Starr puts his gloss on history
Former independent counsel talks about Clinton, culture wars, and a
This report is from a breakfast held by the Monitor with Mr. Starr and a group of Washington reporters and columnists. Monitor-hosted breakfasts with newsmakers have been a Washington tradition for more than three decades.Skip to next paragraph
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As the central figure in one of the most important and bizarre episodes in American history - the investigation and impeachment of a president - former independent counsel Kenneth Starr to this day is either vilified or canonized for the role he played in the $40 million probe.
Now, two months after stepping down as independent counsel, he is trying to put his own shading on history - and it includes both admissions of tactical mistakes and justification of what he did.
Mr. Starr insists that his lengthy probe of President Clinton was at all times professional, ethical, and proper. While acknowledging errors, he says he and his legal team never went over the line in their investigation of the president.
Clearly hoping to clarify his role, which was loudly denounced by Clinton supporters, Starr also indicates that he retains hopes of serving in the future on the US Supreme Court. But he concedes that winning Senate approval for his nomination would be "a rather uproarious, lively confirmation process."
Starr made his comments at a Dec. 3 Monitor breakfast meeting for Washington-based newspaper reporters. Asked whether he would like to see Mr. Clinton accept responsibility for actions that led to the president's impeachment, the judge says:
"Far be it from me to suggest a specific avenue of redress. But in some way, through some manifestation of genuine sorrow and some acceptance of responsibility, the president should get himself right with the law." Only then would history "take a much more benign look" at his eight-year presidency, Starr says.
Hours later, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart responded to Starr's suggestion by pointing to a trash can and saying: "I will put that advice in the same file as much of the unsolicited advice we get here."
As for his own mistakes, Starr singles out two in particular - maintaining poor relations with the media and expanding the investigation far beyond its original goals.
Rather than keeping reporters apprised of the investigation, Starr says he "deliberately chose a course of not holding press conferences.... By my silence, I think I allowed the impression to develop that this was ... a vendetta" - a charge he terms "untrue."
Starr says he also erred by allowing the investigation to expand - at the request of the Department of Justice - well beyond its original goals. That gave the impression that he was on a personal campaign to get Clinton.
*Starr rejects charges that he was an overzealous prosecutor - a "totally bogus and bum rap," in his words. Expressing "sorrow" for those caught in the "maw of the criminal-justice process," he says he tried to spare witnesses undue distress. For instance, when Marcia Lewis, Monica Lewinsky's mother, became distraught under grand-jury questioning, she was deposed in private.
*Starr rejects the notion that the presidency as an institution was diminished by the investigation and sides with Supreme Court findings that a president can face a civil suit while in office. He says future presidents should handle such cases with out-of-court settlements, or Congress should fashion legislation to address the issue.