The return of Ken Starr
A quarter century ago this month, Kenneth Starr was appointed special prosecutor, spending the next four years going after President Bill Clinton. That is old news —except that Starr has resurfaced as a frequent media contributor, casting himself as a legal arbiter and moral sheriff. Now, the apparent suicide of accused child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein adds another past element to Starr’s legacy, given his past representation of Epstein.
Starr’s harsh criticism of special counsel Robert Mueller was welcomed by the White House and congressional Republicans. Yet the Mueller report was a gold standard next to Starr’s probe: It was completed in less than two years, whereas Starr took more than four; Mueller worked full-time, but Starr kept his law practice and clients; Mueller’s investigation nabbed Trump’s campaign manager, personal attorney and national security adviser for felonies while Starr got only peripheral figures.
Starr accused the Trump special counsel of going into “too much detail.” This from the man who — after failing on his initial charge and then turning to Clinton’s sexual affair and his lying about it — issued a report providing more details about oral sex than most X-rated movies.
Starr complained about leaks from the Mueller office, which was known for being almost leak-proof. By contrast, the Starr team was a sieve.
Starr accused Mueller of not being “fair and balanced” and of going on a “fishing expedition.” In his recent self-serving memoir, “Contempt,” Starr’s main target is actually Hillary Clinton, not Bill: “We were of one accord that Hillary was a liar.” The former First Lady testified before Starr’s investigators six times. If Starr was convinced she repeatedly lied, why didn’t he indict her? It was Starr who reopened the settled suicide tragedy of former White House counsel Vince Foster, putting his family through three more years of pain — and then reached the same conclusion.
Starr was apparently outraged by what he called Mueller’s zealous prosecutors, like Andrew Weissmann, and a partisan staff. Weissmann was as tough as some Starr prosecutors, only better. The Clinton impeachment staff included such politically ambitious movement conservatives as Brett Kavanaugh, now a Supreme Court Justice after fending off a sexual assault charge, and Alex Azar, now in Trump’s cabinet.
Starr said his team was bipartisan, claiming that the inclusion of respected Democrats like lawyers Mark Tuohey and Sam Dash “put the lie to the allegations that the Starr investigation was politically motivated.” Except that both left the Starr team as it became blatantly political. Dash left, Starr charges, because of “unrelenting pressure from his Democratic colleagues.” He claims and repeats that the Clinton impeachment in the House was bipartisan, supported by 31 Democrats. In fact, it was five.
Clinton White House counsel Abner Mikva, who had a good relationship with Starr when they served on the U.S. Court of Appeals, initially assured that the special prosecutor would “be fair.” It didn’t take long to change that view and see him as “out of control.” Mikva told me that Starr calculated that nailing Clinton would enhance his chances for the Supreme Court under the next Republican president.
The perpetually pious Starr casts himself as a champion of abused women, outraged at Clinton’s “shockingly callous contempt for the women he used for his pleasure.”
Fair enough… except for Starr’s subsequent actions, beginning with serving as a counsel for sexual assault pervert Jeffrey Epstein, who died by suicide in prison last weekend — according to authorities — while awaiting trial on new charges. To be sure, everyone deserves representation. But the super-wealthy Epstein had choices, and in 2008 Starr willingly accepted and negotiated a sweetheart plea deal.
Thanks to the Miami Herald, that deal later came under withering criticism. This past March, Starr and his fellow Epstein counsels wrote a letter to the New York Times taking issue with the criticism, claiming the number of Epstein’s victims “has been vastly exaggerated” and “there was no international sex trafficking operation.” Yet, last month Epstein was seized and indicted by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney for pervasive sex trafficking.
In 2010 Starr became president of Baylor University, where sexual scandals dominated again. He loved to run out on the field with the powerful football team. Some of those players, however, were sexual predators. The Dallas Morning News in 2016 said Starr “focused on football, faltered on sexual assaults.” After firing him in 2016, the University’s regents told the Wall Street Journal that during Starr’s tenure, 19 Baylor players were accused of sexual or domestic assault, including four gang rapes. Starr personally reinstated one football player, who is now serving a 20-year prison term for committing multiple rapes.
On his firing, Starr told the Journal that some regents were out to get him and that “I personally have doubts that there were gang rapes.” An external investigation by a Philadelphia law firm, however, found a lack of institutional support and engagement by Baylor’s leadership.
Washington is full of self-righteous hypocrites — in both parties and of all persuasions. The king may be Ken Starr.
Starr now is back — in the limelight and touting his credentials: a law clerk to a Chief Justice, a federal appeals court judge, Solicitor General.
His advice now is that impeachment is bad for country … at least when a Republican is in office.
Albert R. Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter-century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter @alhuntdc.
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