Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Special Prosecutors Are Trotted out for Trivial Pursuits

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Special Prosecutors Are Trotted out for Trivial Pursuits

Article excerpt

Commenting on President Bill Clinton's delayed extension of Janet Reno's term, The Washington Post observed that the attorney general's seeming addiction to special prosecutors, which has produced a certain political restlessness in the White House, was forced on her by the terms of the law: "It is the law, not her inclination, that requires her to take this step."

Exactly. Attorneys general are now forced to respond all but robotically to allegations, often trivial or partisan, that beg for the exercise of normal human discretion.

But at last these and other glaring defects of the Independent Counsel Act are beginning to be acknowledged. Chronic investigation, tainted by partisan charges and countercharges, isn't the friend of orderly government. The president obviously thinks so, though he's not an impartial witness. But Professor Archibald Cox, whose abrupt firing as Watergate special prosecutor one October night in 1973 ultimately triggered the present plague of judicially appointed special prosecutors, is more neutral. What better hand than his to drive the first ceremonial nail into the coffin? In a recent New York Times piece, "Curbing Independent Counsels," that "impressed" President Bill Clinton, Cox says he would keep the Independent Counsel Act. But he concedes that these creatures are overused and their investigations are loosely focused, too long and too often triggered by trivia and targeted upon small fry. "Independent counsels," he writes, "must see their functions not as pursuit of a target to be wounded or destroyed, but as an impartial inquiry with as much concern for public exoneration of the innocent as for indictment." But in the climate of divided government and partisan meanness, how many officials can be named, offhand, who were investigated and then cleared by a special counsel? Probably the most notable was Ronald Reagan's first secretary of labor. After his clearance - preceded by the usual shower of muck and leaked hearsay about suspected links to organized crime - he asked plaintively how he could get his reputation back. Good question. We piously deny it, but the truth is that we believe less in the presumption of innocence than in guilt by association and accusation. …

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