Ken Starr on Capitol Hill -- the Sequel

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Get ready for Ken Starr's second big appearance on Capitol Hill. Last time he showed up, it was to tell the House Judiciary Committee how bad the President was; next week he'll be on hand to tell the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee how good the independent counsel is. Technically the subject will not be Ken Starr himself, but whether or not Congress should renew the independent counsel statute. For many senators on the panel, though, it will be difficult to separate the two. "To many legislators, he's exhibit A of why the statute should lapse," says TIME Washington correspondent Viveca Novak. Beyond sparking interest in the hearings, his testimony will likely do little to rescue the statute from an almost inevitable demise.

"Even if Starr comes across as a most genial and reasonable guy," says Novak, "it will be too little and too late to appease his many critics." To his opponents, his work exemplifies the problem of an out-of-proportion, if not out-of-control, probe. "Many on the Hill believe his investigation has sprawled too far, pulled in too many bystanders and cost too much," says Novak. Furthermore, Starr will arrive at the hearings with a self-dealt weakened hand: the current contempt prosecution of Susan McDougal -- her third major legal battle stemming from Starr's Whitewater investigation -- in which a jury verdict could come within days. "Win or lose the trial," says Novak, "Starr will again be on display for going after his targets over and over again." That perception can only hurt the chances of the independent counsel statute, and increase the odds that Starr's second Capitol Hill appearance will, like his first, end up in defeat.