Testing the Starr Chamber

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WASHINGTON: He's still more than a week away from testifying. But Ken Starr's appearance before the House Judiciary Committee November 19 has already got Democrats and Republicans squabbling over how to question him - and what to ask. Fearing that the minority may want to "rough up" the independent counsel, in the words of Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), GOP staffers have drawn up a bulky set of talking points to help members shore up his credibility. "Judge Starr is one of the country's premier lawyers," reads the first point. Such friendly spinning will bolster Democratic fears that this hearing is nothing more than an attempt to recoup Starr's flagging public image.

Special Report "How preposterous is it to invite the independent counsel, who is not a witness to anything and has already given us nearly 500 pages of what he thinks?" said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat on the committee. Her comrades disagree. Starr, after all, has plenty of ethics questions hanging over his own head. His leaks to the media are still under investigation and may lead to a contempt of court charge. His use of the Linda Tripp tapes, which are also the subject of a grand jury investigation, not to mention the dubious manner in which he entered the Lewinsky affair in the first place - these are matters that the White House would dearly love to see Starr squirm over. And despite the GOP's best efforts, rehabilitating the independent counsel in America's eyes will take nothing short of a miracle.