The Special Prosecutor in American Politics

Second, Revised

Katy J. Harriger

The federal special prosecutor: unprincipled abuser of power or staunch defender of the law? As Katy Harriger shows, the special prosecutor was a hotly debated and controversial subject throughout much of its existence. This was especially true, she argues, during the lengthy, expensive, and highly-politicized investigations of Lawrence Walsh and Kenneth Starr into allegations concerning Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.

Harriger offers the most complete assessment available of the use of special prosecutors in the post-Watergate era. She analyzes the independent counsel's role within the framework of the separation of powers, explaining how each has interacted with other key players in the political and legal system and showing how those relationships have affected the prosecutor's ability to conduct investigations.

“The first true comprehensive and scholarly analysis of the constitutional and public policy dimensions of the special prosecutor's office. Deserves a wide audience.”

American Political Science Review

“An excellent reminder that quick legislative fixes to questions of potentially unethical conduct are inadequate mechanisms to guard against abuse of power. It also reminds us that legal proscriptions alone cannot guarantee ethical action.”

American Review of Public Administration
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Harriger's previous edition focused on the legacy of Watergate but was published before Walsh's Iran-Contra investigations were concluded. Her new study adds substantially more information on Iran-Contra, provides a clearheaded appraisal of Starr's sensationalized Whitewater-Lewinsky investigations, examines a number of senior-level cabinet probes, and critiques and clarifies the role of Attorney General Janet Reno in these latter matters. A completely new chapter compares Iran-Contra and Whitewater-Lewinsky to explore the limits of the law in the special prosecutor's efforts.

In this new edition, Harriger includes 20 new interviews with Washington insiders-including one with Kenneth Starr-and covers the debates that led to both the reauthorization of the independent counsel statute in 1994 and its demise in 1999. She then examines the pros and cons of the office and offers constructive suggestions for improvement should it be revived.

For students, scholars, and concerned citizens, her book takes us well beyond frenzied media hype and partisan politics to provide a timely reminder about the crucial role of separation of powers in our system of governance.

About the Author

Katy J. Harriger is associate professor of politics at Wake Forest University. She has conducted numerous media interviews on the subject of the special prosecutor and has testified before Congress during authorization hearings for the independent counsel act. The first edition of this book, Independent Justice: The Federal Special Prosecutor in American Politics, was published by Kansas in 1992.