What's so special about special prosecutors these days? USA Today and the Los Angeles Times lead with Janet Reno's decision to ask that one be appointed to investigate if Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's decision to reject a casino application opposed by major Democratic party contributors had any connection to subsequent donations they made. The New York Times leads with Kenneth Starr's unprecedented subpoenaing of members of President Clinton's Secret Service detail. The Washington Post goes with the revelation that U.N. weapons inspectors have uncovered evidence that in 1995 Russia had agreed to sell Iraq sophisticated equipment that could be used to develop biological weapons. This disclosure, says the WP, puts a new spin on Russia's recent diplomatic efforts to modify the inspection procedures applying to Iraq: perhaps they are designed, not to head off a war, but to keep such mass destruction fingerprints from being lifted.
Our grandchildren may look back at this as the year when the branch of the Cabinet known as Special Prosecutions started on its way to becoming the largest single entity in the federal government (Motto: "The Purpose of Government is to Investigate Government"). USAT and the NYT (in its front-page piece) note this is Reno's fourth request for a special prosecutor looking into a Clinton Cabinet officer and the Times adds it's the sixth one appointed overall during the Clinton administration. The Times goes on to observe that this is the first Clinton-era outside inquiry into political fund-raising. (You'll recall Reno declined to go the special prosecutor route over Clinton-Gore coffees and phone calls.)
The papers all emphasize, however, that Reno's request is "very narrow in scope" (the NYT's words). And the LAT says any subsequent broadening of this mandate would be "unusual." Hmmm.perhaps someone should check this with that key figure in 1970s Arkansas real estate deals, Monica Lewinsky.
Starr's move on the Secret Service raises novel arguments. Agents have testified before (most famously about the Watergate taping system), but never about what they saw or heard the president do. As a WP editorial points out, the agents are law enforcement officers and so shouldn't be any more silent about illegal activities than say, an Arkansas state trooper. But on the other hand, the NYT points out that the Secret Service argues that if a president physically distances himself from his protective detail out of fears for his confidentiality, security is compromised.
More Monica news: Marcia Lewis' second day of grand jury testimony ended abruptly, says the NYT, when she became physically and emotionally unable to continue. She's expected back today. Her daughter will nestle into that pre-warmed hot seat early next week.
The USAT front carries word that the EPA is considering requiring local water systems to issue reports on the chemical contents of their water to consumers. The story also makes the LAT and WP, which reports that the FDA is considering requiring similar labeling on bottled water. This is key: without the ability to know what's in tap water alternatives, knowing what's in tap water isn't worth much.
A Wall Street Journal "Politics and Policy" piece on the post-affirmative action drive to do away with SATs as a college admissions tool reports that after the Texas legislature passed a law that in effect replaced SAT scores with high school class rank, Texas A & M University found that some high schools are reporting that 25 percent of their students are in the top 10 percent of the class.
A letter to the editor in the NYT points out there was something odd in the recent Times charge in an editorial that President Clinton can't prove his sweeping assertion that Kenneth Starr has illegally leaked grand jury testimony. The writer notes that the Times could help in this regard, since it has run stories apparently benefiting from leaked information relating to grand jury testimony. But although the topic is important enough for a NYT editorial, don't look for any Times news stories to really dig into such leaks, as they are the lifeblood of the paper's scandal coverage.
Readers are asked at this point to observe a moment of silence. After yesterday's nee-saying debacle, TP's eighth-grade French teacher, Mme. Teller, hung herself.