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Jewish World Review/ Jan. 20, 1999/ 3 Shevat, 5759

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez Ken Starr as Mark Fuhrman?

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) HAVING ALL BUT CONCEDED defeat in their efforts to block witnesses in the impeachment trial, Senate Democrats are now hoping to turn the tables by threatening to call Ken Starr to testify.

"Front and center is going to be Kenneth Starr. ... We're going to put the system of justice on trial," warned Sen. Robert Torrecelli, D-N.J. It's the O.J. Simpson trial redux, with the independent counsel cast as the Mark Fuhrman of the impeachment proceedings. If neither the facts nor the law favor acquittal, put the prosecution on trial -- the tactic is well known to defense lawyers stuck representing guilty clients.

When Simpson's lawyers determined they couldn't win their case by refuting the overwhelming physical evidence against their client, they decided to put the Los Angeles police department on trial. Their most difficult challenge was to explain how the victims' blood ended up on a glove recovered at O.J. Simpson's residence and how a few drops of Simpson's blood were found at the crime scene. If O.J. were indeed innocent, the only way the incriminating blood evidence could have materialized is if it were planted.

In other words, the defense had to make jurors believe a conspiracy existed to frame O.J. Simpson for the murder of his estranged wife and an acquaintance. But Simpson's lawyers needed a motive to make such a case remotely plausible.

The defense decided to put Mark Fuhrman on trial. If they could prove Fuhrman was a racist, they might be able to persuade the jury he planted evidence. As irrelevant as Fuhrman's racism was to O.J.'s guilt or innocence, the tactic nonetheless worked and O.J. walked.

Apparently Democrats hope a similar strategy will allow Bill Clinton to keep his job. They will try to make it appear as if Ken Starr entrapped the president. Democrats would like to change the subject from Bill Clinton's lying under oath and witness tampering to Ken Starr's investigation techniques.

Ever since Clinton loyalist James Carville promised to wage war on the president's opponents, Democrats have tried to destroy Starr. As both Torrecelli and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., have promised, Democrats will try to use their time to attack Starr for prosecutorial abuse.

Of course, the administration already has the power to remove Starr if he has engaged in any wrongdoing -- the attorney general can simply fire him. If there were one iota of evidence that Starr had done anything improper as independent prosecutor, she would have done so by now and saved the country and her president the agony of the last year.

Firing the independent counsel, however, would force the attorney general to offer the three-judge panel that appointed Starr real proof of his alleged misbehavior. Since she lacks such proof, the White House will try Starr by innuendo on the Senate floor instead.

But the strategy could backfire, as it did in the House Judiciary Committee, when Democrats turned the impeachment hearings into an onslaught against the independent counsel. The argument turned off most moderate Republicans and a few conservative Democrats as well. It could be worse in the Senate. While there may never be enough Democrat votes to remove President Clinton from office, a mere four or five Democrat votes for conviction would make it impossible for the White House to claim that the proceedings were simply a partisan witch hunt.

The White House continues to treat impeachment as a public-relations exercise. So long as the polls show the president remains popular, White House lawyers believe they can engage in whatever legal shenanigans they choose to get their client off.

But the U.S. Senate is not the O.J. jury. The White House would be ill-advised to insult the intelligence and integrity of a Robert Byrd, D-W.V., Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., or Bob Kerry, D-Neb. But what these senators most want is an admission by the president that he lied and encouraged others to do so and a strong case by his lawyers that these offenses do not rise to the level of impeachable crimes.

Ken Starr isn't on trial, the president is, and his lawyers had better not try to fudge the difference.


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©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.