After years of exhaustive reporting, the level of public knowledge
about Bill Clinton has reached what many consider a saturation point.
But even after all the media uproar surrounding the Monica Lewinsky
investigation, still relatively little is known about one of the
president’s greatest adversaries, former Independent Counsel Kenneth
In to fill the breach step Susan Schmidt and Michael Weisskopf,
both award-winning investigative reporters who have recently co-authored
“Truth at Any Cost: Ken Starr and the Unmaking of Bill Clinton,” a book
which sheds light on Starr’s motivations, his personal battles and his
anguish after coming under the fire of Clinton partisans.
In this in-depth interview with WorldNetDaily reporter Geoff Metcalf,
Schmidt provides a warts-and-all glimpse behind the curtain of Starr’s
investigation, including its tactics, divided interests, political
naivete, public-relations foibles and dogged determination in spite of
it all to see justice done in the end.
By Geoff Metcalf
© 2000, WorldNetDaily.com, Inc.
Question: I thought I knew everything there was to know about
what went on with the Ken Starr investigation — what went on, what
didn’t happen. But you have some surprises for us.
“Truth at Any Cost” by veteran reporters Susan Schmidt and Michael Weisskopf
Answer: We thought we knew everything there was to know,
although we sort of suspected maybe we didn’t; that’s why we decided to
do this book. Michael and I each covered the Lewinsky investigation for
our news organizations — the Washington Post and Time — and, when it
was over, we thought we would just love to find out what went on inside
the engine of the investigation: Ken Starr’s office. We also wanted to
find out what went on inside the Justice Department and what went on
inside the White House. That’s why we wrote this book — to get inside
all those places and talk with the people who did it.
Q: What happened on April 27, 1998? Because we kept saying
in the media, “Any day now. … Any day now there are going to be
indictments. … There are going to be indictments. … Hillary is going
to get indicted. …” It didn’t happen. Why?
A: April 27 was the day the Starr staff decided it wouldn’t
happen. The grand jury down in Little Rock, which had been
investigating Whitewater, was set to expire. Starr had to decide what
to do — whether to get a new grand jury, extend it or pull the plug.
They had a day-long meeting; all the prosecutors, 25 of them in a big
room, examined a three-inch thick prosecution memo put together by the
Little Rock staff and concluded at the end of the day that the first
lady had lied to government investigators.
But, they decided the evidence was not strong enough to convict her.
And they took a pass, unanimously; they said, “Let’s not do it.”
Q: You provide some interesting insights into Ken Starr, the
man — the good things, the bad things, the warts and blemishes, etc. A
lot of us were asking, “What is he waiting for?” I found interesting
some of the strategic mistakes he made and you say in the book that some
of the moves that seem dumb to us, as observers, are consistent with the
way Ken Starr operates.
A: He is a very thorough guy. That is the hallmark of the
way he does business. Things take a while with him. But everything is
done perfectly and to the letter. That cost him some points during the
early phases of his work with Whitewater and Travelgate, Filegate — all
those things took a very long time. It probably could have been wrapped
When it got to the Lewinsky investigation, he felt, and I think he
was probably right on this, that he had to be as thorough as possible.
But, more than anybody on his staff, he wanted to move that referral to
Congress as soon as possible. He was afraid he would be accused of
influencing the upcoming election. So he was pushing hardest to send it
to Congress — let them finish the investigation. He said, “We have
enough evidence to send up. We have substantial and credible
information that might warrant impeachment. Let’s send it.”
His prosecutors, the people that worked for him — they don’t like to
work that way. They like to build an airtight case. They were arguing
to hang-on to it and to get all the evidence they possibly could. They
finally had a meeting of the minds when it came right down to getting
Monica Lewinsky and Clinton’s testimony. And that’s when they
all finally agreed: now is the time to send it.
Q: I have to ask you, why in the world would Ken Starr
tip-off Clinton and throw him a lifeline about that semen-stained blue
A: That is very interesting — and it really goes to the
heart of what kind of person Starr really is. Contrary to public image,
he was not out to get Clinton. We didn’t find that. He did that
because he wanted to give Clinton every chance to tell the truth and to
urge him in the strongest way possible to tell the truth when he
testified before the grand jury.
Q: But isn’t that the antithesis of what prosecutors normally
A: It is. And he didn’t tell his staff for that very reason,
because they would have objected. But he felt that he didn’t want to be
accused of sandbagging Clinton or trapping him in any way; so,
basically, he told him the evidence he had in hand. He got the results
back from the FBI lab and told nobody — just one or two people on his
staff. He sent a letter to the president’s lawyer and said, “I need
your blood. I need a blood test, and I have a legal predicate to ask
for it.” In other words, DNA has been found on the dress; I need to see
if it is yours. That told Clinton that he would have to adjust his
testimony and he did.
We found that Starr proceeded much more fairly than people seem to
think. Another example of that is he sent five invitations to Clinton
asking him to testify voluntarily, before finally sending him a
subpoena. Publicly, Starr never made those invitations known. So, for
months and months, Clinton was saying, “I’m doing everything I can to
cooperate,” when in actuality he was saying, “No. I’m not going to
Q: There is such an abundance of anecdotes. Probably the
best way for me to handle this from an interview perspective is to just
throw some names at you: Eric Holder?
A: Very interesting guy. Deputy attorney general —
Q: Dirt bag.
A: Well, he is a “finesser”; he is a guy that was put in
there as Reno’s replacement. He was going to move up if Reno left the
job. What we found was, he, with Reno, initially commissioned the
Lewinsky investigation and assigned Starr to it but immediately started
moving away from Starr and started commissioning investigations of
Starr’s own office — in ways that undermined Starr publicly.
Q: Holder was stroking Judge Norma Holloway Johnson, telling
her stuff that flat-out wasn’t true about Starr.
A: One of the incidents that we learned about was when Starr
went to Holder after all the allegations surfaced about his office
leaking to the press. Starr went to Holder and said, “I need some FBI
agents to do a leak investigation. I don’t think there is anything
there but I want to do an investigation and put it to rest.” Holder
said, “Don’t worry about it.” Then Holder called Judge Johnson and
said, “You know there are all these allegations; the Justice Department
is perfectly willing to help you out, judge, if you want us to do
anything to investigate this stuff.”
What Holder was doing was making Starr think he didn’t want to do an
investigation, but then offering to do one with the judge if he could be
in control of it. After Starr learned about that from the judge, he
began treating and thinking of Holder as an enemy.
Q: Smart move. But, now, four days before Ken Starr was
supposed to testify before the House impeachment committee, what
A: He went to see Janet Reno; it was a Sunday afternoon.
Q: That will ruin a day.
A: There were some things he wanted to tell her about his
testimony, but when he got there, Reno said to him, “There is something
I want to tell you.” And she began to read from a piece of paper
informing him that the Justice Department was going to do an
investigation of alleged prosecutorial misconduct — of his
office. Now this is just as the House committee is about to take up
articles of impeachment. She tells the prosecutor she is investigating
the prosecutor’s office.
Starr was livid. He didn’t even think that she had standing to
investigate him since he was supposed to be an independent counsel. He
said he would do everything in his power to protect this investigation
and she assured him that this would not leak out. He felt he would go
to Congress with a black cloud over his head.
Well, sure enough, even before he got back to his office, it had
leaked to Newsweek, and they were calling his office. So this was the
level of suspicion and warfare — secret warfare — going on between
Starr and Reno and Holder throughout the year of which we, the public,
did not even glimpse. We peeled that back a little bit and it is very
Q: What about the allegation that Clinton was pressuring
Louis Merletti, his Secret Service director?
A: That is something Starr heard from a source that was
connected to the high command of the Secret Service — that Clinton had
called Merletti in early on and said, “I want you to invent a privilege
so your officers don’t have to testify about me and women.” And Starr
was pretty convinced this had happened. So he began to try to get the
Secret Service testimony and get the Secret Service brass to testify.
Whereupon he got into a big tangle with the Justice Department and they
fought him tooth-and-nail on this. That is why Starr seemed so
determined to get the Secret Service testimony — because he thought
that this had happened. As it turned out, he could not substantiate the
charge. The source would not come forward and the issue just basically
hung in the air.
Q: What about this confession to a presidential spiritual
advisor? What was that?
A: Early in the investigation Clinton came out and told his
cabinet, told the American people he did not have an affair with Monica
Q: His cabinet came out and stood behind and said, “Hey, his
word is good enough for us.”
A: That’s right. Well, at the same time that was happening,
he had a minister by the name of Tony Campolo spend the night at the
White House in the Queen’s bedroom. And Clinton confessed to him. The
next morning Tony Campolo went to the national prayer breakfast and told
two of his buddies who were attending — he was very upset — and he
said, “The president has confessed everything to me and it is terrible.
I’ve tried to get him to make a clean break of it but I only end up
consoling him instead of confronting him.” We thought that was quite
remarkable, that publicly he was in denial and privately confessing.
Q: You note in the book how Linda Tripp’s lawyers and Paula
Jones’ lawyers got together — actually before Clinton gave his
deposition. What happened?
A: Yeah, there was a much higher level of collusion between
the Jones camp and Linda Tripp than we knew. The night before Clinton
gave his deposition in January 1998, that very day Starr was confronting
Monica Lewinsky for the very first time. Starr’s prosecutors had her at
the Ritz Carlton; they were trying to gain her cooperation. Well, that
evening Linda Tripp and her lawyer met with the Jones lawyer and told
him Starr was investigating this whole matter and that Starr was trying
to get Monica Lewinsky’s cooperation.
The next day the Jones’ lawyers spent a huge part of the deposition
on Monica Lewinsky questions. They knew there was a criminal
investigation of the president already under way. So, they keyed-up a
lot of questions based on their knowledge from Linda Tripp and her
Q: That infamous Brill’s Content interview, it was more than
a mere speed bump for Ken Starr.
A: It sure was; it almost took him out entirely — much more
so than we knew at the time. It was a real blunder to have spoken to
Steven Brill. He should have known better.
Brill was launching a new magazine and wanted a big splash. Brill
misrepresented Starr’s views on grand jury secrecy rules — what was
permitted and what was not for the prosecutors to say. The judge in the
case was horrified to read this article. She was furious. She had been
with Starr up until then, pooh-poohing all the leak allegations. After
the article, she agreed with the president’s lawyers that they should
inquisition Starr and Starr’s staff. The target of the investigation
would be inquisitioning the prosecutor –and she ordered that to happen.
Q: I didn’t know that Starr was planning to defy the judge’s
order and actually try to get himself fired.
A: He just felt he could not submit to it because his whole
authority would be shot. David Kendall, the president’s lawyer, could
find out everything that had gone on in the grand jury that way. So, he
drafted a memo ordering his staff not to do it. At the 11th hour, the
court of appeals intervened and blocked it. But he was prepared to defy
the judge, be held in contempt, and then Janet Reno would have had
grounds to fire him on the spot. That could have easily happened. We
didn’t know it at the time, but that was what was going on behind the
scenes. It was almost a fatal encounter.
Q: What really happened in the Ritz Carlton with Monica
Lewinsky was news to me.
A: Yeah, the public and reporters thought that Starr’s team
had held her for 11 hours, kept her there against her will. Basically
what we found was that she did to prosecutors what she did to Bill
Clinton — threw histrionics and got leverage over them the way she did
Pretty soon they were eating out of her hand. She was saying, “I’m
going to kill myself. … Who’s going to marry me?” She was screaming
and crying and these hard-bitten guys who were trying to get her to
cooperate were running around getting her tissues and coffee and being
solicitous of her.
Q: She handled them; she played them.
A: Absolutely. They didn’t ask her a single question.
Eleven hours later she was overheard in the hallway yelling to her
mother, who was urging her to cooperate, “I’m not going to be the one to
bring down this f—ing presidency.” She walked out of the hotel that
night a free woman and she didn’t give-up anything.
Q: I’m going to throw three names at you real quick. Take
them in whatever order you choose: James Carville, Betty Currie and
A: Betty Currie — early in the investigation, unknown to the
public, her lawyers came to Starr. They were so worried about what
Clinton was urging her to say. If you remember Clinton had called Betty
Currie in and said, “Monica and I were never alone, right?” and sort of
rehearsed this set of answers. Her lawyers — who were hired by the
White House by the way — were very concerned when they heard that;
they went to Ken Starr. They said, “We represent Betty Currie and you
need to know this has happened. And by the way, here are some gifts she
had stored under her bed that Clinton gave Monica Lewinsky.”
After that, Starr’s team debriefed Currie. She had to be heavily
prodded by her lawyers to tell what she knew. They spent a weekend in a
hotel with her debriefing her. By the time they got her before the
grand jury she developed amnesia. Meanwhile, her lawyers who are very
sophisticated lawyers — and this is perfectly proper — they went back
to the White House and told the White House everything she had told Ken
Starr. So they were playing both sides of the fence. Perfectly ethical
Q: Kind of “lawyerly.”
A: Yeah, very lawyerly — and that is how the lawyering went
on in this case.
Q: Speaking of lawyers, Vernon Jordan?
A: He’s an interesting guy. When you look at all his grand
jury testimony over a period of months, you see that he did a 180 in the
grand jury — once the prosecutors got a hold of his telephone records.
He had to admit much more involvement in handling Monica than he had
early on. It turned out he had made 31 phone calls about Monica the day
before the story broke, trying to suppress the thing. And he had
represented that he was sort of in the dark and just trying to help her
get a job — bright young girl and you know all that. He is a
fascinating guy and he implicated Clinton to a degree, but only to the
extent he had to.
Q: Jordan didn’t tell Bob Bennett some stuff that Bennett got
A: Absolutely. The first day Monica Lewinsky came to see
Vernon Jordan in November of 1997, that afternoon he called David
Kendall and said, “Settle the Jones case.” And he went over to
Bennett’s house and said, “We have to settle the Jones case. I’ll raise
up to a million dollars to settle it.” He never did tell Bennett anything
about Monica Lewinsky.
When the story broke, Bennett went to Jordan’s office and confronted
him — the scene is in the book.
Q: It’s a great scene: “Vernon, I want to know what the
hell is going on?”
A: “What the hell is going on?” And just as they are
in there having this confrontation, Clinton calls and they put him on
the speaker phone and they all start acting chipper and affable and, you
know, “We’re all in good hands with good lawyers,” but this was real
deception of Bob Bennett by Vernon Jordan.
Q: Final question, Susan: the Clinton indictment — why did
Starr want to wait until after the president was out of office? That’s
a question that keeps coming up over and over and over again.
A: He decided, in theory, he was capable of indicting a
sitting president, but it would be disruptive. He would have to fight
it all the way to the Supreme Court and, for all kinds of reasons, he
decided it was not a good idea. He commissioned a prosecution memo and
a sample indictment of the president for when the president leaves
office. That is something that is still being kicked around by Starr’s
successor, Rob Ray.