Whitewater Independent Counsel

January 30, 1994

Robert B. Fiske Jr. has model credentials to head an independent counsel probe of the tangled story of the Madison Guaranty S&L, the Whitewater Development Corp., Capital Management Services and President and Mrs. Clinton. We say that even though he comes from the law firm at which Lawrence Walsh once practiced. Mr. Walsh's seven-year, $37 million Iran-contra effort is a model of how not to manage an investigation.

Mr. Fiske has several advantages. He is nearly a generation younger than Mr. Walsh and more likely to stay firmly in charge of a large, young and energetic staff. He has had more recent experience in criminal law, both as prosecutor and defense attorney. Though independent, he will be answerable to Attorney General Janet Reno if, as happened with Mr. Walsh, the investigation takes on a life of its own and goes beyond the original intent.

Ms. Reno has made it clear that she will not try to supervise, much less control, the independent counsel probe. She knows from history that the political cost of such interference is extraordinary. President Richard Nixon's clash with the first Watergate counsel caused him enormous damage, from which he never recovered. Ms. Reno allowed Mr. Fiske to draft his own jurisdictional regulations. Though written to focus on any federal illegalities involving Whitewater etc., this charter also specifically grants him authority to range farther afield if his investigation determines there may have been other, related violations of federal laws. He said if the suicide of Vincent Foster is found to be related to such, he will investigate it.

President Clinton says he sought a special counsel because the clamor for one was distracting him from his executive responsibilities. It's a good point. He does have a country to run. Now that Mr. Fiske is on the case, it would be a good idea if members of Congress and other parties interested in "Whitewater" gave it a rest for awhile, gave Mr. Fiske a chance to get to the bottom of it. If he stumbles or fumbles or otherwise performs unsatisfactorily, other institutions should and could look anew into the whole story, including especially those areas of concern that involve ethics rather than crime. But the time for that is later.

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