Dash Bashed Me, but I Was Right

Remember Sam Dash, the former “ethics counsel” to the independent counsel? Back in April 1996, he publicly excoriated me for quoting him (inaccurately, as he later claimed untruthfully) about his role in restraining the overzealous impulses of the prosecutors working for Kenneth Starr. I quoted him saying: “If I weren’t there and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to rein them in and set limits, who knows what abuses may have occurred?”

I had checked that quote and several others with him, as did an Observer fact-checker, and I had also taken the unusual step of faxing a copy of my column to his home in Maryland for quote approval. I will always cherish my voice-mail tape of Mr. Dash saying that he objected to only one quotation, which I changed to please him.

Still, he insisted I had gotten it all grievously wrong. Indeed the Office of Independent Counsel issued a statement denouncing me and my column on April 12, 1996, accompanied by a four-page rebuttal from its outraged ethical adviser. Among his complaints was that I had portrayed him “claiming that the lawyers working for Starr have to be ‘reined in’ or they will abuse power.”

Yet if Mr. Dash is now to be believed, he did heroically “rein in” that most overzealous of Mr. Starr’s deputies, W. Hickman Ewing, who was hellbent on prosecuting Hillary Rodham Clinton. Having remained silent since last November, when he resigned in protest against Mr. Starr’s “advocacy” of impeachment, he speaks out in the current issue of The New Yorker .

In the magazine’s Talk of the Town section, Murray S. Waas reports on a recent interview with Mr. Dash, who said that in late 1996 he stopped Mr. Ewing from pressing forward with a bogus indictment of the First Lady. According to Mr. Waas, “three other members of Starr’s staff corroborate Dash’s account.”

But let’s allow the former chief counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee to speak for himself (and let’s assume that because he is no longer on the independent counsel payroll at $400 an hour, he won’t feel the urge to deny saying what he said to Mr. Waas).

After reading a “very thick prosecution memo” prepared by Mr. Ewing, Mr. Dash recalls, he ripped apart the alleged case against Mrs. Clinton at a meeting attended by Mr. Starr and other top staff of the Office of Independent Counsel.

“It was pulling together facts that didn’t follow one another … It was speculation. There wasn’t one actual piece of evidence that would support serious consideration for indictment … No reputable prosecutor would ever bring such an indictment,” he told Mr. Waas. Explaining his actions, he went on to say: “I made it clear that I wasn’t going to let my name stand behind actions that I thought were illegal or unethical.”

That refreshing return to candor on the part of his ex-colleague apparently has irritated Mr. Ewing, who didn’t speak to The New Yorker but has pointed out to others that Mr. Dash is “a lifelong Democrat.” Of course, that used to be one of Mr. Dash’s selling points, cited constantly last year by the blonde talking TV heads who endorsed Mr. Starr’s Presidential inquisition. Many were the times that someone on the right tried to instruct me with a sentence that began, “Even Sam Dash says …” or “Sam Dash, a lifelong Democrat, says …”

Among the most excitable and indefatigable of those conservative commentators was Barbara Olson-simultaneously an employee of Senator Don Nickles, Republican of Oklahoma, and an associate of the Independent Women’s Forum funded by Richard Mellon Scaife, and the wife of Arkansas Project éminence grise Theodore Olson. On July 19, The Washington Post mentioned a cocktail party hosted by Ms. Olson to celebrate her new career as a lobbyist. Among the many luminaries present to raise a glass were Mr. Starr and Matt Drudge, the Internet gossip columnist.

It was Mr. Drudge who first reported in the summer of 1996 that the independent counsel was preparing to indict Mrs. Clinton-a “scoop” that left the Drudge Report looking slightly overzealous, too. But Mr. Dash’s latest comments cast a more sinister light on that embarrassing little episode.

Obviously, Mr. Drudge was at least half right; and just as obviously, someone in the Office of Independent Counsel leaked word of Mr. Ewing’s tendentious “pros memo” in order to embarrass the White House. All of which raises another lingering question: What the hell was going on under the nose of the primly correct Mr. Starr? Perhaps we will find out someday.

Meanwhile, it seems peculiar that journalists so obsessed with all things Hillary aren’t interested in remarks by Mr. Dash describing the independent counsel’s investigation of her. As reported by Mr. Waas, he and most of Mr. Starr’s prosecutors long ago “concluded that there is no credible information of any criminal misconduct” on the part of the First Lady. Why isn’t that considered news?