Whitewater Special Prosecutor Aims for Quick Investigation Any Criminal Charges Would Go to the House Judiciary Committee
Marshall Ingwerson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
THE new independent counsel investigating Whitewater and related matters, New York attorney Robert Fiske, begins work today that he promises will be "flat out" until he finishes.
His report is likely to take several months to complete, based on his comments so far.
In his press conference last Thursday, Mr. Fiske, a Republican, averred that the process would take "more than a month." And past experience with independent counsels would indicate that three months would be a remarkably quick investigation.
But he also noted that he could work within the 10-year statute of limitations on bank fraud that, in this case, could reach back to Aug. 9, 1984. This remark clearly implied that he would be ready to bring any potential charges by early August of this year.
For President Clinton and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Fiske's report offers the possibility of becoming something very near to the last word on their involvement in Whitewater.
To date, the public has shown no great interest in the Whitewater Development Corporation and the Clintons' connection to it. In fact, since the matter resurfaced in the news in recent weeks, just before Mr. Clinton went to Europe, the president's public approval has risen slightly in the polls.
"I just don't think the country's in the mood to negate President Clinton's accomplishments over the past year over something that happened a long time ago that a lot of them don't understand," says Peter Feld, an analyst with Peter Hart Research, which conducted a bipartisan survey that was released last week.
In that poll, 21 percent said that Whitewater made them view Clinton less favorably while 76 percent said it did not.
In the extreme case, where Fiske finds evidence of criminal wrongdoing on the part of Clinton himself, Fiske could probably not bring charges. Rather, he could refer the evidence to the House Judiciary Committee for it to make a recommendation to the House on impeachment.
No sitting president has ever been indicted, and most constitutional scholars say that a president must be impeached and removed from office before indictment, according to Warren Grimes, a law professor at Southwestern University and a former staff attorney for the House Judiciary Committee.
Mrs. Clinton, however, was more deeply involved with the Whitewater business than her husband. If evidence of federal crime emerged against Mrs. Clinton, Fiske would be faced with the difficult political question of whether to pursue an indictment.
Fiske has been granted all the powers of a federal prosecutor by Attorney General Janet Reno, including the power to expand his investigation as he sees fit. …