The Consortium

To Catch a Falling Starr

So now we learn that Whitewater special prosecutor Kenneth Starr is paying $3,200 a week, in taxpayers' money, to a part-time ethics adviser. That computes to more than $150,000 a year -and raises yet more questions about Starr's ethics.

Why, one might ask, does anyone in government need to invest so much money to get ethics advice? Normally, government officials with ethics questions consult the Office of Government Ethics or the inspectors general assigned to agencies throughout Washington.

The very size of the payment and the identity of the recipient, however, suggest a motive. Starr, the conservative Republican investigating President Clinton's Whitewater real estate venture, picked Democratic lawyer Samuel Dash of Watergate fame. Dash's clean reputation has helped protect Starr from accusations that he is on a political head-hunting mission for his Republican friends.

As more and more guestions arise about Starr's conflicts of interest, Dash keeps stepping forward as a kind of public relations spokesman. When Starr represents deep-pocket clients who want to see Bill Clinton ousted from the White House -- while Starr's Whitewater probe is trying to do just that -- Dash is the one who tells the press that there's no conflict of interest.

Recently, when pressed on how he reached some of his judgments, Dash has stretched his lawyer's language to defend Starr. "What he's doing is proper," Dash told the New Yorker's Jane Meyer. "But it does have an oder to it."

But later, Dash explained to The Washington Post that he really didn't mean what he had been quoted saying. What he meant was that others might detect an oder. "I didn't use the word 'proper,'" Dash added. "'Proper' is a weasel word. I think what I tried to say -- and maybe I misstated -- is everything he's doing is 'legal' and 'ethical' and 'lawful' -not 'proper.'"

The Dash-Starr arrangement makes eminently good sense for Starr. The Republican prosecutor takes $3,200 a week out of the U.S. Treasury and gives it to Dash. Then Starr supplements his government salary by earning hundreds of thousands of dollars from representation of conservative groups and major tobacco companies. Starr then can cite Dash's paid-for advice that it's all kosher.

What makes less sense is why Dash would let his life-long reputation as a respectable Washington lawyer (although the phrase itself sounds like an oxymoron) be tarnished by entering into such a dubious arrangement. The sad conclusion that one must begin to draw is that Sam Dash has traded his reputation for $3,200 a week.

Without doubt, the Whitewater scandal is a sordid affair, revealing money-grubbing by the First Family. But it is fast becoming equally sordid for what it's revealing about the Republicans who both want to exploit the scandal for political gain and to profit off the scandal for monetary gain.

(c) Copyright 1996 -- Please Do Not Re-Post

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