KENNETH Starr should personally write or supervise the final report that his Office of Independent Counsel is required to produce before it shuts down.
For five years, one of its obvious targets has been Hillary Rodham Clinton, against whom it has brought no charges. Whatever it does or says about her -- or refrains from doing or saying -- will figure in the 2000 Senate race in New York. She is almost certain to be the Democratic nominee.
Mr. Starr cannot honorably go this far and then hand it over to a caretaker or successor, whatever his personal or professional desires. Although two of the three judges on the panel that appointed him voted to extend his investigation, Mr. Starr reportedly told the judges he wishes to leave before the office has concluded its work. A dissenting judge thought Mr. Starr's inquiry is basically wrapped up and should close down.
Mr. Starr has suggested that all will be done before the 2000 general election. As he says, the sooner the better. But no one need pretend that whatever his office concludes about Mrs. Clinton in the Whitewater real estate deal or other matters would be nonpolitical.
There is no escaping its ramifications, which Mr. Starr set in motion as to substance and timing.
Mr. Starr can claim scalps on his belt. As the two Republican-appointed judges on the panel said, 24 indictments, 16 convictions and one impeachment is an "unusually productive" record. But he divided the country and harmed its institutions in a no-holds-barred attempt to get President Clinton any which way.
As a good captain, he should go down with his ship. If that is an unacceptable metaphor, as a star who carries a show he must stay till the end of the run. It is his show.