The Magazine


One Independent Counsel Bashes Another

Sep 14, 1998, Vol. 4, No. 01 • By JAY NORDLINGER
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AS PRESIDENT CLINTON'S DATE with the grand jury approached, Lawrence Walsh was feeling queasy. "My instinct is to shut my eyes," he told a television audience. The Iran-contra prosecutor was hardly known for delicacy when he was pursuing Presidents Reagan and Bush. What had so perturbed him now? "I just think it's very harsh on the country that the president is being subjected to this experience and being distracted from his duties," Walsh explained. All of this trouble, merely "to get into some prolonged interrogation as to a personal indiscretion."

Of Kenneth Starr's multitude of critics, Walsh is among the most severe. From the second that Monica Lewinsky appeared on the scene, Walsh has been at Starr's heels, questioning his judgment, deriding his methods, and accusing him of an unwarranted interest in sex. Does he feel a sense of solidarity with Starr, being one of the few who have occupied that position? "Not really," he answers. Has he ever felt a pang of empathy as he has seen Starr under attack? "Not one bit." Walsh insists to anyone who will listen that Starr has done a gross disservice to Clinton, the presidency, and the office of independent counsel.

On January 21 -- Day One of Monica Madness -- Walsh complained on CNN that Starr was being drawn into matters with "no relationship to [Clinton's] performance as president." Ordinarily, "prosecutors like to stay away from this type of allegation." After all, "activities of this sort have gone on for years and years, and generations and generations," and "people typically lie" about them. Walsh's advice to the president? "Trust the country to be wise enough to disregard [the Lewinsky matter] in the end."

On Day Two, Walsh was on MSNBC, wondering how "after 30-odd million dollars spent investigating Whitewater" Starr wound up "policing the Paula Jones private litigation," which was "beyond his jurisdiction" (though not according to Clinton's own attorney general, Janet Reno). On Day Three, Walsh did double duty, lighting into Starr on Good Morning America and National Public Radio. Starr, he said, "should not be permitted to intrude into an ongoing civil lawsuit, disrupting it and practically sitting at the plaintiff's table." In any event, if all of Washington officialdom "were held to a standard of truthfulness in their private affairs, their private litigation, we'd never be done with it. Congress wouldn't be able to do anything but conduct impeachment proceedings."

Over the next several months, Walsh seldom missed a chance to jab at Starr. The testimony of Secret Service agents? Starr was only "exploiting a publicity opportunity to damage the president politically." Obstruction of justice, perjury, witness tampering? These were mere "pretenses," designed to "embarrass the president for a personal escapade." Allegations that Starr was leaking to the press? "Very disturbing," in need of "clearing up." Walsh was by turns vitriolic and condescending. Prosecution "is a matter of judgment," he averred, and "Judge Starr still has a lot to learn." The Lewinsky probe, he declared, "is harassment of the president," pure and simple.

Walsh's detractors, of course, are aghast that the former independent counsel has appointed himself the quasi-official scold of the current independent counsel. It is Walsh, they say, who abused his office during a six-year investigation that hounded its targets unremittingly. The brief against Walsh? He re-indicted Caspar Weinberger five days before the 1992 election, implicating Bush. He treated relatively minor offenses as though they were capital crimes. He surrounded himself with deputies who were fiercely partisan Democrats. He leaked profligately to the media. And (unlike Starr) he subjected administration officials to withering public rhetoric. Walsh, say his stillriled opponents, is in no position to raise his voice against Starr.