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Clinton probe: Full speed ahead

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We predicted in January that the nation would tire quickly of a protracted investigation involving President Clinton's relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

"Americans deserve to know the truth, and they deserve to have answers quickly," we said in our Jan. 24 editorial. "Conduct this probe promptly." The reasoning then, as it should be now, is that the country cannot afford to get bogged down in a tabloid-type scandal when there are so many important and domestic issues that need the president's attention.Despite Clinton's pledge to cooperate fully and provide information sooner than later, the investigation is hardly proceeding along a fast track. A more accurate analogy is that it's being conducted in quicksand.

Given that backdrop, independent counsel Kenneth Starr is wise and right to ask the Supreme Court to decide quickly whether Clinton can invoke executive privilege to shield testimony in the Lewinsky investigation.

That issue needs to be clarified promptly so that indeed answers - not more evasions - will be forthcoming.

Clinton, his aides and legal team have consistently shown by their actions they're more interested in delaying proceedings than advancing them. Clinton's invoking of executive privilege to prevent two aides, Bruce Lindsey and Sidney Blumenthal, from answering some questions before the grand jury, is another example of his stonewalling tactics.

The U.S. District Court has already agreed with Starr that the privilege "cannot and should not be asserted to deny the grand jury evidence of communications about private conduct." Clinton's lawyers were contemplating appealing the ruling - thereby causing yet another needless delay - when Starr launched his legal pre-emptive strike.

Twenty-four years ago President Richard M. Nixon tried to use executive privilege to suppress evidence - 64 White House tapes - that would damage him politically. The court decided it wasn't a valid use of that privilege.

Using that as precedent, the Supreme Court likely would rule the same in the Clinton case. Starr is requesting arguments be scheduled June 29, before the high court's summer recess. Clearly it is in the best interests of the country for the Supreme Court to resolve the matter as quickly as possible.

Facts, not stonewalling, are needed to resolve this troubling issue. If, as he claims, he's innocent of the various allegations regarding obstruction of justice, perjury and subornation of perjury, there's no reason for Clinton to delay the proceedings.

Surely it's in the best interests of all concerned - Clinton, Lewinsky and the rest of the country - to get the facts out as soon as possible.