WASHINGTON -- Even after turning over the Monica Lewinsky investigation and its boxes of testimony and tape recordings, lurid e-mails and pop-song lyrics to Congress, independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr has no plans to scale back his 27-lawyer staff, his spokesman says.
With the cost of the investigation now exceeding $40 million, Starr's team is returning its focus to matters dating to President Clinton's first term and much earlier: the alleged misdeeds in Whitewater, misuse of FBI files and firings from the White House travel office.
"We did divert a lot of resources to the Lewinsky investigation," said Starr's spokesman, Charles G. Bakaly III. "We are intensifying our efforts now to resolve those remaining matters."
In July, Starr leased 5,800 square feet of office space on the top floor of a high-security building in Alexandria, Va., increasing by 25 percent his total space.
Sources familiar with Starr's work say that if there are indictments, the likeliest targets for prosecution are not high-ranking White House aides but peripheral figures who emerged recently in the independent counsel's four-year tenure.
They include Nathan Landow, a wealthy Democratic donor from Maryland, whose contacts with Kathleen Willey, a former White House volunteer, are under scrutiny. Linda R. Tripp might also be under investigation for possibly lying under oath about the duplication of tapes of her phone conversations with Lewinsky. And several Pentagon officials might be in jeopardy for releasing information from Tripp's personnel file to a reporter.
Some former independent counsels say that to justify continuing so broad and costly an enterprise much longer, Starr must produce substantial results.
"The question for Starr is, how long can you keep your line in the water, hoping to catch the big one?" said Michael F. Zeldin, who served as a deputy independent counsel and independent counsel from 1992 to 1996. "You're talking about salaries of 27 lawyers, each at $80,000 to $110,000 a year. There comes a time when it becomes unreasonable."
But Zeldin cautioned: "We don't know what they're doing, so it's hard to know if it's justified."
Gerard E. Lynch, a Columbia University law professor who worked on the Iran-contra investigation, calls the Lewinsky investigation "an enormous expenditure for a relatively small catch."
'There's a madness to it'
But he says Starr's seemingly interminable quest results in part from the open-ended character of any independent counsel's work.
"This isn't Starr," Lynch said. "The same charge was made against [Iran-contra prosecutor Lawrence] Walsh, with some justification -- that he went on too long, that he spent too much, without enough to show for it."
Without budget limits or competing cases, an independent counsel's investigation becomes "an expanding universe," Lynch said. "There's a madness to it. The nature of a prosecutor's work is endless. There's no place where you can say, 'Now I know it all.' "
Starr's report Sept. 9 to the House Judiciary Committee on the Lewinsky matter stated that "All phases of the investigation are now nearing completion," leading some Starr-watchers to believe was ending his inquiry.
But several former Starr prosecutors say that is not happening. "The emphasis should be on the 'investigation' coming to an end," said one. "Indictments, prosecutions, the final report -- all that comes after the investigative phase is complete."
Writing a final report to the three-judge panel that appointed Starr can be labor-intensive, requiring continuing work by investigators and attorneys familiar with specific matters, former prosecutors say.
Bakaly said more criminal charges could extend Starr's enterprise. Since he was appointed in 1994, Starr has obtained 13 convictions and is pursuing further charges against Susan McDougal and Webster L. Hubbell in the Whitewater case.
"If you have prosecution, once you file something and you're in court, you have no control over timing," Bakaly said.
New Starr prosecutions could come in at least three areas:
Perjury or obstruction of justice charges related to Willey's allegation that Clinton made unwanted sexual advances when she visited the Oval Office in November 1993.
Starr's investigators have targeted Landow, 65, a Bethesda developer and former Maryland Democratic Party chairman who raised about $600,000 for Clinton's two presidential campaigns. Landow flew Willey, 51, to his Eastern Shore estate a year ago, and they discussed Willey's encounter with the president.
Landow told The Sun this year that the matter was mentioned in passing during the two-day visit. Willey, who had been subpoenaed in the Paula Corbin Jones sexual misconduct lawsuit, reportedly has told investigators that Landow urged her to remain silent.