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Jewish World Review / June 3, 1998 / 9 Sivan, 5758

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell Can stalling backfire?

THUS FAR, SPECIAL PROSECUTOR KENNETH STARR has been batting a thousand in the courts, while the Clinton administration has been batting a thousand in the media and in public opinion polls. Ultimately, however, the outcome of this whole investigation of the president could depend on timing.

In asserting all sorts of privileges to prevent people from testifying, the White House has bought time, even while losing the legal battles. Meanwhile, they and their media allies have been able to mount a campaign demanding that Kenneth Starr bring the investigation to a close. Obviously, the ideal ending for the Clintons would be for Starr to bow to public pressure and close down the case before he can get the evidence he needs.

Starr, however, shows no signs of caving. He is, however, trying to speed up the legal process by asking the Supreme Court to make a special ruling on the lawyer-client privilege, without waiting for the issue to go through the normal channels of the Circuit Court of Appeals. Meanwhile, White House lawyers are saying that there is no need for that.

In short, both sides are acting as if time is on the president's side and delay helps him. But that may not be true.

Ultimately, the special prosecutor is going to have to take his case into court or into Congress, or both. But when he does it can be crucial.

If Starr takes his case to Congress before the November elections, the Democrats will have little choice but to support the president, unless the case has the kind of iron-clad "smoking gun" evidence that no one expects. The Congressional Democrats' own re-elections are at risk if Clinton gets discredited before November.

On the Republican side, anything less than an open-and-shut case against Clinton has the risk of making any impeachment proceedings look like nothing more than election-year partisan politics. This is a can of worms that few Republicans want opened.

With the Democrats in Congress virtually forced to support Clinton and the Republicans reluctant to take him on, impeachment hearings not only look like they have little chance of succeeding in unseating the president. They may not even succeed in discrediting him politically, if the White House spin-masters and their media allies can portray it all as just a political vendetta by Republicans.

But all of that changes after November.

Once they have been re-elected, Congressional Democrats are no longer forced to defend Clinton in order to defend themselves. They can then become "statesmen" and go wherever the evidence leads them. Clinton has done little to inspire loyalty and some Democrats see him as having double-crossed them in the past.

After the November elections, the Republicans may regain some of their nerve, now that impeachment hearings will not be so easy to portray as just election-year politics.

Stalling works if Starr can be pressured into finishing his investigation before getting all the evidence he needs. But if the stalling takes this case past November, then the tide can turn against Clinton politically, as much as it has gone against him legally.

Some are saying that the special prosecutor could issue a preliminary report to Congress this summer and then later make a full report after all the legal issues have been resolved and all his evidence has been gathered. This might well be an ideal scenario for Bill Clinton, but not for Kenneth Starr.

A weak or unfinished case virtually guarantees that the Democrats in Congress will circle the wagons around Clinton. Once they and the media have succeeded in making this look like a partisan witch-hunt, no later evidence is likely to change that.

The Democrats will be locked into their positions and the Republicans will be playing catch-up. On the Congressional front, the special prosecutor's best bet may be to hold his fire till he has all his ammunition ready and gets close enough to Clinton to see the whites of his eyes.

In the courts, even a strong case against the president is unlikely to be resolved before the November elections. If the Clinton administration has its way with stalling, a case may not even be able to get under way before the elections. That could be their undoing, however.

There is no question that stalling has been the Clintons' best strategy thus far. But it may no longer be after November.

5/29/98: The insulation of the Left
5/25/98: Missing the point in the media
5/22/98: The lessons of Indonesia
5/20/98: Smart but silent
5/18/98: Israel, Clinton and character
5/14/98: Monica Lewinsky's choices
5/11/98: Random thoughts
5/7/98: Media obstruction of justice
5/4/98: Dangerous "safety"
5/1/98: Abolish Adolescence!
4/30/98: The naked truth
4/22/98: Playing fair and square
4/19/98: Bad teachers"
4/15/98: "Clinton in Africa "
4/13/98: "Bundling and unbundling "
4/9/98: "Rising or falling Starr "
4/6/98: "Was Clinton ‘vindicated'? "
3/26/98: "Diasters -- natural and political"
3/24/98: "A pattern of behavior"
3/22/98: Innocent explanations
3/19/98: Kathleen Willey and Anita Hill
3/17/98: Search and destroy
3/12/98: Media Circus versus Justice
3/6/98: Vindication
3/3/98: Cheap Shot Time
2/26/98: The Wrong Filter
2/24/98: Trial by Media
2/20/98: Dancing Around the Realities
2/19/98: A "Do Something" War?
2/12/98: Julian Simon, combatant in a 200-year war
2/6/98: A rush to rhetoric

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.