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Commentary | COLUMN LEFT / ROBERT SCHEER

Independent Counsel With Dependencies

Starr has ignored some glaring conflicts during his four-year, $40-million investigation.

April 21, 1998|ROBERT SCHEER | Robert Scheer is a Times contributing editor. E-mail: rscheer@aol.com

Who does Kenneth Starr think he's kidding? His case against the president has been tainted by allegations relating to billionaire right-winger Richard Mellon Scaife, and we are now supposed to be impressed that Starr is not going on a Scaife-funded university payroll any time soon.

Why did it take Starr 14 long and embarrassing months to apparently realize that two deanships at Pepperdine lavishly supported by a man who poured millions into attacking the president might suggest a conflict of interest?

Starr's connections to the right wing that has been out to destroy Clinton are extensive and long-standing. But the possibility of a disqualifying conflict was raised most sharply last week in a Justice Department letter urging Starr to investigate allegations that his key Whitewater witness may have been compromised.

The allegation is that money from a $2.4-million "Arkansas Project" to denigrate Clinton, funded with tax-deductible dollars from Scaife's foundations, may have made its way into the pockets of convicted felon David Hale, the only witness Starr can produce to link Clinton to Whitewater.

The Justice Department stated that if Starr has a conflict of interest, he should turn this aspect of his investigation back to the U.S. Attorney's office. Starr has continued to deny any such conflict, but consider these facts:

* The Arkansas Project millions were funneled through the ultra-right American Spectator magazine, whose attorney and board member, Theodore B. Olson, who also represented Hale, is a close friend and former law partner of Starr. It was the American Spectator that published the lurid "troopergate" story that gave rise to the Paula Jones lawsuit. Starr offered to write a friend of the court brief supporting Jones' case before being appointed special prosecutor. The story's author, David Brock, recently recanted the article, which he said was based on sleazy sources.

* Starr had to know that Hale was hanging out with Parker Dozhier, the self-described local "eyes and ears," on the payroll of the American Spectator; Hale was being guarded by FBI agents, who reported to Starr on his witness' frequent visits to a fishing cabin owned by Dozhier, where Hale met with the two leaders of the Arizona project. Dozhier's former girlfriend and bookkeeper, Caryn Mann, and her son told reporters and the FBI last month that Dozhier passed money to Hale.

* While denying the cash payments to Hale, American Spectator publisher Terry Eastland, who described himself on "Crossfire" as far back as 1994 as "a friend of Starr," recently admitted that the magazine paid Dozhier $48,000.

Starr, in refusing to turn the case back to the Justice Department, claimed last week that he did not have a conflict of interest because the favors allegedly extended by Dozhier to Hale occurred before he took over the case. But that claim was undermined when Caryn Mann produced auto insurance receipts dated in 1995 showing that Hale's wife was added then as an owner of the three cars belonging to Dozhier.

* Ronald Burr, publisher of the American Spectator for 30 years, was suddenly dismissed late last year amid reports that he became suspicious of how the Scaife money was being used and demanded an outside audit. Instead, Starr's friend and former law partner, Olson, a director of the American Spectator Educational Foundation that owns the magazine, conducted an internal audit. Olson claims he found no evidence that money from the magazine corrupted Hale, Starr's key witness.

Isn't it the least bit questionable that this audit was conducted by the attorney, Olson, who represented Hale in 1995 and 1996 in his dealings with congressional committees investigating Whitewater? Has Starr never asked his friend Olson how Hale, who declared he was destitute, managed to afford one of Washington's highest priced lawyers? These are the questions that Starr claims he can pursue in an unbiased fashion.

Can Starr be trusted now to subject Burr, Olson and his other friend Eastland, who replaced Burr as publisher, with the same sharp scrutiny that he has applied to a wide array of individuals who might undermine the president?

That is hardly likely, given that all of the conflicts mentioned above went unnoticed by the independent counsel during his four-year, $40-million investigation. Clearly when it comes to investigating the anti-Clinton machinations of the ultra-right, there is nothing independent about Kenneth Starr.

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