Loss in McDougal Case Poses Problems for Starr

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Ex-Whitewater partner Susan McDougal won an important victory on Monday at the expense of Independent Counsel Ken Starr and his prosecutors. A Little Rock, Ark., federal jury acquitted McDougal of obstruction of justice charges stemming from the Whitewater investigation, and the judge in the case declared a mistrial on two contempt charges after the jury deadlocked on those counts. The not guilty verdict on the obstruction charge is significant, says TIME Washington correspondent Viveca Novak, who has been following the trial: “That’s the charge on which the jury was allowed to consider her state of mind, and apparently the jury believed her when she said she was scared of Ken Starr.” McDougal had maintained in the trial that she refused to talk because she was afraid Starr would pressure her to falsely implicate the President and the First Lady in the scandal.

The outcome of the trial will not help Ken Starr’s own case later this week when he appears before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee to defend the independent counsel statute, which many on Capitol Hill would now like to see quietly buried. Starr will appear before the panel with his critics’ accusations of overzealousness confirmed, in their eyes, by the verdict. In addition, Starr will be faced in the days ahead with another decision, which his congressional opponents will be eyeing very closely: Will he decide to retry McDougal on the deadlocked counts? Those who have criticized Starr for his multiple prosecutions in the past will be ready to pounce if he does, says Novak. And they will have none other than McDougal and her words on Monday to launch their attack. Said McDougal: “I’ve been indicted since 1993 and this is the first day I haven’t been indicted in years.”