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  • Key stories: future of the counsel law

  • Counsels at a Glance

  •   Key Sens. See End to Special Counsel Law

    By Edward Walsh
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Monday, March 1, 1999; Page A4

    The Republican chairman of a key Senate committee and Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) predicted yesterday that Congress will refuse to reauthorize the independent counsel law later this year and said future allegations of wrongdoing by high government officials should be investigated by the Justice Department.

    Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.), whose panel is conducting hearings on the future of the law, said the office of independent counsel was created in an attempt to bring both independence and accountability to investigations of government officials.

    "And we've about concluded you can't have both at the same time," Thompson said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

    Appearing on ABC's "This Week," Daschle echoed that sentiment. "I don't think it's fixable to anyone's satisfaction," he said. "I think the time has come for us to close the books and try to find another way within the Justice Department itself to handle these responsibilities. I think we can."

    The independent counsel law was enacted in the wake of the Watergate scandal of the 1970s, during which then-President Richard M. Nixon ordered the firing of Archibald Cox, the first Justice Department "special counsel" to investigate the matter. But a public uproar forced the appointment of a second Watergate special counsel, Leon Jaworski, who successfully prosecuted several Nixon aides and associates.

    Thompson, who was Republican counsel for the Senate Watergate committee, said that because the independent counsel law was enacted in an attempt to insulate high-profile investigations from political pressure, "it's the lack of accountability" that has become the main problem.

    But he argued that Jaworski's experience during Watergate "really demonstrates that you can have someone come in from the outside, not tied down with all these rules and regulations that independent counsels have, but [who is] accountable to the Justice Department [and] still [has] a measure of independence and see that Justice is done."

    "I'm beginning to think it would be better to put it back in Justice," Thompson added. "Demand more accountability; bring in the special counsels when the situation calls for it."

    Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's investigation of President Clinton's attempts to conceal a relationship with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky, which led to Clinton's House impeachment and Senate trial, has increased pressure to abolish the law. Appearing with Thompson, Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) said "some mechanism" within the Justice Department should be found to assure the independence of investigations of high-ranking government officials.

    "But my great fear is that the excesses of Kenneth Starr have now made it almost impossible for us to reauthorize this," Levin said.

    "I don't think it has to do with Ken Starr," Thompson replied. "I think it has to do with the law."

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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