Ken Starr's Unintended Legacy

Richard Nixon fired Archibald Cox, a prosecutor who was investigating Watergate, and to make sure that never happened again, Congress wrote the Independent Counsel law.

As the saying goes, it seemed like a good idea at the time: a prosecutor appointed by judges, totally isolated from political pressure to investigate high-level wrongdoing.

The problem was it also created what many saw as a monster -- a government official with unlimited power and money accountable to no one.

The law expires in June and when the senate opened hearings about what to do about it last week, two things were clear: no one believes a current law should be renewed but no one seems quite sure what to put in its place.

Senators looking for a reason to kill the law cite two words: Ken Starr. His $45 million investigation pleased no one.

On the other hand, those who believe some kind of independent prosecutor is necessary could counter with another name: Janet Reno.

Her refusal to launch a serious investigation of campaign finance abuses is a fine example of how administrations cannot always be trusted to investigate themselves.

With no consensus on how to fix it, congress will probably let the law die and leave it to the next congress to find something better.

But it is certain that the independent counsel law as is now written won't survive. Ironically, it is just one more casualty of the Starr investigation.

Reported by Bob Schieffer
©1999, CBS Worldwide Inc., All Rights Reserved
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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