Leading Article: Publish and be damned: how Starr could save Clinton

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The Independent Culture
If anyone can save Bill Clinton's presidency it is Kenneth Starr. Reading his report, the stomach begins to turn and the conviction grows that this is not a dispassionate investigation into possible wrongdoing by the President, but an attempt to humiliate and embarrass Mr Clinton, his wife and his daughter. It seems extraordinary that the independent counsel, appointed to investigate charges of fraud in the Whitewater property deals, should have ended up writing a report which resembles the readers' letters column of a pornographic magazine.

Let us briefly reconstruct the legalistic train of logic which took Mr Starr from A to X. When he started looking into the Whitewater affair, he claims he was obstructed by a campaign of witness tampering by Mr Clinton. His inquiry was broadened into attempting to establish a "pattern of behaviour", that of trying to persuade witnesses to help cover up alleged misdemeanours of various kinds. It thus crossed the path of Paula Jones's sexual harassment law suit, which was trying to establish a different pattern of behaviour - that of making unwanted advances on women - but in which it was also alleged that the President had interfered with witnesses, offered them jobs and so on. The next two links in the rope bridge broke after Mr Starr had crossed them, but by then the twin inquiries had created the circumstances in which the President was to commit the misdemeanours for which he now stands trial. Ms Jones's lawyers asked Mr Clinton and Monica Lewinsky questions about their relationship, which turned out not to fit the pattern of behaviour they were seeking because it was entirely consensual. The Jones case was then thrown out on the grounds that even if her allegations were true they would not constitute sexual harassment. But by then the President had lied under oath. And, in the final stage of Mr Starr's journey into the presidential underpants, the independent counsel felt it was necessary to ask Ms Lewinsky for a full account of her sexual relationship with the President to substantiate the charge that Mr Clinton had lied in denying it. And to publish it all.

As a means of pursing a vendetta against an enemy, this sequence has the rickety plot-line of an airport thriller, rather than the inescapable logic of a Greek tragedy. The connection between the original accusation and the mountain of smut put on the Internet on Friday is so tenuous that it can only do more damage to Mr Starr's credibility than to Mr Clinton's. If the independent counsel had a shred of honour he would have cancelled his investigation long ago, concluding that it was impossible to prove anything remotely related to the original charges.

All that is water under the rickety bridge. It is unfair, but Mr Clinton is disgraced, a figure of ridicule and an embarrassment to his office. He is disabled by the idea that you can tell he is lying because his lips are moving. And he must bear a substantial degree of responsibility for that himself. But whether he stays or goes will be decided by the American public. They knew he was Slick Willie when they elected him, and were prepared to separate his public and his private life. Now they have to decide if he can be trusted. But by over-reaching himself, Mr Starr has thrown him a lifeline. If Mr Clinton survives it will be because Mr Starr published, and was damned.