WEBSTER HUBBELL, the former associate attorney general of the United States, has once again agreed to plead guilty to a felony charge brought by independent counsel Kenneth Starr. What precisely Mr. Hubbell will admit to will not be made public until later today. But he will apparently admit that he lied about his and Hillary Clinton's work at the Rose Law Firm on a shady deal known as Castle Grande. Such a plea would complete Mr. Hubbell's shameful descent from a high law enforcement officer to a multiple felon.
According to the indictment, Mr. Hubbell, along with Mrs. Clinton, performed extensive legal work in connection with the Castle Grande deal. This complex set of transactions -- which benefited Mr. Hubbell's father-in-law -- contributed to the ultimate failure of Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan. When the S&L subsequently became insolvent and was taken over by the federal government, the Rose Law Firm, with Mr. Hubbell as the lead partner, was retained for litigation in which the Castle Grande transactions were at issue. Yet Mr. Hubbell did not disclose Rose's rather deep conflict of interest to regulators. In fact, Mr. Starr has alleged, he lied repeatedly to regulators to cover up the work that he and Mrs. Clinton -- whose name is discreetly omited from the indictment -- had performed.
An admission by Mr. Hubbell that Mr. Starr's narrative is essentially true would be a significant validation of a major component of the morass of Whitewater-related allegations. It would also eliminate the common vision of Mr. Hubbell as chiefly a victim of Mr. Starr's piling on. Not to say that Mr. Starr has been restrained. Indeed, the tax case against Mr. Hubbell seemed pretty excessive. But at the end of the day, Mr. Hubbell's troubles are of his own making. This is a man, after all, who cheated his law partners and clients, received hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees for sham consulting and is now apparently admitting to defrauding regulators in a scheme that had real victims.
His plea agreement is being widely described as a backing down by Mr. Starr. Mr. Hubbell will be spared further jail time, the tax case against him settled with a misdemeanor plea, and Mrs. Clinton will not have to sully her Senate bid by testifying at his trial. But it is far from a victory. It is an admission by a man intimately involved in Madison's deals and fiercely loyal to the Clintons that all was not right in the Rose Law Firm's relationship with Madison Guaranty, and it is the final disgrace of a man who once presumed to enforce the law against others.