How fortunate the Clintons are to have a thin-skinned prosecutor like Ken Starr pursuing them.
Back in 1974, when I was blazing away in this space at the power-abusive tactics of Watergate Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski, I was approached by my former White House colleague Al Haig, then President Nixon's chief of staff, who passed along an all-too-credible threat: "Leon says he wanted me to tell you to get off his back, or else."That was a time of prosecutorial hysteria. White House aides were being run before a grand jury to build perjury cases, a practice since frowned on. The lionized Leon, infuriated at my criticism, later confirmed he had called Haig to say: "If Safire has other information, I think I'll just subpoena him before the grand jury."
The reason he did not: I wrote the next day in The New York Times about the prosecutor's attempt to intimidate a columnist, and he had to back off.
Here we are, a generation later, with another series of cover-ups being uncovered. And here is another special prosecutor abusing the power of a grand jury to suppress criticism of his methods and his aides.
Yes, there is a difference. This time the prosecutor is not being jabbed in a single jeremiad but is under sustained assault.
Ken Starr sees the besmearing of his team as part of the pattern of the Clintons' six-year obstruction of justice. Starr's knee-jerk overreaction: to call in Hillary Clinton's vast-conspiracy guru, Sidney Blumenthal, for grilling under oath.
How easily Starr is manipulated. Baited by experts, he became distracted, lost his judicial temperament and went for the bait. He let the most adept abusers of power in a generation taunt him into making them appear to be the pitiable victims of his own abuse of power.
Wise up, Judge Starr: it would not matter even if the stonewall brigade hired private eyes to slander your associates as a bunch of fascist, child-molesting budget-busters. It would be immaterial if it tried to dig up dirt picturing you as the most lascivious Lothario in town. All such noise is the desperate hollering of the hotly pursued, and if you can't stand the mud, get out of the garden.
The way to handle sleaze merchants is neither to subpoena nor to ignore them, but to call publicly for their exposure.
No doubt Starr was sorely tempted to strike back at unfair criticism and personal intimidation with the force of law. Some of the lowlifes hired by Clinton lawyers do well by doing ill. Jack Palladino, assigned years ago to intimidate erupting bimbos, bamboozled media clients to dismiss as inauthentic the tapes of Bill Clinton urging a witness to "deny, deny, deny."
But no matter what the provocation - even under what he knows to be "an avalanche of lies" - Ken Starr has no business going into court to go after those going after him in the press. "The First Amendment is interested in the truth," he claimed Wednesday, dismayingly unaware that the amendment's interest is not in truth but in freedom.
Wasting his tormentors wastes time. His response to calumny should be to gather evidence and, if he has a case, to prosecute it. History will take care of his reputation.