Starr depriving Susan McDougal of water and forcing her to squat at toilets still clad in leg-irons. He recounted reports that the prosecutor held Monica Lewinsky hostage for 11 hours in a shopping mall. He said he'd been told that Julie Hyatt Steele had been subjected to humiliating forms of interrogation.

Torricelli, in a voice more fitted for resignation than anger, observed that the Whitewater investigation had cost Starr dearly. It had destroyed his reputation, eliminated any chance he would earn appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court and condoned abuses sufficiently flagrant to justifiy the law's outright abolition.

But Starr performed jujitsu. He used Torricelli's question to establish the fact that the law can't work when officeholders are unashamed to lie. In so doing, he surrendered his accustomed manor of expression, which is to drone in the flat, pillowy tones of a meek but righteous Puritan. This time, a faint ember of anger lit up his speech.

He informed Torricelli that the senator was the victim of misinformation. Starr explained that he had no more control over Susan McDougal's treatment in captivity than he did over the disposition of attack helicopters in the Balkans. He branded the Lewinsky allegation an outright lie and cited her own mawkish memoir -- along with some highbrow court rulings --- as proof.

And he hinted that a federal judge already has dismissed Steele's public whining as meritless.

He shot off a few colorful metaphors -- likening one critic's claims to assertions that the moon is made of cheese. He stabbed the air with his right pointer finger. He leaned forward and went for the metaphorical kill.

The chief beef against Starr, that he has no legal master, isn't true. The prosecutor claimed that a president and an attorney general can always make independent counsels look less like Torquemada than the Keystone Kops.

The White House, not Starr, is to blame for the excessive cost and length of the Whitewater probe. The president and attorney general prolonged our national misery by pelting the courts with spurious claims of privilege --- an attorney-client privilege that applied whenever the president talked to anybody with a law degree; a Secret Service confidentiality privilege that exists nowhere in law; forms of executive privilege that would have made Nixon swoon.

Meantime, defense lawyers gummed up the works with bogus challenges to the probes of former Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker and former Associate Attorney General Webster Hubbell, both of whom eventually wound up in the slammer.

Starr pointed out that the Justice Department has no natural reason to assist an independent counsel and sometimes can have political or bureaucratic motives to obstruct. He also complained about a practice that has become standard in the Age of Clinton. He quoted Watergate-era prosecutor Henry Ruth on what presidents do under political fire: "Attack. Attack the lawyers, attack the witness, attack the prosecutor, attack the laws the prosecutor seeks to enforce."

Bill Clinton's defense always has been that he is more righteous than the law and the men charged with enforcing it. In this way, he laid siege to the law and claimed impeachment as a decoration of war. As he did so, the Justice Department and Congress both stood mute, knowing they could make Starr the fall guy.

Starr closed by reminding senators that we don't need independent counsels because the job is already taken. An attorney general has the duty to enforce the law. Congress has a constitutional obligation to keep an eye on the attorney general. And the press by tradition ought to keep all sides honest.

Honesty is the key. A representative government vests not only power but trust in its officeholders. When they cease to be honorable, one of two things happens: Factions within the government rise up and resolve the crisis, or the government surrenders its legitimacy.

The independent counsel statute has broken down not because Starr is a goon besotted with notions of his own rectitude, but because Congress has become a congeries of cowards, who would rather look away from evil than address it head-on.

Without Ken Starr to kick around, the ruling class will have no choice but to clean up the mess that has accumulated on its watch.


04/12/99: Combining punishment and proselytism
04/05/99: Now that the ‘honorables’ have returned …
03/29/99: And the senators pressed on
03/25/99: Moronic meddling
03/22/99: Kangas, the Left’s ‘Foster’? More like a diligent nut
03/18/99: Does Forbes have a chance?
03/15/99: Team Clinton aren’t treasonists ...
03/11/99: Blackmun’s burden
03/08/99: The Lewinsky Principle
03/05/99: Buchanan & Ventura’s lure
03/01/99: Open season on women
02/25/99: The birth of political wisdom
02/22/99: Children of optimism
02/18/99: Wake up, Republicans!
02/16/99: Why we feel so good
02/11/99: What exactly does George W. stand for?
02/08/99: Run, GOPers, run?
02/04/99: The languid sigh of waves lapping ashore
02/01/99: Verbal vortex
01/28/99: To be a ‘sell-out’ or an unelectable pol --- that is the question
01/25/99: The apogee of a trend
01/21/99:What my 3-year-old taught me
01/17/99:Don't be fooled, folks
01/14/99: Must a pol be ‘baaaad’ in order to get elected?
01/12/99: Jumpin’ Jack (Kemp)
01/08/99 : Hot air in the Windy City

©1999, Creators Syndicate