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Starr blows another chance

If justice delayed is, indeed, justice denied, then Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr has presided over many grave injustices to the American political system.

With the strange death of witness James McDougal, long-time business partner of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Starr has lost another opportunity to get to the bottom of the criminal financial activity surrounding the Clintons during their rise to power in Arkansas.

While McDougal was only 58, it was no secret he was not a well man. That raises the question of why Starr waited so long to bring whatever charges he planned to bring against the first couple and why he didn’t do everything in his power to ensure the health and safety of his star witness.

It was McDougal, and McDougal alone, who was prepared to testify that his business partners were deeply involved in the fraudulent financial transactions in the Madison Savings & Loan and the real estate deals at Whitewater and Castle Grande that resulted in his own conviction. If Starr was hesitant to bring charges against the president and/or first lady with McDougal’s full cooperation, how likely is it he will make a case against them with McDougal six feet under.

It’s no wonder Starr’s public approval ratings are around 11 percent. How long are the American people supposed to wait to learn whether the occupants of the White House are crooks? How many more witnesses will be allowed to die before there is some definitive action by the independent counsel? It’s been four years, Mr. Starr. Get on with it. Or get out.

It’s no wonder President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno have permitted Starr to continue as independent counsel – even as the president and his cronies conduct a full-scale public relations crusade against him. How convenient it must be for the president to have as his chief inquisitor a man who is obviously too timid or too intimidated to cross swords with the most powerful man in the world.

If not Ken Starr, you ask, whom? Will our courageous Congress be willing to wade into these murky waters? Don’t bet on it – especially if the latest story making the rounds of Washington is true.

Two weeks ago, another prominent suicide was reported inside the beltway. That was the death of 28-year-old Sandy Hume, a reporter for The Hill and the son of Fox News’ Britt Hume. It was the young Hume who broke the story last summer about the plot within the House Republican caucus, led by Rep. Bill Paxon, to dump Newt Gingrich as speaker. Without reporting any names over the weekend (as if that somehow offered anonymity for any of the prominent public figures involved in this story), the Jerusalem Post explained that the reason for the suicide was a homosexual affair between Hume and Paxon, who also recently announced he was retiring from politics.

What the Post didn’t report was that a member of Gingrich’s inner circle had threatened to blow the lid off the affair should there be any more challenges to the speaker’s power.

This is one of those open secrets in Washington. And it makes you wonder if it’s the kind of thing George Stephanopolous had in mind when he said that Clinton would never resign and would take lots of people with him if he should be forced from office.

People constantly ask me why prominent Republicans don’t challenge Clinton on the scandals consuming his presidency. The answer is that politics is dirty business in Washington – more so now than perhaps ever before. Clinton has used his surrogate Stephanopolous to publicly announce that it will get a lot worse if he is challenged. By the way, the Paxon-Hume story is not the only one making the rounds inside the beltway these days. There’s another one that probably scares Gingrich even more. And, remember, no one can even say for sure where those missing FBI files are today. Is there any doubt they were intended to be used to mute political opposition to this administration?

And now, conveniently for Mr. Clinton, Jim McDougal turns up dead. Do you think this will make it more or less likely that Jim Guy Tucker will tell all he knows as he begins cooperation with the Starr team? Do you think Susan McDougal will be more or less likely to talk?

Death hangs over this administration like a black cloud. And fear, palpable fear, permeates the Congress.