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On the eve of Vice President Al Gore's acceptance speech, the Associated Press reported that this office had impaneled a grand jury to consider criminal charges against President Clinton. Public voices from across the political spectrum stampeded to condemn this office for leaking the story to serve improper, partisan purposes. The next day a federal judge on the three-judge panel that oversees this office acknowledged responsibility for the leak. Many who so quickly rushed to judgment realized their error and have now reconsidered their evaluation of this office, for which I am grateful.
While interest in the leak has subsided, the question of why a grand jury has been impaneled remains. It is that question I wish to address, in the hope that my use of the grand jury will be understood as no more nor less than a professional, nonpartisan effort to complete a criminal investigation. No decision about whether to ask the grand jury to return an indictment has been made.
This matter has engendered serious and prolonged national attention. There is no escaping the fact that the case involves the president of the United States. This investigation has had, and will have, significance for the country now and in the future. No one with any responsibility in this matter treats the issues lightly, as though this were just another case involving another prospective defendant.
It is precisely the gravity of the situation that required impaneling the grand jury now rather than later. As the independent counsel, I am bound by the oath I took to consider whether criminal charges should be brought against the president once he leaves office, weary though the country may be of the subject. Waiting to impanel a grand jury would have prevented me from resolving this case promptly after the president leaves office, something I promised I would do. Resolution of these matters must not be left to hang over the next president's term, to his or the nation's detriment.
Prosecutors investigate and resolve allegations of criminal conduct by presenting evidence to a grand jury. Every citizen -- including this and future presidents -- is guaranteed under the Constitution the protections afforded by the grand jury process. Grand juries sit precisely to ensure governance according to the rule of law.
There is, as I have said, an important principle at stake: that none of us, not even the president, is above the law. This means we are a nation of men and women governed not by whether one likes or dislikes the individual to be judged but by the premise that all individuals are entitled to equal treatment under the law, as all are equally constrained by the law.
Continuing the criminal process by impaneling a grand jury cannot credibly be dismissed as a partisan endeavor. The U.S. Senate resolved the question of impeachment in part on the ground that President Clinton's actions would be best addressed by the criminal law once he left office. As The Washington Post editorialized, it would be a "bait and switch for those who advanced this line to argue now that prosecution is improper."
The decision whether to prosecute President Clinton when he is no longer serving as president is a serious one. In exercising prosecutorial authority, I must be faithful to my oath to carry out this task responsibly and fairly. In judging whether I keep my word, I trust the standard to be applied is whether I carry out my responsibilities in accordance with the law and the Constitution and without consideration of any interests -- except those pertaining to the merits of the case -- fairly, impartially and in a nonpartisan manner.
Following the recent leak, The Post, to its credit, editorially took to task those who rushed to judgment regarding the integrity and motivations of this office. But whether one chooses to ascribe the noblest or most irresponsible motives to me or my office, the wisdom of our criminal justice system is that there is now in place a process to finally decide the question. I hope the public eventually will accept that the decision to come will be made in the right way and for the right reasons.
Robert W. Ray is an independent counsel investigating allegations against the president.