Same Old Starr

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WASHINGTON: That's it? Explaining his case in public for the first time, Ken Starr admitted to the House Judiciary Committee Thursday that the treasure trove of scandals he spent his first four years investigating -- Whitewater, Travelgate, Filegate -- turned up empty. As if by way of apology, the independent counsel offered a more nebulous "pattern of obstruction of justice" that shows "the Lewinsky investigation did not occur in a vacuum." The extra evidence? Nothing we haven't heard before: President Clinton's lack of cooperation with Starr's inquiry over the years, as well as the consultancy gigs Vernon Jordan secured for Starr's favorite bugaboo (and Clinton pal) Webster Hubbell.

Special Report "Starr hasn't changed his approach at all," says TIME Washington correspondent Jay Branegan. "He's started off in a very unapologetic and unremorseful way. It's surprising that he has repeated some of the same charges -- like Clinton lying to his cabinet members -- that even Republicans had indicated were dubious."

Not that Judge Starr isn't doing himself a favor by getting some serious face time. The prosecutor displayed a witty and self-effacing side we rarely get to see. "I am not a man of polls, public relations or politics," his speech reads, "which I suppose is obvious at this point." His favorability ratings may even climb out of single digits. But any success Starr has is going to be tempered by harsh questions from committee Democrats about the more zealous aspects of his investigation, not to mention a half-hour one-on-one session with Clinton attorney David Kendall, who has been waiting a long time to grill his opponent. And with upwards of five House Republicans -- the party's new majority -- publicly turning against impeachment, the whole show starts to look like a pointless, if historic, exercise. No wonder that while Starr speaks, the President sleeps soundly in Tokyo.