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Starr: Take My Job, Please

How's this for a surprise? Ken Starr of all people has decided having independent counsels is a bad idea that ought to be stopped, reports CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer.

"The statute should not be reauthorized," Starr said Wednesday during about 30 minutes of prepared remarks before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. "Jurisdiction and authority over these cases ought to be returned to the Justice Department."

He said the concept is "structurally unsound, constitutionally dubious and, in overstating the degree of institutional independence, disingenuous."

That left one senator in mock surprise that Independent Counsel Starr hadn't closed his office.

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said "I assumed you would come here today and prevail on this committee and say, 'Stop me before I prosecute again.'"

But Starr said you didn't have to agree with a law to enforce it. And he bristled at criticism of how he handled his $40 million, 4 ½ year investigation.

"Many of the issues that have been bruited about the American public and have come to be accepted as fact are calumnies and false. Absolute falsehoods,"he said. "And individuals have gone out of the grand jury and have lied to the American public about what transpired."

The declaration, Starr's first on the subject, brings him into line with Attorney General Janet Reno and some Republicans and Democrats who oppose extending the statute beyond its June 30 expiration because of spiraling costs of investigations, the problem of balancing the prosecutor's independence with accountability and the toll such inquiries wreak on witnesses.

As Starr was testifying, White House press secretary Joe Lockhart told reporters, "It will be interesting to see how he squares his constitutional views with the performance over the last five years."

But CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller reports that the president himself had an even more stark turnaround on the independent counsel issue.

When the president signed the reauthorization of the independent counsel law five years ago, he called it "a force for government integrity and public confidence."

After becoming the target of an independent counsel, Mr. Clinton reversed himself, although he refused to elaborate when asked about it at his news conference last month.

But the president shouldn't breathe easy just yet.

Asked whether he had the jurisdiction to prosecute Mr. Clinton criminally after his term of office expires, Starr answered, "Yes."

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