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Scandal vote nears, end does not

The Senate nears vote on impeachment articles, but other inquiries willtie up Washington politics indefinitely.

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Within an hour of the Senate's final impeachment vote, which could come as early as today, President Clinton is expected to address the nation.

The message, billed by aides as one of penitence, will also entreat Washington and the nation to move on to the "people's business," tackling such things as Social Security and education reform. After a year of impeachment trauma, he's likely to get his wish, right?

Probably not.

Even as the Senate moves toward a historic final vote on Mr. Clinton's future, five independent counsels - including Kenneth Starr - remain hard at work in Washington cubicles. Their probes focus on complicated issues that could still consume volumes of legal briefs and precious Washington political time - issues from the original Whitewater land deal to the alleged lying of a former Cabinet official in an FBI background check.

Despite the wide range of investigations, things could be worse for the White House. Frustration runs deep among some Clinton critics that perhaps the most serious of all the accusations to come president's way - charges linking Democratic campaign contributions to technology transfers to China - didn't earn an independent counsel investigation. "Clinton's greatest crime has to do with the fact that he armed China," says Michael Ledeen, a former Reagan administration official and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

At issue in the technology controversy are executive policies that led to the transfer of rocketry data to the Chinese government from US satellite makers Hughes Electronics and Loral Space & Communications Ltd. The information was believed to have been intercepted as US companies contracted Chinese rockets to lift American satellites into space.

While the matter has been investigated by Congress as well as the Justice Department, Atty. Gen. Janet Reno didn't appoint a special counsel.

"Was it a payoff to the Chinese for illegal contributions?" asks Mr. Ledeen. "Was it a reward to various business sectors for supporting him? Whatever the explanation, it's a national-security catastrophe."

Playing into the White House's hands as well may be scandal fatigue. Other accusations of malfeasance that have warranted independent-counsel investigations show little promise of igniting public interest.

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