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Starr Ethics Adviser Sam Dash Quits

November 20, 1998 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Former Senate Watergate Counsel Sam Dash abruptly resigned today as Kenneth Starr’s ethics adviser to protest the independent counsel’s decision to act as ``an aggressive advocate″ in the House impeachment hearing against President Clinton.

``You have violated your obligations under the independent counsel statute and have unlawfully intruded on the power of impeachment,″ Dash said in a letter to Starr that raised concerns about Starr altering his role from prosecutor to advocate for impeachment.

Democrats pounced on Dash’s resignation. But Rep. Henry Hyde, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, defended Starr, saying that ``if he had not agreed to testify at our request, we would have been compelled to subpoena him.″

``I resign for a fundamental reason,″ Dash said. ``Against my strong advice, you decided to depart from your usual professional decision-making by accepting the invitation of the House Judiciary Committee to appear ... and serve as an aggressive advocate for the proposition that the evidence ... demonstrates that the president committed impeachable offenses.″

Starr said he was saddened by Dash’s departure and respected his adviser’s position but added, ``Reasonable minds can differ.

``I love Sam. I respect him. I admire him. He’s a total man of principle. I have really profited from his judgment. I think it was a matter of principle. It was so important to him,″ Starr said outside his home.

``I regret I have a gentle disagreement with Sam,″ Starr added. ``Over the years we have agreed far more than we have disagreed.″

Jim Jordan, a spokesman for Judiciary Committee Democrats, called Dash’s resignation ``the final word from a giant of American jurisprudence on the methods, motives and ethics of Ken Starr.″

``Sam Dash’s criticism of Ken Starr’s appearance before the House Judiciary Committee is right on target,″ said Rep. Marty Meehan, D-Mass. ``Ken Starr’s willingness to make a case for impeachment just reinforces the concerns many of us have had about his judgment.″

Hyde, R-Ill., said: ``I want to make clear that Judge Starr was providing an overview of his referral to the House of Representatives. After four years of relentless abuse and unanswered accusations, I think the public was owed an explanation by the independent counsel.″

In his letter, Dash said that Starr had ``only one narrow duty under the statute relating to the House’s power of impeachment. ... That one duty ... is to objectively provide for the House substantial and credible information that may constitute grounds for impeachment.″

Dash has counseled Starr on a wide range of issues for the past four years, reviewing evidence and participating in the decisions on whether grand jury indictments should be sought.

Dash, chief counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee a quarter-century ago, has been a lawyer for nearly five decades and teaches at Georgetown University Law Center.

At Thursday’s House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing, Starr gave no indication that he had a disagreement with Dash. Starr hailed his ``great wisdom during my tenure,″ noting that Dash had consulted on the impeachment referral that accused Clinton of abuse of his presidential powers.

``We were guided by Sam Dash, who had very strong views on that,″ Starr said.

Dash also was instrumental in breaking a months-long stalemate between Starr’s office and Monica Lewinsky’s lawyers, arranging a breakfast meeting at his home in late July that brought the two sides together and led to the deal that secured her cooperation.

Dash, a registered Democrat, has long said that if Starr didn’t heed his advice, he would not stay on in the post.

``You have no right or authority under the law, as independent counsel, to advocate for a particular position on the evidence before the Judiciary Committee or to argue that the evidence in your referral is strong enough to justify a decision by the committee to recommend impeachment,″ Dash wrote.

In his two-page letter, which begins ``Dear Ken,″ Dash said that ``my decision to leave has nothing whatsoever to do with the many unfounded and misinformed attacks on your conduct as independent counsel. Through most of your tenure, I have been fully informed by you and your staff on all major decisions. ... Where I disagreed, you showed your willingness to be open to my advice and you came to different decisions.″

Dash said that Starr and his staff had conducted themselves ``with integrity and professionalism.″

Amid strong criticism of Starr’s investigation of Clinton’s relationship with Ms. Lewinsky, longtime associates of Dash in the legal profession have questioned him privately about why he continues to work for the prosecutor, lawyers who know Dash have said.

Until now, Dash had strongly defended the prosecutor to these associates.

Dash recently came under attack from critics of Starr’s office for the $400 an hour Dash charges the government for his services as ethics counselor to the prosecutor.

Dash said that he worked many free hours for Starr, putting his actual compensation to closer to $100 an hour. Dash’s pay is capped at $118,400 a year.

Dash has played a role in a number of controversies surrounding Starr’s office. He put a halt to widespread speculation in 1995 that senior White House adviser Bruce Lindsey was about to be charged with crimes, persuading the prosecutor to issue a public statement saying it wasn’t true.

Dash also defended Starr’s decision to remain in private law practice, where he has earned more than $1 million a year. His clients have included tobacco companies and other opponents of the Clinton White House.