Tuesday, October 19, 1999

Starr’s successor as
independent counsel

Bullet The issue: A federal judicial panel has appointed a successor to Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr.
Bullet Our view: Robert Ray will be called upon to bring Starr's work to a close, but that may involve more controversy.

THREE federal appellate judges have appointed career prosecutor Robert Ray to assume the duties of departing Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, but don't expect any new investigations of the Clinton White House. The public is in no mood for more scandal in the year ahead, and the judges have made no suggestion that Ray grip Starr's lance with the same passion.

"There can be no more vital consideration now than closure with all deliberate speed," Senior Circuit Judge Richard Cudahy wrote. The two other judges said nothing to the contrary.

That is not to say that Ray will simply write a report summarizing Starr's work in his five-year, $40-million-plus investigation, which led to the abortive effort by congressional Republicans to remove Clinton from office.

There are some loose ends to be tied. Pending are investigations into an alleged attempt to influence the testimony of presidential accuser Kathleen Willey and possible false statements regarding Hillary Rodham Clinton's role in the purge of the White House travel office.

Ray's final report summarizing Starr's work may contain some daggers outside the scope of prosecution. His report should encompass the wide-ranging Whitewater investigation of fraudulent land deals in Arkansas for which Hillary Clinton performed some legal work. That could be damaging to Mrs. Clinton if she maintains her designs on the U.S. Senate seat from New York.

Starr's Whitewater investigation resulted in the conviction of 14 people, including the Clintons' business partners, Jim and Susan McDougal, and then-Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker, who resigned from office. The Clintons may not have been culpable in Whitewater but neither may their hands have been clean.

Starr departs under a cloud of criticism that he abused his powers in his handling of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He recently remarked that it might have been better if he had turned that matter over to another independent counsel.

Just as it did with Starr, the Clinton White House has suggested that Ray is politically motivated, having worked for another independent counsel in the investigation of former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy.

Obviously it is in the Clintons' interest to attempt to discredit Ray as it attempted with Starr -- with considerable success. But Ray should not be condemned before he begins work. Like Starr, Ray should be evaluated not by his political views but the factual basis for his final product.


Jesse Helms’ pique

Bullet The issue: Sen. Jesse Helms has indicated that he will block the nomination of former Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun as ambassador to New Zealand.
Bullet Our view: Helms shouldn't let his desire to settle an old score with Moseley-Braun stand in the way of her confirmation.

Sen. Jesse Helms, who played a major role in the defeat of the nuclear test-ban treaty, has another target in his sights. This time it's the nomination of Carol Moseley-Braun as ambassador to New Zealand. In this case, Helms appears to be motivated by personal pique.

It's rare for the Senate to oppose a nomination of a former member. Moseley-Braun served one term in the Senate from Illinois, but lost her bid for re-election in 1998.

Moseley-Braun and the North Carolina Republican, who heads the powerful Foreign Relations Committee, have clashed in the past, including an exchange on the Senate floor in 1993 over the Confederate flag.

Moseley-Braun led a successful effort to reject an amendment by Helms to Clinton's national service legislation that would have granted the United Daughters of the Confederacy a renewed patent on an insignia featuring the Confederate battle flag. Moseley-Braun, who is black, called it a cruel reminder that blacks were once "human chattel" in America.

In a statement he issued, Helms didn't refer to the Confederate flag incident, but the White House suggested that he was trying to settle a score dating from that incident.

Helms said his committee would hold hearings on the Moseley-Braun nomination "when the committee has received all of the essential papers required of nominees."

But he added, "This nomination comes to the Senate with an ethical cloud hanging over Ms. Moseley-Braun. Charges of ethical lapses led the voters of Illinois to determine she was not fit to represent them in the U.S. Senate."

That was a reference to allegations that Moseley-Braun used campaign funds to pay for personal luxuries. She was also criticized in her unsuccessful 1998 campaign for a visit to a Nigerian dictator. Helms was also quoted as saying that Moseley-Braun shouldn't hold her breath until she becomes an ambassador.

Moseley-Braun has been surrounded by controversy for years, and her nomination as ambassador to New Zealand is questionable. But for Helms to block her nomination because of that Confederate flag dispute would make a mockery of the confirmation process.

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