Ken Starr To Call It Quits

A 39-year-old assistant to Kenneth Starr will take over the final phase of the independent counsel's controversial investigation that led to the impeachment of President Clinton, according to sources familiar with Starr's plans.

Starr will formally step aside next week and be replaced by Robert Ray, an assistant U.S. attorney who worked for the independent counsel who investigated ex-Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy, another Clinton appointee, reports CBS News White House Correspondent Bill Plante.

A panel of three federal appeals court judges that selects independent counsels chose Ray after interviewing a number of people inside Starr's office as possible successors. The judges told the prosecutor's office of their plans this week, said the sources, speaking on condition of anonymity.

That cleared the way for Starr, who has hinted for months his desire to step down, to return to private law practice.

Starr's office declined to comment Thursday night.

Ray will try to wrap up an investigation that has ranged from allegedly fraudulent land deals in Arkansas to impeachment charges of presidential perjury and obstruction of justice in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Though he is relatively young, Ray has extensive experience as a prosecutor. He was an assistant U.S. attorney in the southern district of New York starting in 1989, supervising and participating in a number of public corruption and organized crime prosecutions.

He went to work for Independent Counsel Donald Smaltz's office in 1995, winning convictions against a Tyson Foods executive and a Tyson lobbyist in the probe of illegal gifts to Espy.

Starr's office has two pending investigative matters:

  • An alleged attempt to influence the testimony of presidential accuser Kathleen Willey.
  • Possible false statements regarding Hillary Rodham Clinton's role in the purge of White House travel office employees.
In addition, Starr's successor must produce a final report on the Whitewater scandal - a document that could prove to be a political headache for the first lady if she follows through on plans to run next year for a U.S. Senate seat from New York.

During Starr's tenure, his office convicted 14 people, including the Clintons' Whitewater business partners, Jim and Susan McDougal, then-Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker, who resigned his office, and former associate attorney general Webster Hubbell, the first lady's former law partner.

Starr's investigation of the Lewinsky scandal - the president's affair and subsequent cover-up - led to the first presidential impeachment since 1868.

But Starr's long tenure was marred by questions over whether he conducted his investigation properly.

The starting point for the Clinton White House's public war with Starr's office was January 1996 when the prosecutor subpoenaed Mrs. Clinton before a federal grand jury to explain how her long-sought law firm billing records had mysteriously rsurfaced inside the White House family residence.

Questions about the first lady focus on her legal work on the Castle Grande real estate venture in Arkansas co-owned by Jim McDougal, and businessman Seth Ward, Hubbell's father-in-law.

Federal regulators concluded Castle Grande was riddled with insider transactions and land flips that bank examiners concluded lost money for McDougal's collapsing savings and loan. The Whitewater convictions of the McDougals and Tucker underscored the fraud at Castle Grande.