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By David J. Cieslak
Arizona Daily Wildcat
March 31, 1998

Watergate speaker defends independent prosecutor statute


Leigh-Anne Brown
Arizona Daily Wildcat

Former Watergate special counsel Henry Ruth speaks to a group of students from the Political Science Department. Ruth spoke about the pros and cons of the special prosecutor position and Kenneth Starr's investigations of President Clinton.

A former Watergate special counsel yesterday defended a 1978 statute that created the independent prosecutor position now held by Kenneth Starr, but outlined some key problems with the investigation of President Clinton's financial affairs.

"Independent counsels will sometimes do things beyond normal policy," said Tucson resident Henry Ruth, who helped write the independent counsel statute.

"A Justice Department prosecutor would not ask a mother to come in and talk about her daughter's sex life," Ruth added, referring to Starr's subpoena of former White House intern Monica Lewinsky's mother.

Ruth cited several examples of Starr's highly criticized maneuvers in the Whitewater investigation, activities which gave Starr a low approval rating in recent polls.

"We have an independent counsel asking Secret Service officers if they happened to hear what Clinton said to Monica Lewinsky," he said.

Ruth spoke to about 25 people in the Social Sciences building as a guest of the Political Science Department and Pi Sigma Alpha, a national political science honorary.

Political science Professor Brad Jones said Ruth's points were on target, but he was disappointed with a downslide in the American public's opinion of politics.

"It (the Clinton scandal) perpetuates the dislike of politics," Jones said. "Public opinion also tends not to support Starr's investigation, but it will continue."

Ruth said details of four of the 18 investigations since the act was passed have been kept under wraps.

While Ruth said that type of confidentiality can perpetuate justice, he took issue with recent, unnecessarily secretive behavior.

"You've seen the amount of secrecy in the independent counsel investigations in the last 10 years, and something's out of control in that respect," Ruth said.

While he criticized some aspects of the act, Ruth called for its renewal by Congress when it automatically terminates on June 30, 1999.

Ruth said the act allows for Justice Department officials with political motives and personal connections to be excluded from investigations.

"I can't imagine investigating a close friend, and that's what an attorney general is faced with," Ruth said.

But Ruth maintained that politics play a part in the process of choosing the prosecutor, a point that almost led to eliminating the act when its constitutionality was challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court ruled 7-1 that the act was constitutional, but Ruth said the lone opposing justice may have predicted factors that occurred in the appointment of Kenneth Starr.

"(Justice Anthony) Scalia predicted the three-judge court, being appointees, would be political," Ruth said, referring to the system by which independent counsels are appointed. "He's probably sitting back and smiling about all of this."

Ruth said that without the act, many of the individuals Starr needs to perform a thorough investigation would be impossible to acquire, and many cases would fall by the wayside.

But Ruth was quick to point out that extra resources, like Starr has access to, sometimes mean a waste of time and money.

"They're really beating it to death - now more than ever," Ruth said. "Sometimes you got to stop."

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