Give It Away, Ken

Aug. 5 1998 3:30 AM

Give It Away, Ken

Why Ken Starr should tell the president the DNA results.

Soul-searching is always a great story (as long as it's someone else's soul). So those in the media who assume he did it--that is, all of us--agree that between now and Aug. 17, Clinton had better do some. He must, as the phrase goes, test his own character: Am I going to be a sleazy liar forever? Or will I finally tell the truth even if it hurts?

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But I am beginning to think the real character test in the next few weeks is not for Clinton but for Kenneth Starr: What kind of prosecutor am I? This question can be asked in a more direct, more pragmatic way: Will Starr tell Clinton the results of the DNA tests before he testifies?

David Plotz David Plotz

David Plotz is Slate's editor at large. He's the author of The Genius Factory and Good Book.

You can get a headache trying to game all Starr's possible DNA-test tactics. Consider a few:

Initial test shows DNA, Starr asks Clinton for blood sample, doesn't reveal results.

Initial test shows DNA, Starr doesn't ask for blood sample, hopes to trick Clinton into thinking he's in the clear.

Initial test shows no DNA, Starr doesn't say anything, hopes Clinton will assume he's pursuing Option B, etc.

But for the sake of argument, let's assume FBI tests show there is DNA on the dress: Should Starr tell the president this before Aug. 17?

Prosecutorial wisdom shouts: Of course not! Starr has been working this case for years, and he has the chance to hook the biggest fish in the biggest pond. Why on earth would he give away precious information that might help Clinton wriggle free? Starr, needless to say, has no obligation to show the evidence to Clinton. Prosecutors may reveal sensitive evidence to a witness they are trying to protect (i.e., if a witness who is helping you might perjure himself in front of a grand jury, you tell him information so he won't lie). Prosecutors do not reveal sensitive evidence to those they are trying to prosecute. Why treat Clinton differently?

(The president, of course, is not a regular target of investigation, because a regular target would never testify in front of a grand jury if he had something to hide. The president, because it's politically impossible, can't take the Fifth. It seems unfair to trap him in a lie that he would never have had to tell if he were a regular citizen.)

Starr's setup may be a perjury trap, but that does not necessarily mean it's unfair. Imagine Starr doesn't tell Clinton about a positive test result. The president, of course, ought to tell the truth, but Clinton being Clinton, he might not. (The White House so far is adamant that Clinton is sticking to his denial.) He might brazen it out by lying to the grand jury. The dress and Monica's story would nail him, an open-and-shut perjury case. By the prosecutor's code, Clinton has hanged himself.