The Independent Counsel Is Dead, Long Live the Independent Counsel

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The tenure of a man whose name is synonymous with Bill Clintonís presidency has come to an end. After overseeing the longest, most expensive investigation of a public official in the nationís history, Kenneth Starr officially stepped down on Monday. While Bob Ray, who took Starr's place at the helm of the Clinton investigation on Monday, may be the last-ever independent counsel, heís destined to live on as a sidebar to the now-famous Starr. Congress is not expected to renew the Independent Counsel Act, which was enacted in the wake of Watergate but in the last six years has proved an unwieldy black box of judicial power.

"I donít think the nation will soon forget Ken Starr," said Viveca Novak, a TIME White House correspondent. "His name was as well known as the Presidentís for a good stretch of time." A month before leaving office, Starr conceded that he should never have been appointed to oversee the investigation into Clintonís sexual misconduct with Monica Lewinsky, because heíd served on previous investigations of Clinton and his prior knowledge caused him to expand the investigation. "I think it would have been much better for the country for the Lewinsky matter to have been handled by another independent counsel," he said, indicating that the country might have been spared a presidential impeachment with an investigator less familiar with the Presidentís past.

While the scope of Rayís investigation won't rival what has proved to be one of the most embarrassing episodes in the nationís history, it can still have lasting implications on Clintonís legacy and life after he leaves office. The Independent Counselís Office has not yet decided whether to pursue perjury charges against Clinton after his term ends in January 2001. "While there still may be further indictments," says Novak, "mostly from the attempt to suppress Catherine Willeyís story, the main thing remaining is the independent counselís report, which is almost guaranteed to be embarrassing to the President and First Lady, and potentially harmful to her senate campaign."