Whitewater Inquiry Takes a Troubling Detour

Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr’s investigation of possible criminal wrongdoing by Bill Clinton while he was governor of Arkansas appears to have taken a troubling turn.

Prosecutors and FBI agents working for Starr have been questioning Arkansas state troopers about Clinton’s rumored extramarital affairs before he was elected president in 1992. The ostensible reason, John Bates, deputy counsel in the Whitewater inquiry, told the Washington Post, is the “obligation” to acquire information from whatever friends or associates Clinton might have confided in. What this apparently means is that the investigators think, or hope, that in a relaxed moment Clinton might have let slip incriminating statements to one of his women acquaintances.

That strikes us not as a credible, fact-based reason for pursuing a shocking and sordid line of inquiry but as a feeble rationale for a fishing expedition, prying not only into Clinton’s personal affairs but into the private lives of women he may have known years ago.

Joseph diGenova, a former independent counsel, suggests that “what they’re looking for is that at a moment when [Clinton] had his guard down he might have said something out of anger or frustration. It’s somewhat unpleasant but you have to do it.”


Maybe. But in this particular case, involving a man who is now the president in an investigation that carries an unmistakable odor of partisanship, is this line of inquiry really justified? It does not say much about the results of the multimillion-dollar, 3-year-old Whitewater investigation so far if the incriminating evidence Starr seeks might depend on nothing more solid than unsubstantiated pillow talk.

We are not suggesting that there is no basis for what has become the many-faceted Whitewater investigation. Nor do we believe that the Clintons have been as forthcoming as circumstances demand. Certainly the Supreme Court’s action this week upholding a subpoena for notes of Hillary Clinton’s talks with White House lawyers was proper. But for Starr and his investigators to resort now to asking utterly irrelevant questions about Clinton’s alleged sexual affairs smacks almost of desperation.

If nothing else it threatens to set an ugly and undesirable precedent for future investigations. It is a sleazy business, serving the interests of the tabloids rather than those of the law.