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Democrats Escalate Criticisms of Starr

Starr/AP Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr. (AP)

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  • By Guy Gugliotta
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Saturday, October 10, 1998; Page A10

    Democrats do not like independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, his case against President Clinton or the way he put it together. Mindful of the political points to be scored by changing the subject from the president to the unpopular prosecutor, their long-running campaign against Starr will escalate now that the House Judiciary Committee is embarked on impeachment proceedings launched by the independent counsel's evidence.

    If Judiciary Democrats have their way, Starr himself will be grilled in open session. "Of course we should call Ken Starr," Judiciary Committee member Martin T. Meehan (D-Mass.) said yesterday. "I believe he's undermined his credibility." Suggesting the direction where Democrats on the panel are likely to head as the impeachment process unfolds, Meehan added, "My staff is looking at evidence that could have been tainted by the way his investigation was conducted."

    Meehan ticks off what has become the Democratic bill of particulars against the independent counsel, echoing almost word for word the criticisms lodged by Clinton's private attorney, David E. Kendall. Among the complaints: that Starr may have misrepresented his case before Attorney General Janet Reno when he sought to expand his investigation to include the Monica S. Lewinsky matter and, in a Kendall staple, that he improperly leaked grand jury information to reporters.

    Yesterday, asked if he would allow the Democrats to subpoena Starr during the impeachment inquiry, Judiciary Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) said, "I wouldn't object," but the general feeling among Republicans is that Democrats are attacking Starr to draw attention away from the president's transgressions.

    "It wasn't Ken Starr that did all this," Rep. Charles T. Canady (R-Fla.), a Judiciary member, said recently. "There are those who want to conduct an investigation of the investigator. It is not appropriate."

    Despite these dismissals, Democrats will not be dissuaded from an anti-Starr course. Their objections to the independent counsel are broad, deep, long-running, and in some cases very carefully considered. The frequent blows rain down from the high ground, the middle ground and the low ground.

    Late Thursday, Sen. Carl Levin M. (D-Mich.), a co-author of the current law that authorizes independent counsels, rhetorically dismembered the Starr investigation in a carefully reasoned speech on the Senate floor, arguing that Starr repeatedly abused the statute by overstepping his authority, misrepresenting his evidence and failing to follow Justice Department policies.

    Levin said the law required Starr to submit information to Congress, and not, "in effect," argue for impeachment, as the report did: "The report not only is full of conclusions and arguments, it is also biased . . . because it omits exculpatory evidence."

    Levin questioned why Starr was involved in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit in mid-1997, and why he started immunity negotiations with former Lewinsky friend Linda R. Tripp before getting authorization to expand his inquiry.

    He said Starr failed to follow Justice Department policies by badgering Lewinsky and discussing immunity without having her attorney present, and he also charged that Starr had partisan conflicts of interest.

    Levin noted in an interview yesterday that it was Attorney General Janet Reno's responsibility to rein in independent counsels, but acknowledged this was politically difficult in a high-profile case: "In this framework, if the counsel ignores Justice Department policies or goes outside the jurisdictional area without any power to rein him in, then we have a person with unheard authority," Levin said.

    Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), the senior Judiciary Democrat, has been making the same complaints in a series of letters about Starr's methods since the Lewinsky scandal broke in January.

    On Jan. 30, Conyers wrote to Hyde, complaining about "the source and legality of various leaks . . . of grand jury information." On Feb. 6 he requested that Reno investigate Starr for "misconduct and abuses of power." On April 22, he wrote Reno again, casting "considerable doubt on his impartiality." At an April 30 news conference he dubbed Starr the "modern-day equivalent of Senator Joe McCarthy."


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