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Starr Is Urged to Curtail Inquiry

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 2, 1998; Page A01

A top White House official yesterday urged independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr to end his Whitewater investigation, and a Democratic senator called for Starr's resignation while three Republican senators expressed guarded criticism of the prosecutor's recent tactics.

Senior White House adviser Rahm Emanuel said both he and President Clinton believe that after a 4 1/2-year, $40 million probe, it is time for Starr to "acknowledge that he has a dead end and wrap up that investigation." Emanuel also said on CBS's "Face the Nation" that "Ken Starr has shown a willingness to use the grand jury to silence his critics. . . . This is a partisan political pursuit of the president."

But Emanuel stopped short of urging Starr to resign, saying in response to a question: "Politically, that's ridiculous for us to say."

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), on NBC's "Meet the Press," was also asked if Starr should step down. "Sure he should," Leahy said, adding: "Kenneth Starr has gotten totally out of control. He has this fixation of trying to topple the president of the United States. He's doing everything possible to do it."

In a further sign of the sharp public focus on Starr's aggressive approach, three GOP senators, while generally supporting Starr, said he had erred in forcing White House aide Sidney Blumenthal to testify before a grand jury last week about his criticism of the prosecutor's office and his contacts with reporters.

"I think that Ken Starr made a mistake on that. . . . I think emotions ran a little too high," Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said on CBS.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on NBC that "calling Mr. Blumenthal before the grand jury was a mistake. Somehow it managed to turn this guy into an admirable person, which is remarkable."

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said Starr was legally within his rights to subpoena Blumenthal in an inquiry into possible obstruction of justice. But, he told NBC, "it was probably politically inadvisable."

Emanuel's comments appeared to represent an escalation of the White House attacks on Starr. In a subsequent interview, he said that Starr's Whitewater probe was "off track. . . . What is it he can't figure out about a 24-year-old real estate deal? All we have seen is an escalation and expansion of the investigation with no conclusion of any of the pieces." Emanuel noted that it took more than three years for Starr to confirm official findings that White House lawyer Vincent W. Foster Jr. committed suicide.

But Emanuel said his call for Starr to finish his work applied only to the probe of the Arkansas land venture called Whitewater. "I don't think after six weeks anyone's saying he should wrap up the Monica Lewinsky investigation," he said. Since January, Starr has been investigating whether Clinton had a sexual relationship with Lewinsky and urged her to lie about it.

The widespread criticism of Starr's forcing Blumenthal to appear before a grand jury Thursday gave the White House an opening it exploited in coordinated fashion yesterday. White House adviser Paul Begala, on CNN's "Late Edition," said, referring to Blumenthal's legal fees, that "Sidney and his family were fined $10,000 for the crime of criticizing Ken Starr. And I think that's a chilling, chilling thing." Former White House special counsel Lanny J. Davis, on "Fox News Sunday," spoke of "putting a $10,000 tax on his family with legal fees and asking him to disclose whom he talks to in the press."

The exchanges came as White House officials disputed a CBS report that the administration has developed an alternative explanation of Clinton's relationship with Lewinsky, a former White House intern, in which he would say that it involved only kissing.

"CBS Evening News" reported Friday on what it called "details of Mr. Clinton's evolving defense strategy. The White House has developed an alternative explanation that says Mr. Clinton did have a physical relationship with Lewinsky but that it involved only kissing. The White House story says Lewinsky exaggerated the relationship when talking with friends."

The Washington Post reported last month that several advisers inside and outside the White House were floating alternative scenarios about the nature of Clinton's relationship with Lewinsky on the theory that he eventually must offer a public explanation. But a senior Clinton aide said Friday that those involved in the president's defense were puzzled by the "kissing" report and knew nothing about it.

On Saturday, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart disputed the CBS report without discussing the specifics. "We have denied that there is any communications strategy to tell an alternate story," he said.

Begala yesterday dismissed the report without directly denying it. "There's been a lot of weird, wacky, wild rumors," he told CNN. "I don't comment on any of them. I don't take any of them seriously. . . . We're not floating trial balloons; we're not trying to put out alternate theories."

Begala also challenged a front-page report in yesterday's Washington Post that Clinton is privately enraged at what he sees as Starr's misconduct and wants to find ways to thwart his investigation.

"That's probably coming from people who don't know Bill Clinton as long as I have," he told CNN. "I've seen him fume, and he's not fuming. He is focused. He's focused on his job."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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