President Clinton should either try to remove Kenneth Starr or tell his political allies to stop criticizing the independent counsel, Rep. George Nethercutt said.
In a speech on the House floor late Wednesday, Nethercutt defended Starr’s integrity and said it was time for Clinton to redeem the “sacred honor” of the presidency by telling the truth.
“In recent weeks, we have seen the personal character and motives of Kenneth Starr subjected to an unprecedented number of insults and attacks by friends of the president,” Nethercutt said.
Cornell Clayton, who has written a book on the nation’s independent counsels, agreed the level of criticism of Starr is unprecedented.
But then, many things about Starr’s investigation are unprecedented - including the cost, the range of complaints investigated and the tactics being used, said Clayton, a Washington State University political science professor.
Although no independent counsel has ever been dismissed, Clayton said, the 1978 law says the prosecutor can be dismissed by the attorney general for illegal or grossly unethical conduct.
Nethercutt said he is fed up with Clinton’s allies suggesting on television talk shows that Starr is dishonest.
“I’m not a defender of (Starr), but I am a defender of the process,” the Spokane Republican said. “All we hear are (Clinton’s) spokesmen saying he’s leaking. I don’t think there’s any evidence of that.”
Evidence that Starr leaked testimony given to the grand jury would be grounds for his dismissal, Clayton said. But leaks from his assistants wouldn’t be enough to fire Starr.
Unethical conduct is a difficult standard to prove, the WSU professor said. Some of Starr’s conduct - such as asking Monica Lewinsky’s friend Linda Tripp to wear a wire before he had the authority to investigate those charges, or making Lewinsky’s mother testify before the grand jury - are highly unusual for a federal prosecutor investigating a case of civil perjury, he said.
Such tactics are used occasionally in major criminal investigations, Clayton said.
The law that establishes the independent counsel is up for renewal next year, and the controversy over Starr has some speculating the job will be significantly changed or abolished.
Nethercutt said he thinks changes in the law should be studied, although he’s not prepared yet to say what he would support.
Clayton said Congress could consider giving the attorney general more control over who is selected as independent counsel, or make the prosecutor give regular reports.
“It’s really become a weapon for partisan harassment of the White House,” Clayton said.