A Starr-Crossed Term?

Even with a double-digit lead in the polls, this is not exactly what the Clintons want to hear: Ken Starr claims to be a happy man. The independent counsel investigating Whitewater announced this month that the grand jury has been making "'very substantial'' progress in its probe. Starr and his team of two dozen lawyers have spent more than $17 million since launching the ever-growing investigation in August, 1994. His latest lead: testimony from a former White House aide regarding the White House travel office firings and the FBI files flap. Combined with the ongoing Paula Jones's sexual harassment suit, it's shaping up to be a busy post-election for the Clintons' legal team -- as well as for their spin doctors. "'If Newt Gingrich and his Republicans try to rehash these tired old political disputes,'' says White House spokesman Mark Fabiani, "'they will prove once and for all that they don't have the ideas to match the president's agenda.'' Still, any second term would have to confront some possibly damaging probes. A guide to the current Starr portfolio.

Criminal charges against the president remain an extremely remote possibility and would probably be challenged as unconstitutional because it might impinge on the Senate's exclusive right to impeach. But Mrs. Clinton remains potentially vulnerable. Last month, the FDIC's inspector general concluded that Mrs. Clinton drafted a legal document connected with an Arkansas real estate project known as Castle Grande. The brief, the FDIC said, was intended to "deceive" federal regulators in 1986 and direct $300,000 in questionable commissions to one of Jim McDougal's associates -- and Mrs. Clinton has testified that she could not recall doing any legal work connected with Castle Grande. This makes McDougal, a former Clinton business partner, a wild card. Convicted of 19 counts in the first Whitewater-related trial last January, he is considering talking to Starr.

Presidential aides insist there is no evidence this was anything but a "'bureaucratic snafu,'' but the recent sworn testimony of former aide Mari Anderson could be trouble. Anderson testified that she told Craig Livingstone, the ex-bar bouncer who headed the White House security office, and his sidekick, Anthony Marceca, that they were improperly collecting more than 900 FBI files, including those of prominent Republicans. They brushed her off and even "'joked'' about it, she says. There's also a mysterious six-month gap in the security office logs that could show if anybody at the White House was reading the files. And who hired Livingstone? The contemporaneous notes of a former FBI agent from 1993 suggest he was told by then White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum that Hillary Clinton wanted Livingstone in the security office. Nussbaum and Mrs. Clinton have vigorously denied that, but Starr is very much on the case.

Early next year, the Supreme Court is expected to consider the president's argument that the ex-Arkansas state employee's 1991 sexual harassment suit be postponed until he leaves the White House. Most court observers believe Clinton won't win before the Court on his broad claim of immunity while in office, but the justices aren't likely to allow a sitting president to be embarrassed by sexual misconduct allegations aired in open court. One possible compromise: Jones's lawyers will be permitted to proceed with "'discovery'' -- in other words, take depositions and seek documents -- but the trial would be put off until a second term ends in 2001.

The firing of seven employees of the White House travel office in May, 1993, may seem like an ancient event, but Starr has yet to close the book. Just last week, a House committee asked the special prosecutor to investigate "'vague and often conflicting testimony'' by seven key witnesses. Among them was former chief of staff Thomas F. "'Mack'' McLarty, who denied that Mrs. Clinton pressured him to fire the travel office despite his contemporaneous notes reading: "'HRC pressure.'' She first told congressional investigators that she played "'no role'' in the firings. Now Starr is looking into whether the First Lady made false statements to Congress, although most legal experts say that would prove a tough case to bring. In fact, any of Starr's potential prosecutions would be difficult to win -- but could still roil a Clinton White House.

A Starr-Crossed Term? | News