Starr to drop two more Clinton cases

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The Independent Online
THE INDEPENDENT counsel investigation by Kenneth Starr, which last year came close to driving President Bill Clinton from office over his affair with Monica Lewinsky, is fizzling out, debilitated by internal divisions and public indifference.

In what is likely to prove one of the last decisions of his tenure - and proof of the investigation's ultimate futility - Mr Starr has made known that he will not seek to retry two cases, at least one of which was once seen as central to his inquiry. The cases are those of Susan McDougal, who was prosecuted for perjury and obstruction of justice after refusing to testify in Mr Starr's investigation of the Whitewater land deal, and Julie Hiatt Steele, who was tried for perjury after giving different versions under oath about what she was told by one of President Clinton's women accusers, the former White House worker Kathleen Willey. Ms Willey accused Mr Clinton of groping her. Mr Clinton denied it.

Ms McDougal, who stood trial in Arkansas last month, was acquitted by the jury on one count of obstructing justice for refusing to testify before a grand jury about the Clintons' financial dealings. Ms McDougal was a partner with the Clintons in the failed Whitewater land venture. A mistrial was declared on two other charges after the jury became deadlocked. The case against Ms Hiatt Steele appeared stronger than that against Ms McDougal, but earlier this month the jury in Virginia also found itself hopelessly deadlocked, and the judge declared a mistrial.

In both instances, Mr Starr had the option of requesting a retrial, but he did not do so by this week's deadline, and the cases are now dropped.

One reason Mr Starr may have decided against reviving the cases is that his own mandate as independent counsel is likely to end next month. Congress must decide whether to renew it but the controversy surrounding the failed impeachment and the treatment of witnesses has brought into disrepute the concept of the independent counsel.

Thus, the post will probably fall into abeyance and Mr Starr is likely to return - with enthusiasm - to his private law firm.

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