Clinton to Congress: No More Independent Counsels

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WASHINGTON: In a not-so-surprising change of heart, the Clinton administration is opposing the renewal of the Independent Counsel statute, a law it enthusiastically backed just five years ago. Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder made the case to Congress Tuesday for letting the 21-year-old, Watergate-inspired law expire this June, arguing that the Justice Department is fully capable of investigating senior-level administration officials now covered by the statute, and that, as in Watergate, the attorney general can hire a special prosecutor in extraordinary cases. Whether or not that's true is "the heart of the controversy," says TIME Justice Department correspondent Elaine Shannon. No Democrat would have trusted Ed Meese to investigate the Reagan administration, she notes, while "a lot of people believe Janet Reno is highly partisan."

For now, Republicans and Democrats are mostly singing from the same choirbook on this issue. Though congressional Republicans hammered Janet Reno for not appointing a special prosecutor to look into the Clinton-Gore fund-raising machine, many in the GOP soured on the law after enduring Lawrence Walsh's eight-year investigation of Iran-Contra during the Reagan and Bush administrations. Republicans then raised many of the arguments typically heard now from Democrats -- that the I.C.'s unlimited budget and timetable vests too much power and too little accountability in one person. But trashing the status quo still leaves the thorny political problem of investigating top administration officials. Concludes Shannon: "There is no solution that will satisfy everyone."