A more appealing, but undaunted Starr

For a long time the public was receiving a one-sided, negative picture of Kenneth Starr because, in great part, he was under intensive attack from those around the president and was not defending himself. He's now fighting back.

The Monitor breakfast group sought to meet with Judge Starr on several occasions when he was pushing his probe of the Clintons. But, as a prosecutor involved in a case, he did not see fit to do so. Meanwhile, several Clinton defenders, most notably James Carville and Lanny Davis, came to a number of breakfasts and used the opportunity to make Starr out to be an overzealous pursuer of the president. Indeed, they were able to plant the impression that Starr, not the president, was the real villain.

But now that he is freed of his duties as special prosecutor, Starr is finally speaking out. Visiting the Monitor breakfast the other day, he asserted that he'd been blackened by the White House "spin machine" and said that White House-related charges that he had been carrying on a "vendetta" against the Clintons were "a totally bogus and bum rap."

Instead, he told us, President. Clinton, himself had "yet to come to terms with his own responsibility" in trying to "play games with the law." He urged Mr. Clinton "to get himself right with the law," meaning that he believes that the president should go beyond his apology for his personal misbehavior and acknowledge that he committed perjury and sought to obstruct justice.

Starr doesn't think this is going to happen. But he says that if Clinton expects history to take a kinder view of his impeachment, he must "get himself right with the law" by admitting his legal responsibility. The Starr position, now being presented forcefully to the public by Starr himself, and some members of his independent counsel team, comes down to this:

Starr uncovered a massive effort by the president to lie under oath and obstruct justice. The House impeached the president. Fifty senators voted to remove the president. Thirty-two other senators who voted to retain the president nonetheless signed a resolution that condemned the him for giving "false or misleading testimony" and "impeding discovery of evidence in judicial proceedings" and concluded that he had "violated the trust of the American people." Federal Judge Susan Webber Wright held the president in contempt because he intentionally provided "false, misleading and evasive answers" and "undermined the integrity of the judicial system."

Meanwhile the president is seeking to change the public perception of his impeachment, making it out to be nothing more than an act of GOP political vindictiveness for actions that were nothing more than personal misbehavior. He says he broke no laws. Starr told us he was dismayed over this Clinton effort to squirm out of responsibility and said how wrong it is to believe that "it's OK to commit perjury and obstruction of justice if the arena of conduct is personal." That view, he said, "is a lawless perspective."

The nearly 40 journalists who sat with Starr over bacon and eggs (he was kept too busy answering questions to eat a single bite) found a man who doesn't seem at all beaten down by the attacks from his accusers. He was totally relaxed, and quite amiable.

Up close like that, we saw how Starr has won his reputation for being so persuasive when involved in legal matters. He had flunked his relations with the public in those many car-side chats. To many onlookers he appeared then to be prissy and spiteful. But a different, much more appealing Starr came to breakfast.

Oh, yes, when White House press secretary Joe Lockhart was told about Starr's recommendation to Clinton "to get right with the law," he pulled out a trash can from beneath his desk, pointed to it and said, "I will put that advice in the same file as much of the unsolicited advice we get here at the White House."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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