Former Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr would not confirm or deny plans to indict the president or the first lady on criminal charges when Clinton’s presidency ends — but there was a smile on his face when he said he couldn’t comment.
Starr was helping to raise money to disbar President Clinton Saturday night, and he granted an exclusive interview with WorldNetDaily to reflect on his experience while investigating the president.
|Former Independent Counsel Ken Starr|
The Southeastern Legal Foundation is a public interest law firm that has filed a complaint in Arkansas that may soon result in the disbarment of Clinton. Over 850 lawyers, corporate sponsors and private individuals paid $150 and up to hear Starr speak in support of the non-profit group.
Contrary to the recommendation of legal scholars and constitutional experts, the independent counsel statute was created by Congress in 1978 in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Renewed several times, it was recently disbanded by Congress. Starr said he is happy to see the end of that office.
“The entire independent counsel statute built in an enormous number of frustrations for the American people, Congress and others,” Starr explained. “And one of the reasons is that we departed in 1978 from our system of separated powers and the requisite accountability that should be laid at the feet of those who exercise power. The whole idea of an independent counsel was, at best, anti-constitutional, and it was certainly very bad policy.”
Starr said it was nearly impossible to conduct an investigation effectively when the Clinton administration attacked him every day. He said he was understaffed and had no one to perform public relations that could respond to the spin team at the White House.
Clinton had an “army” of public relations people, said Starr, while he had no one. He said members of Congress constantly complained that they would send him letters and he never answered. His office did not have enough staff to handle correspondence, and no one to deal with public relations.
|Starr addressing Southeastern Legal Foundation’s fundraiser|
“The executive function should be carried on by the executive branch, not some officer who is given independence, which sounds so good, but then he’s given no comfort, no refuge, no succor, when things are bad. And who can be vilified and pilloried, and his office mocked by the executive branch in a way that makes it extraordinarily difficult for the American people to have confidence,” explained Starr.
He said that in spite of the efforts of the Clinton spin team, he was able to obtain 14 guilty verdicts, convict a sitting governor and impeach the president.
“We carried on. I’m not whining,” explained Starr. “We carried on and we were able to do our work effectively and successfully in courts until the results of impeachment were in.”
He claims his effectiveness ended when “we saw the jury pool in Arkansas and the eastern district in Virginia polluted by the residue of the very hard feelings that impeachment understandably had left. But until that time, we did conduct ourselves with no small degree of success against some very heavy odds, including the conviction of a sitting governor of the state of Arkansas, who conventional wisdom was could never be convicted in the state of Arkansas.”
Starr says he has no regrets, and he would not have done anything differently. He does not think he was too detached from the process, nor does he agree with critics who say he was not sufficiently aggressive.
“I think we did what we were obligated to do, which was to provide the information to Congress, along with an analysis of it. And then it was entirely in the hands of the political system, which was the way the founding generation meant for it to be,” Starr said.
“There was nothing, I think, substantially in terms of the conduct of the investigation, that we could have done differently from a practical matter. We determined to be fair. For that, I do not apologize. We determined to be complete in the referral. We don’t apologize for that,” he said.
Although the public was not pleased that the focus of the impeachment trial was on Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, Starr said he had no choice. He said the blame should be placed on Clinton for the direction of his investigation.
“I think the president’s testimony on August 17, 1998, put us in the unenviable position of having to show that he was not being, in our judgment, truthful before the grand jury. Then it was for Congress to sort out. To determine whether we needed to take additional evidence, whether the proceedings should be in the Senate, whether it should be a full-blown trial and the like. I don’t think we could have done anything any different,” Starr told WorldNetDaily.
He was also restricted by the requirements of his jurisdiction. Even though his investigation turned up evidence of other wrongdoing, he could not pursue such evidence if it did not fall within the very narrow scope of his assignment.
Although he is critical of the independent counsel system, Starr said the process did enable information to become public which might otherwise never have become known.
“To be sure, this mechanism did have something going for it. It assured the American people that the facts would come out, that no stone would be left unturned, and that public integrity investigations involving the executive branch would be taken very, very seriously. And that’s a good thing,” explained Starr.
The investigation process was long and involved, not because of Starr, but because of the numerous investigations run by House and Senate committees. Starr does not believe the process took on a circus environment, and the information gathered in Congress exposed activities of Clinton to immediate public scrutiny.
“I don’t think I’d characterize it pejoratively at all. Sometimes it can be complicated, but I think it’s good for there to be fact-finders, and the advantage that a congressional inquiry has is that information becomes more publicly known much more quickly than a criminal justice investigation,” Starr explained.
Starr said he felt bad for the people of “the beautiful state of Arkansas, which has deserved better government than it has had.” He was commenting not only on Clinton, but also on others from Arkansas who were investigated and prosecuted.
“Our investigation yielded information — this isn’t spin — hard cold facts leading to 14 guilty pleas and criminal convictions in hard-fought trials, including the sitting governor of Arkansas, Gov. Jim Guy Tucker.
“The investigation led to a referral to the House of Representatives that voted articles of impeachment,” said Starr. Despite his success, he said the attacks prevented the American public from understanding the nature of his investigation.
“In the inevitable assaults sure to come when the political survival of the president himself would seem as being at stake,” said Starr. “And let there be no doubt, there was a determined and constant and ferocious attack on the office where I was privileged to serve.”
“All of this was highly injurious to public confidence in the administration of justice. And I can also say, it was slightly unpleasant for those of us who lived through it,” he commented with a smile.
Starr has been watching press reports to learn about the recently unfolding White House e-mail scandal.
“One of the very important aspects I think of public investigations is, was there an obstruction of justice?” Starr asked. “So if there was, and I’m not saying there was, you need to gather the information, and I gather that process is going on in a very professional way.”
Recent press reports identified Starr’s law firm, Kirkland & Ellis, as being a large source of donations to the campaign of Hillary Clinton.
There are 635 lawyers in the office, and a total of 33 gave donations to Clinton for her senatorial campaign in New York. Over $30,000 was given, 10 times greater than the total from any other law firm, according to published reports.
Starr has been on a leave of absence from the firm while he has been independent counsel, and he did not make any donations to Clinton. The reports also indicated that the lawyers at the firm are divided on whether Starr should leave or stay on.
Starr has decided to take time out of the spotlight to write a book about the Supreme Court, a project he said he actually started eight years ago.
“I’m teaching at George Mason, and I’m continuing my teaching at New York University Law School, which I’ve done for a number of years. And I’m doing some law practice, and then once the book is out, I’ll return to actually making a living, I hope, as a lawyer,” said Starr.
He said he would like posterity and history to remember him as a man who had a difficult job to do, and that he did it honorably. He told WorldNetDaily, “I did it honestly and honorably. It was a very difficult assignment, but that I discharged it honestly with integrity, and I hope a little bit of diligence.”
He said there is a lesson from his investigation that the nation must learn:
“At the most general level, character counts. And for this generation not to teach the rising generation that there is no substitute for basic honor and character on the part of those who hold themselves out to take the nation’s trust, for any position of high office, but especially the office of president of the United States. Shouldn’t that be an enduring lesson?”