The Consortium

The Other Whitewater Scandal

The Republican special prosecutor Kenneth Starr is the wrong man to run the Whitewater investigation into the financial shenanigans of the Clintons and their Arkansas associates. That should be obvious.

Indeed, the entire cast of conservative Republicans who are flogging this scandal are the wrong people -- from Alfonse D'Amato to Bob Dole, from The Wall Street Journal editorial page to The New York Post, from Reed Irvine's Accuracy in Media to The Washington Times which is controlled by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. They are wrong because many of these paladins for Whitewater truth were equally aggressive covering up far more serious crimes during the Reagan-Bush era.

The Wall Street Journal editorial page and Irvine's Accuracy in Media led the way in smearing honest journalists who exposed war crimes in Central America and the Iran-contra financial crimes back in Washington. Dole, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, took pride in personally attacking Iran-contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh when Walsh was digging into that abuse of power committed by presidents Reagan and Bush while they were in the White House.

The Iran-contra scandal also involved the misappropriation of tens of millions of U.S. government dollars that disappeared into foreign bank accounts controlled by Reagan's deputies. In turn, that money went to finance an extra-Constitutional war in Central America and to line the pockets of international arms dealers.

But instead of demanding a thorough investigation, Dole and many other Whitewater enthusiasts undercut Walsh's investigation at every turn. In one 1993 speech to a group of conservatives, Dole boasted that he had gone to the Senate floor on countless occasions" to criticize Walsh, often over trivial issues such as his first-class air fare or his room-service meals. Dole even bragged that he had examined the "political leanings" of Walsh's staff lawyers.

With Whitewater, everything is different, however. No question about Democratic wrongdoing -- no matter how old, how trivial or how unreliable the witness -- can be ignored.

During the past two years, the Whitewater probe has become possibly the most politicized investigation ever conducted of an American President. But what may be even more striking is the brazen hypocrisy of the accusers. Regrettably, too, the political taint of the investigation has obscured some of the legitimate criticism that the Clintons deserve for their Whitewater actions.

In recent weeks, Whitewater special prosecutor Starr has moved onto the fast track toward becoming the most egregious hypocrite of all. Starr, a conservative political activist who served in the Reagan-Bush administrations, continues to add to his impressive pile of conflicts of interest. Starr even is cashing in on his Whitewater celebrity before the first significant trial is over.

Not content to oversee the nation's most important political case -- which could influence the outcome of this year's presidential election -- Starr has gone to work for Big Tobacco. He is representing Brown and Williamson in its fight against the spread of liability lawsuits. The fact that Clinton is Big Tobacco's chief political target in 1996 doesn't seem to register with Starr as another apparent conflict of interest for his Whitewater prosecutions.

But Starr never seems to recognize conflicts. Previously, his $1 million-plus law practice had gotten away with giving legal advice to major Clinton enemies, such as the Bradley Foundation which funds anti-Clinton propaganda and Paula Jones who is suing the President for sex harassment.

For Starr, the controversy over his appointment started earlywhen he was appointed in August 1994. Starr got the job after other conservatives lobbied the federal three-judge panel, which appoints special prosecutors, to oust Republican Robert Fiske who was finding that some of the Whitewater allegations just weren't standing up. The head of that panel, Reagan-appointed U.S. Appeals Court Judge David Sentelle, removed Fiske after having lunch with Republican North Carolina Sens. Lauch Faircloth and Jesse Helms, two of Clinton's severest critics.

Since then, Starr has remained active in conservative politics and stands to gain his career goal of a Supreme Court nomination if Clinton is defeated in November 1996. But also troubling is the conflict of interest that Starr faces when confronted with parts of the broader Whitewater case that implicate Starr's former colleagues in the Reagan-Bush Justice Departments.

Indeed, one of the most intriguing corners of the Arkansas allegations is tucked away at the Mena, Ark., airport. According to state and federal investigators, this remote location was used in the mid-1980s as a guns-and-drugs depot in President Reagan's supply network for the Nicaraguan contra rebels.

But government investigators into the Mena crimes complained that the Reagan-Bush administrations systematically frustrated their inquiries, apparently to protect Oliver North's contra support activities and to avoid corroborating widespread allegations of contra-connected cocaine smuggling. Some criticism about the handling of the Mena investigation also has been directed at then-Gov. Clinton for failing to shut down the airport operation.

Starr's Whitewater investigation -- and the parallel Republican congressional probes -- have made nary a public peep about these cross-party criminal allegations. Instead, Starr and D'Amato have concentrated on Democratic mischief, either the sleazy bank deals in Arkansas or the contradictory testimony by Clinton appointees in Washington.

Starr also continues to stonewall questions about his own failed land deal, Lubbock AK Ltd., which has striking similarities to Whitewater. As we reported in The Consortium (March 28 in the Archives), Starr invested $20,000 in the mysterious Texas real estate partnership in 1982, while he was a top aide to Attorney General William French Smith.

Though required by Texas law to list both general and limited partners, Lubbock AK never submitted the necessary disclosure forms. When asked, Starr still refuses to give the names of his associates in that busted land deal.

In the ethically challenged world of lawyers, Starr's arrogance may be acceptable. Maybe laymen just don't understand the technicalities that go with defining a legal conflict of interest. But common sense tells us that Kenneth Starr has gone way beyond acceptable boundaries. Lucrative legal work for President Clinton's political enemies is a far greater abuse than Lawrence Walsh's first-class air fare or room-service meals.

Starr's behavior should disqualify him for a job as important to the American people as the Whitewater inquiry -- which, after all, could decide who will be the next President of the United States. On his present course, Starr could become as big a scandal as the one he was hired to investigate.

Robert Parry, Editor of The Consortium

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