Magazine article Insight on the News

Less That Stellar Verdicts Forecast in Starr Inquiry

Magazine article Insight on the News

Less That Stellar Verdicts Forecast in Starr Inquiry

Article excerpt

Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr's probe is almost completed. Although the net has been cast widely, insiders say it may come up relatively empty, and Starr seems to be bracing for criticism.

Not with a bang but a whimper. According to sources close to Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr, it is unlikely there will be any further major indictments arising from the four-year-long inquiry into the Clintons and their past business dealings in Arkansas--no impeachment-of-the-president recommendation to Congress and no charging of the first lady with obstruction of justice, perjury or fraud.

And there'll likely be no indictments of current and former top Clinton administration aides such as the president's long-time pal Bruce Lindsey, who was named but not charged last year as a coconspirator in a Whitewater trial of two small-town bankers.

Lindsey, along with Maggie Williams, the first lady's chief of staff, and Harold Ickes, the former White House deputy chief of staff, have been identified regularly by media commentators as the most likely officials to be ensnared in the Whitewater net. The Senate Whitewater committee last year slammed them, along with several other White House aides, for impeding criminal investigations into the Clintons.

Starr, the former Bush solicitor general, is said by the sources to be nervous that he'll be "hung, drawn and quartered" by fellow Republicans and Democrats alike when he eventually . brings his investigation to a halt without any bigger political scalp to brandish than that of former Arkansas governor Jim Guy Tucker, who was convicted on Whitewater-related fraud charges last year and is facing a second trial later this year.

"There'll be some in the GOP ranks who'll cry `whitewash' or `sellout,'" says a Starr friend. "Dems will crow and say, `I told you so' and `What took Starr so long to come clean.' It's going to get nasty--and Ken knows it."

Judging by the angry reaction on conservative talk radio earlier this year to leaks first reported in Insight that Starr concluded that former deputy White House counsel Vince Foster had committed suicide in 1993 and had not been the victim of murder, the prediction could be right. The leaks provoked several commentators to argue Starr had become "part of the conspiracy." And Democrats who've maintained throughout Starr's inquiry that the Whitewater probe is a GOP-provoked witch-hunt designed to hinder or bring down a president who couldn't be beaten at the polls, are not likely to be any kinder.

Ever since Starr was selected in 1994 by a judicial panel to replace the first Whitewater counsel, Robert Fiske, Democrats led by former Clinton adviser James Carville have questioned his motives. They've pointed to his stint in the Justice Department under Ronald Reagan, his solicitor generalship in the Bush administration and his long involvement in Republican politics as evidence of an inherent lack of impartiality. Last year, Democrats hurled conflict-of-interest allegations at Starr about his decision to continue with private legal work, as he is allowed by law to do, which included advising tobacco companies locked in dispute with the Clinton administration.

"Democrats will argue it was clear all along there was no `there there' and claim Starr has wasted taxpayers' money and kept the thing going just to embarrass Clinton," forecasts another Starr friend.

Washington attorneys close to Starr apparently have tried to console him by suggesting that an independent counsel doesn't have to secure convictions to be judged a success. They've argued that the main role of an independent counsel is to ascertain whether there are grounds for indictments--and, if there aren't any, to be forthright and clear why not. Starr seems to accept this--in fact, most independent counsels never secure a conviction let alone bring an indictment (see sidebar)--but he is bracing for a firestorm nonetheless. …

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