Starr won't retry McDougal or Steele
May 25, 1999
Web posted at: 5:52 p.m. EDT (2152 GMT)
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, May 25) -- Independent Counsel Ken Starr informed the federal courts Tuesday that he won't retry either Julie Hiatt Steele or Susan McDougal.
The independent counsel's prosecution of both women ended in separate mistrials after juries deadlocked on charges of criminal contempt in the McDougal case and obstruction of justice in Steele's trial.
Despite widespread speculation that Starr's office would not attempt to mount a retrial in either case, sources close to Starr's office indicated prosecutors believed their evidence is strong enough to win convictions.
But in saying they wouldn't seek a retrial for McDougal, Starr's office cited its fear that a polarized jury pool in Arkansas could once again produce a hung jury.
And in deciding not to pursue the charges against Steele, Starr's office said it needed to conserve resources for its ongoing investigation.
The Office of the Independent Counsel (OIC) still has two more trials scheduled involving presidential friend and former Justice Department official Webster Hubbell. The first is set to begin in August.
Steele's lawyer, Nancy Luque, said that when Steele was informed of the decision, she responded: "Oh my God. It's finally over."
"We're obviously ecstatic and at the same time relieved that he finally did the right thing," Luque said.
Two sources close to the cases told CNN there was an apparent division of opinion within Starr's office on the retrials, prompting the decisions to go down to the wire.
A court order in Alexandria, Virginia, required the OIC to disclose its intentions in the Steele case to U.S. District Court Judge Claude Hilton by Tuesday evening.
A deadline also loomed in McDougal's criminal contempt case where the
law required a retrial to begin within 70 calendar days of the mistrial, meaning another McDougal trial would have had to get underway by June 21.
Aides to U.S. District Court Judge George Howard Jr., who would have to
send out juror questionnaires and schedule a new trial, were anxiously awaiting a decision from Starr's office Tuesday.
But key factor in Starr's decision was undoubtedly the jury split in the two recently concluded trials. In the McDougal trial, the jury acquitted the former Whitewater business partner of Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton on the obstruction of justice charge.
A juror in the that trial told CNN that on the two criminal contempt
charges seven of the twelve jurors favored acquittal, but the deadlock produced the mistrial.
"That's a lot to overcome," said a prosecutor who closely followed the
Little Rock trial.
Balancing that, however, was the view that the evidence was overwhelming
that McDougal violated the law by twice refusing to obey a judge's order to testify before a federal grand jury about what the president knew about a fraudulent Small Business Administration loan.
So, the issue before Starr's team was whether to devote resources to a second trial, considering the prospective jury pool in the Eastern District of Arkansas.
Following the mistrial on the contempt counts, Starr prosecutors said the verdict reflects the public mood and deep polarization on the Starr investigation.
The jury split in Steele's obstruction of justice trial was reportedly
nine to three for conviction on each of four counts, a somewhat more
Steele was tried for allegedly lying under oath to undercut former White House volunteer Kathleen Willey's claim that the president made an unwanted sexual advance outside the Oval Office in 1993.
Steele is the only person known to have been indicted as a result of Starr's investigation of Clinton's affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
Both woman say they are victim of the independent counsel's aggressive pursuit of the president, claiming Starr isn't interested in the truth, he just wants to find something incriminating against Clinton.
CNN's Terry Frieden contributed to this report