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independent counsel,in U.S. law, a judicially appointed investigator of charges of misdeeds by high government officials. Originally termed "special prosecutor," the position was first created by the 1978 Ethics in Government Act. Prompted by the Watergate affairWatergate affair,
in U.S. history, series of scandals involving the administration of President Richard M. Nixon; more specifically, the burglarizing of the Democratic party national headquarters in the Watergate apartment complex in Washington, D.C.
..... Click the link for more information. , the purpose of the law was to avoid the conflict of interest that might develop if the executive branch (i.e., the Justice Dept.) investigated its own officials. The act expired in 1992, but a new independent counsel law was passed in 1994. The new law also permitted the investigation of members of Congress. The request for an appointment of an independent counsel was made by the attorney general; the counsel was appointed by an independent judicial board. An independent counsel was used to investigate the Iran-contra affairIran-contra affair,
in U.S. history, secret arrangement in the 1980s to provide funds to the Nicaraguan contra rebels from profits gained by selling arms to Iran. The Iran-contra affair was the product of two separate initiatives during the administration of President Ronald
..... Click the link for more information. , WhitewaterWhitewater,
popular name for a failed 1970s Arkansas real estate venture by the Whitewater Development Corp., in which Gov. (later President) Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, were partners; the name is also used for the political ramifications of this scheme.
..... Click the link for more information. , and the Lewinsky scandalLewinsky scandal
, sensation that enveloped the presidency of Bill Clinton in 1998–99, leading to his impeachment by the U.S. House of Representatives and acquittal by the Senate.
..... Click the link for more information. . In 1999, following prosecutor Kenneth StarrStarr, Kenneth Winston,
1946–, American public official, b. Vernon, Tex., grad. George Washington Univ. (B.A., 1968), Brown (M.A., 1969), Duke (J.D., 1973). After clerking for Chief Justice Warren Burger and working in the Justice Dept.
..... Click the link for more information. 's confrontations with President Bill Clinton and the impeachment of the president, the law again expired and was not renewed. The attorney general now has sole responsibility for appointing outside prosecutors.