Starr settles for smaller fish

Hubbell: Plea bargain ends prosecutor's effort to bring down Hillary Rodham Clinton

Marylanders of the Century

July 01, 1999

IT WAS always clear that independent counsel Kenneth Starr went after Webster Hubbell as a means to incriminate Hillary Rodham Clinton. When he was dissatisfied with Mr. Hubbell's memory after the plea bargain in 1994, Mr. Starr went after him again.

The trial that was made unnecessary yesterday with Mr. Hub- bell's guilty plea to one felony and one misdemeanor was to have been about Mrs. Clinton. By description ("the billing partner") rather than name, she was mentioned in the indictment three dozen times. All along,

Mr. Hubbell could have avoided prosecution by providing evidence against her or President Clinton, which he reiterated Wednesday he does not have.

Mr. Starr appears reconciled to not prosecuting Mrs. Clinton for any wrongdoing associated with the failure of the Castle Grande real estate venture two decades ago.

He suggested an orderly winding up of his office, though a grand jury is still in session. Wednesday's courtroom drama coincided with the lapse of the independent counsel law that Mr. Starr so flagrantly abused.

Not that Mrs. Clinton comes out unscathed. If she carries forward with the New York campaign for U.S. Senate, or any race for elected office, she must anticipate that this case would emerge as an issue.

Inferences are drawn from the guilty plea of Mr. Hubbell. What he covered up was his legal work and hers.

The taxable income he failed to report was for services while he was uncooperative with the independent counsel.

Mr. Starr has a report to make to judges who appointed him. Whether it will aim at Mrs. Clinton's reputation, or refrain from doing so after Mr. Starr's spectacular failure to topple her husband, only Mr. Starr knows. But this hangs over her putative campaign, clouding calculations of her supporters and opponents.

The law establishing Mr. Starr's office was intended to take investigation and prosecution out of politics. He made the political quest - impeachment of the president or hounding him from office with leaked information - uppermost.

Then Mr. Starr had the audacity to recommend the office's expiration, blaming the law and not his own conduct for anything wrong.

And although there are minor cases to wrap up, what remains after Mr. Hubbell's criminal plea is the politics of it, involving Mrs. Clinton.

How telling.

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