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Jewish World Review March 8, 2002 / 24 Adar, 5762

Sean Carter

Sean Carter
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Consumer Reports


More than a day late, but definitely not a dollar short


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- THERE are some people who are late for everything. I am one of those people. I have shown up late to graduations, funerals and even weddings. In fact, I was late to my own wedding.

However, even I was shocked when Independent Counsel Robert Ray recently released his final report on the Monica Lewinsky scandal. This report was released almost 3 1/2 years after the infamous Starr Report. Over this period, the American people, with the possible exceptions of conservative talk show hosts and Hillary Clinton, have long ago turned their attention to more pressing matters, like who will win Best Cinematographer at this year's Academy Awards.

Seriously, I thought we had put this matter to rest last January. Just before Clinton looted (oops, I mean "left") the White House, he entered into a plea agreement to avoid criminal prosecution.

In any other legal proceeding, this would have been the end of the matter and the investigation would have been closed. However, Independent Counsel investigations are more difficult to close than Roseanne's mouth. Before the Independent Counsel can shut down an investigation, he is required to submit a report "setting forth fully and completely a description of the work of the independent counsel, including the disposition of all cases brought."

Unless you are a lawyer, you probably read the last sentence and said to yourself, "That doesn't seem so hard. Surely, such a task wouldn't take more than a few months." This kind of thinking is typical amongst people who are not trained to read critically, think analytically or charge by the hour.

For a lawyer, the final report requirement reads something like this: "Turn on the hourly clock meter and let that baby roll!" Of course, prudent journalism, professional restraint and most importantly, the libel laws prevent me from accusing Ray of doing just that butů.

In March 2001, the Office of the Independent Counsel prepared a report estimating that it would cost another $3.5 million to shut down the operation and prepare the final report. This would have brought the total of the entire Whitewater investigation to a whopping $68.5 million.

However, preparation of the final report took 6 months longer than originally estimated, so I think it is safe to assume that the total cost of Whitewater exceeded $70 million.

Of course, in the context of our annual federal expenditures, $70 million is insignificant. And since we've already paid for the report, we might as well see what is in it.

Let me first warn you that the Ray Report is not nearly as exciting as its predecessor, the Starr Report. Although in fairness, it would be very difficult to top the Starr Report.

The Starr Report was much like reading one of those letters in the back of an adult magazine, except that the Starr Report was even more unlikely. In fact, while reading the report in 1998, I remember thinking to myself, "Who writes this stuff? Am I supposed to believe this? Oh yeah, right!"

NOTE TO MY WIFE: This example was simply for illustrative purposes. I would never bring that type of material into our home. And even if I did, I wouldn't hide it in the back of the closet in that box labeled "My Private Stuff - Keep Out!"

Nevertheless, the Ray Report does come to some interesting conclusions. In the report, Ray concludes that he had sufficient evidence to prosecute Clinton for "impeding the administration of justice." Moreover, Ray concludes that this evidence would "probably be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction."

The report then goes on to justify the decision to not seek criminal prosecution against Clinton. Citing the Principles of Federal Prosecution, Ray explains that he choose not to prosecute Clinton because sufficiently harsh non-criminal penalties were imposed upon him.

In the January 2001 plea agreement, Clinton admitted to giving false testimony, agreed to a five-year suspension of his law license in Arkansas, paid $115,000 in fines and settled his case with Paula Jones for $850,000. Ray contends that this was adequate punishment for Clinton but I'm not so sure.

For one, Clinton's admission was not exactly earth shattering. Most Americans knew he was lying all along. We may have disagreed about whether it was an impeachable offense or not but we knew that he had "sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky."

Second, Clinton did not suffer from being barred from practicing law in Arkansas.

For one, Clinton has not practiced law since 1983 and his most recent legal experience involved his own impeachment. Obviously, he wasn't going to build a very thriving practice in that area.

Of course, Clinton is very experienced in the area of sexual harassment lawsuits. However, his patented defenses -- "But the economy is good," "I need to get back to the business of the country," and "It's a vast right-wing conspiracy" -- probably wouldn't work too well for the mailroom clerk accused of groping female employees in the cafeteria.

Lastly, the fines and settlements paid by Clinton (or rather his supporters) were insignificant. Bill and Hillary were able to steal enough out of the White House linen closets to make up for those amounts.

Nevertheless, I am glad that Ray decided to forego prosecution of Clinton. Despite his assertions to the contrary, Ray had a better chance of being named the starting point guard of the Harlem Globetrotters than winning a conviction against Clinton. This would be particularly true if the case was tried in Washington "We Elected Marion Barry Twice" D.C.

More importantly, if it took 14 months and $5 million to write a simple report, I can only imagine how expensive and time-consuming it would have been to conduct a criminal prosecution. And although another $100 million or so wouldn't break this country, I can think of several better uses for the money, such as education, health care and bail money for pampered children of the powerful.



Sean Carter is a practicing attorney, stand-up comedian and humor writer. Comment by clicking here.

Up

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© 2002, Sean Carter