THE RATIONALE for independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr to investigate President Clinton's private life was that he had allegedly lied in a deposition in Paula Corbin Jones' lawsuit against him charging sexual harassment and encouraged others to lie.
The Jones lawsuit always seemed on shaky legal ground. Now that U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright, a Republican appointee, has dismissed it on April Fool's Day as falling "far short of the rigorous standards for establishing a claim of outrage under Arkansas law," Mr. Starr and the Justice Department must figure out what his inquiry is about and whether it should go forward.
There has been the appearance of collusion between Mr. Starr's inquiry and Ms. Jones' attorneys, denied by both. It could be hard for one to proceed without the other.
Should Ms. Jones' attorneys appeal Judge Wright's ruling, Mr. Starr might still have something, but he would have to await a favorable appeals court ruling.
A General Accounting Office audit announced yesterday showed he had spent $29.6 million through September 1997, investigating old real estate deals. Since his inquiry turned to Mr. Clinton's personal life, the cost has gone higher.
The Supreme Court decision last May allowing the Jones lawsuit to go forward strongly implied that Mr. Starr might bring charges to criminal court stemming from a president's private activities having nothing to do with official duties. Strong hints from Mr. Starr's office were that he would not. Rather, the unnamed sources suggested, he was preparing the case for impeachment.
Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee have been planning to deal with material that Mr. Starr might turn over. This rTC week, leading House Democrats were planning their own strategy. They are right to see the scandal in impeachment terms and to take it very seriously.
Mr. Starr must report to the House. Having gone this far, nothing Judge Wright did removes that responsibility. The House must then decide whether he has found crimes serious enough to impeach the president before the Senate.
Now that Judge Wright has let the air out of the balloon, Mr. Starr must bring the best minds on his staff together to see what they have that might fly without it.
Many Americans like a good sex scandal. Forces trying to bring down Mr. Clinton have kept them entertained, while damaging the president. But the governing of this country is also at stake.
Mr. Starr has been saddled with a greater responsibility to make clear what he is investigating and why he should pursue it.
Pub Date: 4/02/98