Those eminently quotable "sources" who always know what's going on inside the Office of Independent Counsel really have an exquisite sense of timing (as do their reliably pliant stenographers in the Washington media). The brazen leakers chose the perfect moment to promote news of a grand jury impaneled last month by independent counsel Robert W. Ray to consider criminal charges against President Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky case: the day of Al Gore's acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention.
Actually, this latest leak was merely a new spin on old news, because Ray had announced months earlier that he intended to investigate whether the president ought to be indicted for his conduct in the Lewinsky matter. But the fact that Ray had, in fact, seated a new grand jury in July had not been revealed -- or leaked -- until just hours before Gore was scheduled to take the podium.
The timing guaranteed, of course, that coverage of Gore's crucial convention address would appear on the same front pages and nightly newscasts as yet another reminder of the Lewinsky scandal.
Unsurprisingly, Gore supporters in Los Angeles were furious. A press staffer for the vice president's campaign called the timing "highly suspect, highly suspicious." Even members of Congress who have frequently criticized the OIC for politicizing its various fruitless investigations seemed genuinely shocked.
"The connection between this prosecutor and partisan politics," said Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, a Democrat who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, "is far more reminiscent of a Third World country than America. The fact that this came out on the afternoon before Al Gore gives the most important speech of his life is appalling. I don't think I've seen anything like it at the national level during 25 years in politics. It's like something that would happen in a corrupt small town."
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat and member of the House Judiciary Committee, was even more blunt. "It's obvious that the OIC is once again being abused for partisan political purposes." Although Nadler admitted that he had no proof of involvement by the independent counsel or his staff, he said he thinks the leak is so egregious that "the attorney general should consider removing Mr. Ray. Either he or someone in his office did this, and it's a clear abuse of power."
Or perhaps independent counsel Ray will promise to investigate and bring to justice the dastardly leakers in his office, just as his predecessor Kenneth Starr did two years ago. So far the results of that investigation -- if any -- have never been leaked to anyone.