Special prosecutor Ken Starr's chief ethics adviser quit in protest on Friday. The much-respected Sam Dash said Starr had "unlawfully" gone from fact presenter to impeachment advocate in his testimony to the House Judiciary Committee.
In response, Starr called it "a gentle disagreement with Sam."
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CBS News Senior Washington Correspondent Scott Pelley reports that Dash's resignation came as quite a surprise. Dash said Starr crossed a line in his congressional testimony on Thursday.
The former Watergate counsel said Starr promoted impeachment instead of just laying out the facts. Dash edited Starr's initial report to Congress. He said Starr is a man of integrity but the testimony "unlawfully intruded on the power of impeachment."
"An independent counsel cannot let himself get caught up in a political process, particularly as an advocate for the evidence on impeachment," Dash said.
"I had a duty to do what I did but I certainly have the most profound respect for Sam," Starr responded.
Democrats pounced on Dash's resignation. 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."
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 fivdecades 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.
Dash said that Starr and his staff had conducted themselves "with integrity and professionalism."
Until now, Dash had strongly defended the prosecutor.
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