D'Amato Criticizes Starr
By Dan Balz, Blaine Harden and Bill McAllister
Shifting into election overdrive with the election 18 months away, Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.) said recently that Watergate independent council Kenneth W. Starr has compromised his credibility.
This criticism from the legislator who chaired the Senate Whitewater committee is a telling measure of how far D'Amato has retreated from his role in an inquiry that pollsters say scorched his popularity in New York state.
Since last fall, when polls showed his approval ratings at record lows, D'Amato has shied away from public criticism of President Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
In late April, while speaking with out-of-town newspaper reporters in Washington, D'Amato took that shyness a step further by saying the "American public has just grown sick and tired of" Whitewater.
"People come up to me and say, `Why are we still doing this? It goes on and on and on,' " D'Amato told the reporters. "They think I am running, to a certain extent, Starr's investigation. . . . But it's not me."
D'Amato said Starr is partly to blame for damaging the public's faith in the investigation because of his "disappointing" indecision about staying or leaving the independent counsel's job. Starr announced in February that he was leaving in August to head two schools at Pepperdine College. After an outcry, Starr said he would postpone his departure indefinitely.
"It was this off-again, on-again thing. His credibility was damaged tremendously," D'Amato said. The senator's press secretary, Harvey Valentine, said Friday that D'Amato had been quoted accurately in the newspaper accounts. "The quotes speak for themselves," Valentine said.
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