One of the more famous names in U.S. politics stood silent amid five women in their 30s on an elevator and, without a word, walked out when the doors opened.
When the five women were asked if they knew who just walked off the elevator, they all said no. When asked if they knew the name Ken Starr, they all said no.
When told he was the man who famously investigated President Bill Clinton in the ‘90s, one of the women asked, “Who is Clinton?”
She was joking, but none of them knew Ken Starr.
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In 1998, such a scenario would have been inconceivable. In 2018, such a scenario is wholly believable.
Now in his 70s and having essentially retired from his days as president of Baylor University, Starr resides in Waco and recently published a memoir about the investigation of the Clintons, “Contempt.”
The book is Starr’s version of events.
He recently sat down for an interview about the investigation, of his time at Baylor, and his legacy.
You seem very angry in this book; is that a fair characterization?
No. I’m not angry, but I am determined to share the story from my perspective.
Were you angry when this investigation was on going?
I tried to control my emotions and to say all of my colleagues we just have a job to do and we have to put up with all of this. We had to try not to pay attention to it.
Since being appointed to investigate that family, looking back was it worth it?
Yes. It certainly came at a personal cost especially to my family. And I regret that to this day. The cost my daughter had to pay. The 24-hour security for her. Michael Moore intruding in our neighborhood. My daughter was taken in a quite negative light from that event. I wish that family had been out of the nest.
I know there is one part you would do over again and that is the interview with Steven Brill. What else?
Wow, I’m very impressed you read the book. I didn’t think you had.
That’s nice. Thanks. I did.
Well, not everyone does on these. Yes, doing that interview was quite foolhardy of me.
Other than that, what would you do differently?
I would have had more of heart-to-heart with (U.S. Attorney General) Janet Reno to say, ‘Is there someone for this to be handled by someone else?’ For her to appoint someone else. Maybe she had one and considered one; as far as I knew, I was the only show in town she had confidence. Throughout the investigation she showed confidence. Everything appointed, almost like Mueller like, were getting results.
Before that, I had almost gone to Pepperdine (where he would later serve as school president) anyway. If there had been a resolution to the Jim Guy Tucker situation (the former Arkansas governor who Starr investigated for fraudulent loans and who had a business relationship with Clinton). Had that been done, I would have already been gone to Pepperdine and I would never have done (the Clinton investigation). It would have been somebody else’s problem.
You partially excuse Monica Lewinsky because she was naive, but you were very critical of her first attorney. Can you separate the two?
... I think he was incompetent. She is very smart. Whatever her grades were at Lewis and Clark, she is very clever.
You seem to respect President Bill Clinton’s intellect and ability to connect with anybody.
Absolutely. The best. The very best. It’s all too easy to say because ‘Starr has this background that it was all about (Clinton’s relationship with Lewinsky). That he found nothing in Little Rock (with Whitewater) and now he’s probing into his marital life.” The reason I felt it was necessary to write the book was because I was seriously considering indicting Hillary Rodham Clinton for her crimes in Arkansas. We felt there were crimes (for illegal commodities trading).
You write that, and you are not Mrs. Clinton’s biggest fan.
Well said. I wasn’t alone. Every prosecutor who had any kind of relationship in the questioning process came away with exactly the same impression: She was not a good lawyer because she didn’t seem to be trying. She was totally lying. She used, ‘I don’t recall’ over 100 times. She could be charming.
I have never heard the word ‘charming’ associated with Mrs. Clinton.
Look at the ‘Pink Press’ conference (in 1994 during Bill Clinton’s first term when she explained investments to reporters in a White House press conference where she wore a pink sweater). World class. Bill was the best, but at least she tried to play the game and she played it well indeed.
You have a unique position in American history; is that good or bad?
It’s both, because a fair-minded observer of what happened would say this was really about the rule of law. And ill-motivated observer would say the guy was a rogue prosecutor, which is profoundly unfair in that (Attorney General) Janet Reno said, “Go look into Monica Lewinsky.” We just go look into it; we had it, we corroborated it, and we took it to the attorney general. She made the judgment.
Moving to the court, can the Supreme Court be non-partisan?
Yes it can! I get very passionate about this. Yes. It can. If there is steely dispassion the way Oliver Wendell Holmes ascribed.
What example do you use to say, ‘Yes. It’s non-partisan.’ I can think of one that’s obvious.
Yes. I think most of the court’s First Amendment jurisprudence goes against the “Lock ‘em up, ‘sock ‘em up” pretty uniformly and unanimous of First Amendment rights. There are many pro-criminal defense acts, led by (deceased Justice Antonin) Scalia. The 10th Amendment and the rights of the states. There are times when the court has said Congress has gone too far here. You will get 50 or so cases every year that are unanimous.
You narrowly missed out on the chance to be a Supreme Court justice when President George H.W. Bush selected David Souter over you; did you make peace with that?
Oh, sure. I mean, what choice did I have?
Your legacy at Baylor is?
I think it’s too soon to tell because so many facts are coming out. We don’t have all of the facts. I don’t know know all of the facts. I know I was not fired for cause. I resigned as chancellor as a matter of conscience.
Will there be an exoneration of the leadership at Baylor during that period, including yourself, or will that be in the eye of the beholder?
The jury is out.
Your legacy as an American?
Is that he really tried to do his duty honestly as best as he could. That should be the legacy.