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Starr Yields Probe to Top Aide

By Bill Miller

Kenneth W. Starr officially relinquished control of his five-year investigation into President Clinton Monday, passing the baton to a top assistant, Robert W. Ray.

Starr submitted his resignation to the three-judge panel that had appointed him, ending a tenure that generated 14 criminal convictions, the impeachment and acquittal of the president, and a cascade of criticism from Democrats. In his resignation letter, Starr complained about “the intense politicization of the independent counsel process.”

“To reduce the unfortunate personalization of the process, in particular in the wake of the inherently divisive impeachment proceedings, the wiser course, I believe, is for another individual to head the organization,” he wrote.

Starr, who has talked of returning to his private law practice for months, initially had asked the Justice Department to take over any issues remaining from his probes. But the Justice Department declined to do so, and Starr began pushing for the appointment of one of his top deputies to succeed him. Although Congress allowed the independent counsel statute to expire last summer, those investigations already under way were permitted to continue.

Ray, 39, vowed to “live up to the finest traditions of what it means to be a professional prosecutor” and carry out his duties in a “prompt, responsible and cost-effective manner.” Ray joined Starr’s office in April, after a four-year stint working on independent counsel Donald Smaltz’s investigation of former agriculture secretary Mike Espy, who was acquitted of corruption charges last December.

Starr, whose investigations have cost more than $47 million, leaves Ray with some critical unfinished business. Ray also will oversee the preparation of a final report summing up the office’s many investigations, which cover activities dating to the Clintons’ days in Arkansas. Depending upon its timing and content, the report could emerge as an issue in next year’s presidential race or in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s anticipated Senate campaign.

Starr referred to the judicial disagreement in an interview with CNN Monday, declaring that allegations that he had been overzealous were “bogus, totally made up, without foundation.”

“My job was to carry out the assignment given to me. And that’s exactly the point of the politicization,” Starr said. “Even the judges have found themselves embroiled in the politics of this process.”