Another Jury For Clinton

When the news broke within hours of Al Gore's acceptance speech last week, outraged Democrats smelled something rotten in the independent counsel's office: once again, prosecutors seemed to be playing politics with leaks about the Monica Lewinsky case. This time the news was simply that Robert Ray, Kenneth Starr's successor in the still-unfinished investigation, had convened a new grand jury last month. But Democrats in Los Angeles immediately cried foul and Clinton saw the story as evidence of Ray's malicious intent. "He has believed they would have a regular schedule of these leaks," an aide said. "His reaction was along the lines of 'I told you so'."

But the leaker wasn't Ray and the motive, as nearly as anyone could tell, wasn't political. In fact, the story resulted from some quick work by an Associated Press reporter and a bit of indiscretion by a federal appellate judge, Richard D. Cudahy. Cudahy, who was appointed by Jimmy Carter, is a member of the three-judge panel that oversees Ray's office. Last week the panel disclosed that it had voted--unanimously--to extend the life of Ray's investigation for another year. When the AP reporter, Pete Yost, called Cudahy to ask about the decision, Cudahy inadvertently mentioned that Ray had empaneled a new grand jury. Yost filed the story and when the controversy erupted, the judge issued a public statement to confirm his role in the leak and express his "apologies to all concerned."

Ray, on vacation, was summoned back to Washington by a barrage of cell phone calls about the political uproar. "I didn't take this job believing I could avoid controversy," he told NEWSWEEK. But, he added, Clinton's victory during his impeachment trial was a political decision, not a legal judgment on the merits of the case against him. The criminal probe is Ray's task, and it is no secret that he and his staff believe Clinton's conduct in the Lewinsky scandal may include perjury or obstruction of justice. The new grand jury will consider these issues, although Ray said the jurors won't finish their work until after Clinton leaves office.

Meanwhile Ray and his staff are not oblivious to a variety of real-world factors that include the perception of a political persecution and the public's impatience with an investigation many thought was over. One wild card in Ray's decision making is the pending court proceeding in Arkansas to disbar Clinton. If that happens, Ray could decide Clinton has been punished enough.