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Starr: A Reassessment

Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    How is Kenneth Starr's extraordinary term as independent counsel to be understood? Was he a partisan warrior out to get the Clintons, or a savior of the Republic? An unstoppable menace, an unethical lawyer, or a sex-obsessed Puritan striving to enforce a right-wing social morality? This book is the first serious, impartial effort to evaluate and critique Starr's tenure as independent counsel. Relying on lengthy, revealing interviews with Starr and many other players in Clinton-era Washington,Washington Postjournalist Benjamin Wittes arrives at a new understanding of Starr and the part he played in one of American history's most enthralling public sagas.Wittes offers a subtle and deeply considered portrait of a decent man who fundamentally misconstrued his function under the independent counsel law. Starr took his task to be ferreting out and reporting the truth about official misconduct, a well-intentioned but nevertheless misguided distortion of the law, Wittes argues. At key moments throughout Starr's probe-from the decision to reinvestigate the death of Vincent Foster, Jr., to the repeated prosecutions of Susan McDougal and Webster Hubbell to the failure to secure Monica Lewinsky's testimony quickly--the prosecutor avoided the most sensible prosecutorial course, fearing that it would compromise the larger search for truth. This approach not only delayed investigations enormously, but it gave Starr the appearance of partisan zealotry and an almost maniacal determination to prosecute the president. With insight and originality, Wittes provides in this account of Starr's term a fascinating reinterpretation of the man, his performance, and the controversial events that surrounded the impeachment of President Clinton.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12748-5
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xviii)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Images of Starr
    (pp. 1-28)

    The Howard Johnson’s that the Watergate burglars used as an observation post during their ill-fated adventure across Virginia Avenue in Northwest Washington was purchased by George Washington University and converted into a dormitory, but it still looked like a HoJo’s. At least on the seventh floor, its role in history remained very much alive for the freshmen who lived there as part of an extracurricular seminar on Watergate and its legacy during the Fall 1999 semester. The room Richard Nixon’s minions had once stocked with eavesdropping equipment was decked out with Watergate memorabilia. In a small auditorium on the ground...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Taming the Statute
    (pp. 29-70)

    The public’s suspicions about Kenneth Starr, which began almost immediately upon his appointment in 1994, lend in retrospect some sense of inevitability to his subsequent behavior. Starr attracted this skepticism chiefly because of the peculiar circumstances of his appointment: the sudden sacking of the well-regarded Robert Fiske Jr. following the infamous lunch between Judge David Sentelle, the presiding judge on the special court that names independent counsels, and conservative senators Jesse Helms and Lauch Faircloth.¹ To make matters worse, Starr had taken a public position against presidential immunity from civil actions—then the pressing question in the Paula Jones suit—...

  6. CHAPTER 3 The Truth Commission and Whitewater
    (pp. 71-142)

    Kenneth Starr’s truth commission understanding of the independent counsel statute manifested itself subtly during the early portions of his investigation. That subtlety, to some extent, resulted from the density of the probe’s often mindnumbing subject matter. Few members of the public understood even the parameters of the questions at issue in Whitewater, much less how Whitewater intersected with Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan, the Castle Grande real estate deal, the death of White House aide Vincent Foster Jr., or—more tenuously—to the White House Travel Office or the FBI files scandal. Especially before the Monica Lewinsky scandal erupted in...

  7. CHAPTER 4 The Truth Commission and Monica
    (pp. 143-182)

    Kenneth Starr’s truth commission vision came to its full fruition during the Monica Lewinsky investigation, which provided an unusually good foil for the excesses of his approach. The Lewinsky affair, after all, involved an investigation that was chiefly about truth itself—specifically, about the president’s lies and his efforts to encourage others to lie about the most personal of subjects imaginable. The purpose of the investigation, in other words, was to uncover a kind of metatruth, or, at least, to uncover the truth about falsehood, a goal that, in the context of an investigation of sexual infidelity, necessarily raised the...

  8. CHAPTER 5 Separating Truth From Justice
    (pp. 183-202)

    The events that led to the impeachment of President Clinton exist now in that peculiar zone between journalism and history. They lie in the past and are consequently not the subject of daily reporting. The facts have stabilized, and one need not make each utterance today with the certainty that tomorrow’s disclosures will moot it. At the same time, huge sets of data remain unexplored—most important, Starr’s own paper trail, which under the law is to be transmitted to the National Archive now that the investigation is fully completed, and parts of which will become public. The hackneyed cliché...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 203-242)
  10. Index
    (pp. 243-251)