Democrats have long derided the investigation as a Republican ploy to destroy a popular Democratic president, but, as TIME White House correspondent Jay Branegan notes, "this independent counsel position has taken a life of its own. It's not beholden to either party, and it stands to hurt both of them." In an interview with the Washington Post on Monday, Ray said that he's bolstered his prosecutorial staff in recent weeks and will pursue charges of perjury, obstruction of justice and conspiracy in the Monica Lewinsky case as well as charges surrounding the coercion of Kathleen Willey. The following is a listing of what's at stake for some of the major figures.
The Republican Party
Just two years ago the GOP was predicting that the Lewinsky mess would be the Democrats' Watergate, that it would expose endemic sleaze among the Democratic rank and file and, come election time, would translate into a rousing round of GOP victories. This has largely backfired. GOP approval ratings plummeted following Clinton's impeachment trial, as the public viewed the party as being up to its old "dirty tricks." The longer the Ray investigation drags on, the nastier the GOP looks. That's bad news for any Republican campaigning on a platform of "compassionate conservatism".
With Clinton popular and the country in good shape, the GOP has been accused of putting politics over policy trying to derail an effective president, even if that means threatening the nation's unprecedented prosperity. This criticism could persist if Al Gore or Hillary Clinton win their respective races but still have to answer questions for their ex-boss/husband.
The Democratic Party
Once the investigation begins to focus on Citizen Clinton with no executive privilege, it's sure to deliver a fresh batch of slime. Clinton, the party's most popular and powerful figure in recent memory, has already become an international laughingstock for his sexual and moral misdeeds and that embarassment may soon worsen.
Opinion polls show that most Americans are happy with Clinton's leadership but don't trust him. If the ongoing investigation develops accusations against other members of the administration, the "untrustworthy" aura could spread. While Democratic spin doctors would like to project the donkeys as a party of smart leadership that happens to have an immoral leader, it could come off as an immoral party that happens to have a smart leader.
Al Gore/Hillary Clinton
Both could be helped in their election bids by Ray's claims that he will make the investigation as nonpolitical as possible. Ray told the Post he'd prefer to wait until after the elections to deliver reports on Clinton's misdeeds rather than deliver them in October.
Republicans like to characterize the whole Clinton-Gore administration as an amoral machine. The more dirt that's exposed on Clinton, the worse both Hillary and Al will look. An ongoing investigation could bring continued heat on them even if they're elected.
The President faces steep fines and even jail time for his alleged misdeeds. To an extent, as a private citizen the odds are stacked against him. The independent counsel does not have the same time or cost constraints as a traditional prosecutor in fact, he has a team of lawyers devoted exclusively to building as many separate cases as possible against a single defendant. This power is somewhat nullified in the courtlike settings of an impeachment trial, as congressmen are given to partisanship and voting the will of the public. Such benefits would be lost in a jury trial.
His legacy is at stake. Clinton's leaving a position in which he's popular for stewarding a booming economy, and stands to become a famous private citizen who's kept in the limelight primarily as a perjurer and adulterer. As the jubilation of the Internet revolution's prosperity begins to fade, America may not be so forgiving of the man who's only its second president to be impeached.