URGENT Judges Replace Fiske As Head of Whitewater Probe
WASHINGTON (AP) _ In a stunning move, a three-judge panel today appointed former federal judge and solicitor general Kenneth W. Starr to take over the Whitewater investigation as an independent counsel. He will replace Robert B. Fiske.
A special three-judge panel said it intended no criticism of Fiske, who has been investigating Whitewater since Jan. 20, when Attorney General Janet Reno appointed him a special counsel.
″It is not our intent to impugn the integrity of the attorney general’s appointee, but rather to reflect the intent of the act that the actor be protected against perceptions of conflict,″ the judges wrote in a four-page order.
Starr, 47, is now a private attorney in Washington. He was solicitor general during the Bush administration and sat on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington.
The independent counsel law was re-enacted earlier this year. In early July, Reno recommended that the special three-judge court empowered to name independent counsels stick with Fiske. But several Republican members of Congress had written the judges questioning Fiske’s independence.
Fiske’s office has been investigating Whitewater for more than six months, with an office of about a dozen lawyers. Some 20 FBI agents have been assisting the investigation, sources familiar with the probe have said.
Fiske spent $1 million in the first three months of his investigation, and the estimated cost through September is $2.6 million.
John Bryck, a legal assistant in Fiske’s office in Little Rock, Ark., said the office had no immediate comment. Bryck said he understood an order had been issued by the court, but that the office had not seen it yet.
Fiske had brought one indictment in Little Rock, Ark., in a related financial transaction.
Fiske also had ruled that deputy White House counsel Vincent Foster committed suicide, and had cleared White House and Treasury aides of any criminality in discussing a case involving an Arkansas savings and loan owned by a man who was partner with President and Mrs. Clinton in the Whitewater land development effort.
The judges said they had reviewed Reno’s request that they name Fiske and ″determined that this would not be consistent with the purposes of the act.″
″This reflects no conclusion on the part of the court that Fiske lacks either the actual independence or any other attribute necessary to the conclusion of the investigation,″ the judges wrote. ″Rather, the court reaches this conclusion because the act contemplates an apparent as well as an actual independence on the part of the counsel ....
″As Fiske was appointed by the incumbent administration, the court therefore deems it in the best interest of the appearance of independence contemplated by the act that a person not affiliated with the incumbent administration be appointed.″
Reno herself had almost predicted such a development. She resisted Republicans demands last year to name a special counsel, arguing at the time that no one she named would be perceived as truly independent.
But she relented when then White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum asked her on Jan. 12 to name a special counsel. Her choice of Fiske, a Republican and former federal prosecutor in New York, was initially hailed by members of both parties.
The court gave Starr ″full power, independent authority and jurisdiction″ to investigate any federal criminal violations, other than misdemeanors which are not covered by the act, ″relating in any way to James B. McDougal’s, President William Jefferson Clinton’s or Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s relationships with Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan Association, Whitewater Development Corp. or Capital Management Services, Inc.″
Starr also is empowered to investigate other allegations or evidence of criminal violations ″developed during the independent counsel’s investigation″ or arising out of it.