Ken & Vince

VINCENT FOSTER AND Ken Starr had something in common: Both failed to understand that public service demands higher standards of ethical conduct than does the world of corporate lawyering from whence they came. Foster, a lackey for influence-buying giants like Stephens Inc., ran the Rose Law Firm in the red-light district where money and politics meet, and brought the same moral code to Washington. Foster was the keeper of some of the Clinton's dirty little financial secrets, and tried to keep the lid on White House scandals like Travelgate--but when the glare of public accountability fell upon him as White House counsel (and with his friend and law partner Webster Hubbell about to be revealed as a thief), he couldn't take it, and killed himself.

Ken Starr couldn't grasp that having the people of the United States for your client in a case against the president requires at least the appearance of total probity and the abjuring of simultaneous service to the tobacco industry and other business behemoths. When he saw his ambition for a seat on the Supreme Court threatened by a drumbeat of negative publicity over these conflicts of interest, Starr bailed out of the hot seat to accept a plushy sinecure in academe. Having failed to understand that prosecuting a First Family and their cronies is not a part-time job, Starr jumped from the case in the middle of it with his Pepperdine Parachute. This led to the bizarre paradox of folks like the New York Times editorial board, which just a few months ago had demanded Starr's resignation over his conflicts of interest, now insisting that he should stay on the job.

Foster and Starr demonstrated once again that serving mammon is lousy training for serving the public. It is to be regretted that Starr's flip-flop has put his resignation in abeyance. Starr was always the wrong man for the job, if only because he was not a prosecutor. The people's interest would have been better served if Starr had been allowed to depart, leaving his deputy, Hickman Ewing, in charge. Ewing is a career prosecutor who has made corruption cases against politicians of both parties. Ewing's father was himself a corrupt, small-time southern politician, and every time Ewing takes a pol to court, he's prosecuting his father, which makes him a driven, take-no-prisoners kind of guy. That's what is needed when going up against the world-class liars who people the White House and have the power of the presidency behind them.

Starr's antics have garnered so much pre-indictment publicity that it may be difficult to empanel a jury that will convict. Certainly Susan McDougal, languishing rather loudly in the jail to which she was sent by a judge for refusing to say what she knows about the Clintons' affairs, has been encouraged in her stonewalling by Starr's breach of trust. However, the New York Post's John Crudele, whose reports from Little Rock have proven accurate so far, said last week that Jim McDougal has now turned over to the prosecutors a raft of documents that he had hidden in the basement of a bank, which bolster the Arkansas case against the Clintons.

Meanwhile, the so-called Whitewater prosecutions have been overshadowed by the latest revelations in the campaign-contributions scandal: The Democratic National Committee had a gaggle of staffers on its payroll working in the White House, where, among other things, they had access to the presidential database ordered by Hillary--a clear violation of the Hatch Act. Outgoing DNC Chair Don Fowler intervened with then-Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary on behalf of Johnny Chung, who gave more than $360,000 to the Democrats and brought a cluster of Chinese military-industrial honchos to the White House. Webster Hubbell and John Huang refused to turn over to Congress documents on the Lippo Group and other contributors, and said they would take the Fifth Amendment. Little Rock noodle salesman Charlie Trie, who bundled $600,000 in illicit contributions to Clinton's legal defense fund, and Thai businesswoman Pauline Kanchanalak, who bought favors from the administration with more than a quarter of a million in campaign cash, have both fled the country to dodge Congressional and Justice Department subpoenas.

No wonder that Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan finally broke the solid silence of Congressional Democrats and called on Janet Reno to appoint a special prosecutor in the campaign-contributions scandal (and he was soon joined by Senator Russell Feingold and former Senator Bill Bradley). The burning question this week is: What is Reno waiting for?

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