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Kenneth Starr's latest betrayal

If you are whom you hire, Kenneth Starr has some character problems of his own.

For those of us have been Starr-watchers for the last four years, his political sandbagging by Sam Dash was as predictable as his inept conclusions about Vincent Foster, Filegate, Travelgate and Whitewater.

Dash, who came to prominence as counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee, served as Starr’s official “ethics adviser.” What a joke. Jerome Zeifman, the former chief counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during Watergate, recalls that Dash was never a model of ethical purity.

During the Watergate hearings, Zeifman says, Dash had a niece on the payroll of the Senate committee. To avoid embarrassing questions about nepotism, he asked Zeifman if he would mind placing her on the payroll of the House committee.

Zeifman, a man of, pardon the expression, unimpeachable character, assesses Dash as “a person of mediocre ability and little or no imagination” who “exudes an air of insecure superiority that is rather amusing.”

More to the point, Zeifman says in his 17 years as a congressional counsel, he never knew any committee staffer who leaked as much to the press as Sam Dash.

So persuaded is Zeifman that Dash is behind many of the leaks in Starr’s operation, that he calls for his former colleague to be put under oath for questioning. He wonders aloud if Dash is a “double agent.”

I personally think Zeifman is too charitable. There is no question in my mind that Sam Dash went to work for Starr for one reason — so that he could, when needed, pull the rug out from under him. I’m only surprised it took as long as it did.

But Dash is hardly the only double agent hired by Starr for key positions on his staff.

Let’s remember that, early on in his investigation, he hired as his chief deputy heading up the Washington probe, Mark H. Tuohey III. Who is Tuohey? He is a Democratic Party activist with very close ties to former Associate Attorney General Jamie S. Gorelick. In addition, as late as 1994, Tuohey hosted a party for Attorney General Janet Reno in his home.

Since Starr is known as a hands-off manager, Tuohey was given wide berth to conduct the Washington side of the investigations, particularly phase one — the inquest into the death of White House Deputy Counsel Vincent Foster. Tuohey, more than anyone else, helped engineer the departure of U.S. Attorney Miquel Rodriguez, who had launched an aggressive grand jury probe into Foster’s death.

After Rodriguez was gone, it became a fait accompli that, despite all evidence to the contrary, earlier findings that Foster committed suicide in Fort Marcy Park would be rubber stamped by Starr.

We were reminded once again during Starr’s House Judiciary Committee testimony of just how detached he really is from the investigative details of his office. When Rep. Bob Barr asked a simple, straightforward question as to whether his office, with regard to the Filegate investigation, had interviewed White House Chief of Staff Mack McLarty.

Can you imagine that the independent counsel, who essentially clears President Clinton of wrongdoing in Filegate, doesn’t even know if investigators ever questioned the chief of staff during the FBI file scandal? Bob Barr thinks that’s significant. Larry Klayman thinks that’s significant. And so do I.

For years I wondered if Starr was complicit in the cover-ups or whether he was simply incompetent. There really is no other alternative. His betrayal by Sam Dash suggests he may indeed be a decent and honorable man who is, and I’ll be charitable, incredibly naïve politically.

After all, Sam Dash is not just a Democratic Party hack. He is, according to Zeifman, an integral part of the cover-up of official crimes dating back even earlier than Watergate. Dash, as a Watergate counselor, was part of what Zeifman, author of “Without Honor: The Impeachment of Richard Nixon and the Crimes of Camelot,” calls the “Kennedy government-in-exile.” His role, thus, was not the exposure of Nixon crimes so much as the containment of earlier offenses and official misconduct during the Kennedy administration.

Personally, I think Starr would have been much better served by hiring Zeifman as his ethics counselor. But that was not the first bad decision he made, and it sure wasn’t the last.