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Good Riddance, Once Again, to Independent Counsel

Marie Cocco. Marie Cocco's e-mail address is cocco@newsday.com

 THANK YOU, Robert Ray, for your invaluable service to the American public.

In the grand tradition of your predecessor, Kenneth Starr, you remind us why we have divested ourselves of the expensive little industry you have made of the so-called independent investigations of President Bill Clinton and his wife, U.S. Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Thanks for letting us know you will finally issue final reports, although nothing will ever be final when it comes to the Clintons. 

The Clinton haters are like Red Sox fans, 
told by history and by the facts that 
no World Series is in their future. 
ha ha

Still, they are eternally hopeful it will all somehow come together in the Big One, which is sure to happen just next year, or the next.

We are glad you intend to issue not one, but four, separate reports on all the dead ends into which you've driven and where you've buried more than $50 million of our money. To issue only one report would add up to a zero so huge the embarrassment would be great. The press corps might well ignore it, since by your unmistakably convenient timing we will all be busy by then covering the imminent presidential and Senate elections. The four-step plan makes more sense. Dribbling out the unproved allegations and insinuations over months provides more opportunity for opposition candidates to keep the attacks coming and coming.

We are grateful you plan to start this week with Filegate, the most serious and easily comprehensible charge leveled at the Clintons. The Nixonian plotline had them ordering up private FBI files on political opponents and somehow - no one ever said how - using them for skulduggery.

We are wondering, though, how many trees must be felled in your effort to expand upon what Starr himself has said on the matter. Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee's impeachment hearings in November, 1998, Starr said the FBI files inquiry turned up no evidence that anyone other than two low-level employees was "in any way" involved in obtaining the files. He said there was no evidence that information from the files had been used improperly.

Since there is little you could reasonably add to this little-noticed exoneration, here's a writer-to- writer tip: Use the report to explain why it has taken these 16 months from the date of Starr's testimony to issue it.

Travelgate, the circumstances surrounding the Clintons' firing of White House travel office workers to replace them with patronage buddies, is also worth a fresh take. Starr, again, provides the inspiration: In his 1998 testimony, he said that "the president was not involved" in the travel office probe and that "we expect to announce any decisions and actions soon." Sixteen months is a long time without a fresh leak heralding the imminent indictment of the first lady. So it is safe to assume the report will be a smear-without-charge. This will take a deft touch, lest you rekindle the leave-her-alone backlash against Hillary Clinton-bashing that helped send Alfonse D'Amato into retirement.

But surely the most eagerly awaited publication is your new treatise on Whitewater, the Rosetta Stone of Clinton conspiracy theorists. The preview provided by your former man, Ray Jahn, at the 1996 trial of former Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker was tantalizing.

The president, prosecutor Jahn declared, was not on trial in the court that explored the knottiest tangles of Whitewater.

"Why isn't he on trial?" Jahn asked. 

"Because he didn't set up any phony corporations 
to get employees to sign for loans that were basically worthless.

He didn't get $300,000 from Capitol Management Services like Jim and Susan McDougal did by falsely claiming their use ... The president didn't backdate any leases. He didn't backdate any documents. He didn't come up with phony reasons not to repay the property. He didn't lie to any examiners, he didn't lie to any investigators." Your report comes four years after this extraordinary exculpation. It better be a page-turner.

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