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MARGARET WARNER: For more on Starr’s decision and the status of his Whitewater probe we turn now to Glenn Simpson, a correspondent with the Wall Street Journal. Welcome. First, what has Ken Starr said publicly about the apparent decision to step down and what it means?
GLENN SIMPSON, Wall Street Journal: He’s given a very vague and elliptical comment that the investigation will go on for some time which doesn’t really mean much. I mean, it was always assumed to be going on for some time, and even if it goes on at a low level, it will continue for some time.
MARGARET WARNER: Now every–all the news accounts seem to be assuming that the fact he’s taking this job means he will step down as special prosecutor. Has he confirmed that?
GLENN SIMPSON: He has not. The college officials do say that he has indicated to them that he plans to leave his position as independent counsel. One of the confusing things about this–and there are many–is that Mr. Starr has taken the position in the past that his independent counsel doesn’t preclude him from doing other things.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, the newspapers were also filled with quotes this morning from anonymous White House officials saying they saw this as good news. Do they have grounds for thinking so?
GLENN SIMPSON: Well, I think it’s not unfair speculation but there was a morning after effect today where they began to realize that they don’t really understand Ken Starr, and he’s done a lot of things that they don’t understand, and, thus, maybe it’s not very safe to assume that he’s decided not to bring charges against the President or First Lady.
MARGARET WARNER: What was–you said there was a lot of speculation–the speculation by the White House officials was what?
GLENN SIMPSON: Correct. I mean, this is certainly fair speculation. It’s very widespread in Washington among people who are close to this case, which is that a serious prosecutor, a serious person like Ken Starr would never leave his position after–shortly after seeking to charge the President of the United States or the First Lady of the United States with a crime.
MARGARET WARNER: Now the news of this also came out in a rather odd way.
GLENN SIMPSON: It did, very odd. I mean, it came out on a holiday Monday. It was announced by Pepperdine University. There was no comment official from the independent counsel’s office, which struck many people as strange and suggested that maybe it wasn’t planned very well, or planned at all.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, what is known, as opposed to speculated, about how close Ken Starr is to completing his investigation?
GLENN SIMPSON: Well, it is known that they have prepared a large dossier.
MARGARET WARNER: They being what, the staff?
GLENN SIMPSON: The independent counsel’s staff, the group of prosecutors in Little Rock, in Washington, to weigh a decision about whether charges are justified against the President and First Lady or others. But that doesn’t mean that they’re on the brink of a decision. It means that they’re basically finished gathering most of their evidence on some of the critical events that are at the center of the inquiry, whether there was fraud involving some government loans in the 1980′s, whether Mrs. Clinton’s legal work related to any of that.
MARGARET WARNER: And is Ken Starr correct in saying that–I mean, even if he were to leave, if the investigation isn’t over, then it does continue, correct?
GLENN SIMPSON: Yes, but if it were to continue on a major level, it would require a federal appeals court panel to appoint an entirely new independent counsel. And the feeling is, if there is, in fact, a serious possibility of charges at the top level of the United States Government, it would be professional suicide, as one lawyer close to the President put it, for Ken Starr to leave at this time. And that is what, you know, continues to be the thinking in the President’s camp is that, you know, it really would be almost unthinkable for Ken Starr to leave if he was planning to go ahead with some charges.
MARGARET WARNER: But you’re saying at the same time some people in the White House are saying, but we never have understood Ken Starr.
GLENN SIMPSON: Right. They’re saying, wait a minute, here’s a guy who during the middle of the election campaign gave a speech to Pat Robertson’s university, which some people saw as an incredibly partisan event. James Carville, who is usually not at a loss for an opinion, admitted that he thought this was “weird” and something that was confusing.
MARGARET WARNER: James Carville being the former Clinton aide–
GLENN SIMPSON: Correct.
MARGARET WARNER: –who has made something of a cause celebre of impugning Ken Starr’s motives.
GLENN SIMPSON: Who is a major supporter of the President, has been on the attack against Ken Starr recently, and is now admitting he’s confused.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, give us an update on actually what Kenneth Starr has achieved so far and start by just telling us what has been really the scope of his investigation and in this two and a half years, has that expanded?
GLENN SIMPSON: Well, it has expanded at almost every turn. You know, originally it was centered on a failed real estate deal in Arkansas that began way back in the 70′s in a connected collapse of a savings and loan.
It has expanded all along to include allegations that there were some sort of a cover-up by the Clinton administration when they came to Washington, and then there was a series of succeeding events involving the White House Travel Office, and whether Mrs. Clinton, you know, was involved in firing some of these employees. And it seems as if, you know, every controversy in Washington added to Ken Starr’s mandate.
He has achieved convictions of several current former high officials in Washington, as well as in Arkansas, including the governor of Arkansas, the former associate attorney general Webster Hubbell here in Washington. He has convicted the President’s business partner, James McDougal, and now Mr. McDougal has changed his story and is allegedly implicating the President in a fraudulent loan. So I mean, he has achieved a fair amount, but it’s sort of hard to see where it goes from here because there’s not–
MARGARET WARNER: Well, let me ask you this. Now the President and First Lady, though they’ve been questioned by Kenneth Starr, they’ve never been officially a target of this investigation, is that right?
GLENN SIMPSON: That’s–that is what we understand to be the case. On an almost weekly basis people make inquiries with the White House about whether Mr. or Mrs. Clinton has received a so-called “target letter,” and there has never been a positive response to that. And we don’t think that, you know, if they had received one that they would deny it.
MARGARET WARNER: And then very briefly in the time we have left, you mentioned that James McDougal is now cooperating with Starr’s office. His wife, his former wife is not. What could that add? Why did Kenneth Starr want to talk to the McDougals?
GLENN SIMPSON: Well, he wanted to hear their story simply to hear what he thought was their true story about what happened back in Arkansas so long ago. The question is other than sort of satisfying prosecutorial curiosity in determining what the real facts are and using that for leads, it’s not worth a whole lot, given the fact that James McDougal has already gone up on the stand, defended the President of the United States and been convicted, himself, of a fraud. So it’s very difficult to see how much closer that gets you to bringing charges.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, Glenn Simpson, thanks very much.
GLENN SIMPSON: Thanks, Margaret.