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Starr Voices Regrets

If he had it to do over again, special counsel Kenneth Starr says he would have let another investigator delve into the messy details surrounding President Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Even though Starr defended his work, he acknowledged that by the time the scandal was uncovered, his investigation of Mr. Clinton for Whitewater had already dragged on for so long that the public was growing weary and suspicious.

"I think in retrospect I made a serious mistake," he told some 550 people at a public forum here Wednesday. "I think it would have been much better for the country for the Lewinsky matter to have been handled by another independent counsel."

Starr also expressed mixed feelings about Mr. Clinton, calling him "gifted and talented" on the one hand, but adding he was disappointed with the president's personal behavior and the fact that Mr. Clinton wasn't truthful with the American public when the affair was first uncovered.

"My real disappointment with our leader was when he took a poll on whether to tell the truth," Starr said.

During his speech, Starr reiterated his opinion that the congressional statute calling for the appointment of special prosecutors should not be renewed.

The 21-year-old law was allowed to lapse in June amid lack of support. Starr said it was born in the post-Watergate era of good intentions but was hopelessly flawed.

"I opposed the statute when I first served in the Justice Department in 1981," he said.

"The statute," he continued, "simply does not work. The Congress was trying in effect to create a separate branch of government."

But he made it clear where he thinks the real blame in a scandal lies -- and it's not with the special counsel.

"I think the real responsibility is on our public officials to be as transparent and honest as possible," he said, "and if there is a problem, to get the problem out there and deal with it."