The Justice Department has determined that the special panel of judges that appointed independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr has the authority to appoint his successor if he should resign before he completes his investigation, Attorney General Janet Reno said yesterday.
Starr advised the three-judge panel in early August that he intended to resign this fall without completing his investigative work, according sources familiar with the exchange. The head of the panel, U.S. Circuit Court Judge David B. Sentelle, and Starr then discussed the possibility of having one of Starr's deputies take over and subsequently Starr sent Sentelle biographical material on four of his top assistants.
The law governing the appointment of independent counsels expired June 30 because Congress declined to renew it, but the provisions of the law continue to apply to an existing independent counsel probe. As such, Justice Department officials have determined that the three-judge panel would have the authority to name a successor in an ongoing investigation.
Some Justice Department officials and legal experts, however, continue to express concern that the naming of a successor could be subject to legal challenge by any future targets of the independent counsel's office, thus prolonging a process that all involved have stated an interest in seeing completed quickly.
In addition to writing a final report on his various investigations, Starr has advised the judges that his successor will have to make important decisions on whether to proceed with prosecutions. Starr's office has been examining Hillary Rodham Clinton's role in the firing of longtime staff at the White House travel office. A separate inquiry is looking into whether President Clinton partisans attempted to obstruct testimony by Kathleen Willey, a peripheral witness in the Monica S. Lewinsky matter.
The four individuals Starr has put forth as possible successors currently hold the title of deputy independent counsel. They are Jay Apperson, a former federal prosecutor in Virginia who oversees administrative operations for Starr; Michael W. Emmick, a career federal prosecutor in California who handled the interrogation of Lewinsky; W. Hickman Ewing Jr., a former federal prosecutor in Tennessee who has supervised the work of Starr's Little Rock office; and Edward J. Page, a career federal prosecutor in Florida who handled the grand jury interrogations of Secret Service personnel during the Lewinsky investigations.