Let's face it, regardless of the truth about President Clinton's propensity toward boorish or even criminal behavior, the independent counsel law driving Kenneth Starr's investigation has evolved into a monster of its own making.
It needs thorough examination, revision and refinement. That fact was noted by Jerome J. Shestack, president of the American Bar Association, during a recent visit to Salt Lake City.The current statute has well-meaning roots dating to 1978 and the aftermath of the Watergate investigation. The concept of an independent counsel is valid and has an important place in conducting investigations more independent of political influence than those conducted by the Justice Department under shadow of the White House.
But inquiries need budget and time parameters that keep them focused and within reasonable bounds. That just is not the case under the current law, up for renewal next year.
What started four years ago as an investigation into Clinton's role in the Arkansas real estate and banking fiasco now includes allegations of sexual misconduct in the White House and other unrelated activities. While Clinton ought to answer for those actions if true, the potential fatal flaw in the independent counsel law is the granting of unlimited time to prosecutors and resources and no strict accountability.
So far, $35 million has been spent on the Whitewater case. It is obvious from public opinion polls the public has lost confidence in the system. Tired of Clinton's alleged shenanigans, the populace is even more weary of an open-ended investigation that has no checkpoints or deadline for conclusion.
Shestack told the Deseret News a serious debate on independent counsels will be taken up by the nation's 400,000 lawyers at the ABA convention in August. ABA backing was instrumental in passing the current version of the law 20 years ago. It can play a key role in modifying, but not tossing, a statute that has significant legal value when properly and prudently applied.