From the VG Bookshelf: Ken Starr’s “Contempt,” Part 2
From the VG Bookshelf: Ken Starr’s “Contempt,” Part 2
Did you know that Ken Starr was NOT the first special prosecutor assigned to the Clinton investigation? And do you know what taking this assignment ended up costing him professionally and personally?
In his memoir “Contempt,” Starr details how he got the job as special prosecutor. The first man assigned to the job was Robert B. Fiske, a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. However, he was appointed by Attorney General Janet Reno because the independent counsel statute had actually expired and been allowed to lapse. When it was re-authorized, Ken Starr was tapped by the panel of Special Division judges for the job. Starr himself felt that Fiske was capable, but the judges appointing him thought otherwise.
The obvious course for the Special Division judges would have been to reappoint Fiske. That was the Clinton administration’s position. In her official request to the Special Division, Reno specifically recommended that Fiske now become the statutory independent counsel (emphasis in the original).
But the judges were of a different view. Again, it could be said that there was an appearance of conflict with Fiske since he had been appointed by Reno. She in turn had been appointed by Clinton, the principal subject of the Whitewater investigation. This all made logical sense, but it also made the process appear suspicious. To preserve the integrity and independence of the process, the Special Division judges were looking for a Republican.
And this was why Judge Sentelle was on the phone with me. (Chapter Two, “The Call,” pages 30-31)
Ken Starr was impressively qualified as a lawyer and a jurist. He was a former Supreme Court law clerk. He was former chief of staff to Reagan’s Attorney General, William French Smith. He had served on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals as a judge (a time which he remembers fondly in the book: “I was never so happy in my professional life as being a judge” (Chapter One, “Growing Up Starr, page 21), where he worked with names like Bork, Scalia, and Ginsburg. It was with regret that he left the D.C. Circuit (and with his father’s disappointment) to become solicitor general for the Bush 41 administration. His deputy solicitor general? Some guy named John Roberts. The world of judges and lawyers in Washington D.C. is shown to be very small in Ken Starr’s recounting, often showing the overlap to be very strange. When Starr got the call to become special prosecutor, he was in private practice – even though his name had come up for Supreme Court consideration during the Bush 41 years.
Starr saw himself as a judge with a team of investigators, looking to dig to the truth. And when I say a team, I mean a TEAM. At the end of the book, Starr acknowledges and thanks 190 people by name who were on staff at the Office of the Independent Counsel (OIC) from 1994 to 1999. He was not prepared for Team Clinton turning the entire Whitewater investigation – and the OIC – into a political football. And it began almost immediately after his appointment.
“I think there is a real appearance of unfairness,” Bob Bennett, Clinton’s personal lawyer, told the Washington Post. “If Starr found anything wrong, I don’t think anybody could have confidence in that.”
Bennett cited my publicly expressed opinion that President Clinton enjoyed no “constitutional immunity” from a civil rights lawsuit filed by Paula Corbin Jones, an Arkansas state employee, for actions taken while Clinton was governor. Bennett was representing Clinton in that case.
A week later, Bennett told a wire service that my appointment “didn’t pass his smell test.” He told USA Today that I should decline the job.
I found this shocking. I knew Bob Bennett well. He understood fully that I was a mainstream conservative with a strong respect for the rule of law. (Chapter Two, “The Call,” pages 37-38)
Like I said, the world of lawyers and judges in D.C. is small. Starr continued to think of himself as a judge, offering no comments – as he thought befitted a judge – and meanwhile, Team Clinton successfully turned him into a hyper-partisan lawyer on a witch hunt to take President Clinton down. That impression, unfair as it is, still exists to this day. While Team Clinton lost most of their battles in court, they won in the court of public opinion, and Ken Starr was the scapegoat who wrote out every salacious detail in “The Starr Report.” Except…
Our research made clear that what constituted impeachable offenses – high crimes and misdemeanors – was ultimately a political judgement entrusted to the unfettered discretion of the House of Representatives.
We wrestled with the number and order of counts of impeachment to include in the referral. Clinton had committed perjury, tampered with witnesses, and obstructed justice in many ways. We began with the clearest charge – the president’s perjury, in both the civil deposition and before the federal grand jury.
With Brett Kavanaugh as chief wordsmith, the set of charges proceeded in a logical manner… On Wednesday, September 9, at 1:30 pm, I signed the referral letter, saying, “Many of the materials in the referral contain information of a personal nature that I respectfully urge the House to treat as confidential.” (Chapter 27, “The Referral,” pages 247-248)
Two days later, on Friday, September 11, the House voted 363-63 to release the report, sight unseen, on the internet…. When we learned that the entire report would be posted without redactions (emphasis in the original), or indeed without even a single person reading it, we were perplexed by the House’s rushed decision. This possibility had never occurred to us. Congress deals with classified and sensitive material, such as the Bob Packwood diaries and national security materials, all the time. We had expected the House to review and redact. Indeed, the grand jury report in the Richard Nixon impeachment had never been made public. (Ibid, pages 248-249)
So, we have the Republican House to thank for dumping the entire “Starr Report” into the public sphere without redacting anything. But Starr gets the blame for actually writing it down. And worst of all, when pressed, Janet Reno, Eric Holder, and the Department of Justice – who authorized this investigation to start with! – literally crumpled like cowards and left Starr standing alone, even going so far as authorizing an investigation into the OIC itself. Starr ended up testifying before Congress.
Around the time of the report’s release, Starr recounts the threats of bodily harm to his daughter Carolyn, when the press learned she would be attending Stanford University – where Chelsea Clinton was also a student. The threats were so bad that Carolyn Starr was given individual protection from deputy U.S. marshals. His son Randy also received threats while at Duke University. Michael Moore (yes, THAT Michael Moore) and a bunch his people blockaded the street in front of the Starr home, creating chaos for neighbors – who had to sneak Cynthia Starr out of her backyard in order to get her to junior high, because Starr’s wife Alice couldn’t leave the house. What insanity. Fortunately and thankfully, the Starr family came through this ordeal in one piece, and remain a close-knit family to this day.
Ken Starr voluntarily left the OIC in October 1999, and eventually went on to teach at Pepperdine University and Baylor University. However, the man who once could have been nominated to the Supreme Court, as was a dream of his, now sees his former colleagues getting those nominations. (The book was released after Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination, but before the allegation storm.) Starr did his best by the country, but it cost him professionally, thanks to the machinations of Team Clinton and the media. But he does not lament his lost chances. Ken Starr only laments what Bill and Hillary Clinton, with their own arrogance and contempt, put the country through.
Part 1 of this review can be read here.
Featured image: Book cover by Sentinel, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, and original artwork by Darleen Click