I had to chuckle over the weekend as pundits tried to square the circle of Ken Starr, who led the impeachment crusade against Bill Clinton in 1998, defending Donald Trump on impeachment charges in 2020. Why, it seems so inconsistent on its face!
But for Starr, it’s 1,000 percent consistent. It’s who he is.
He’s a political hack. A total partisan hatchet man. One of the most poisonous political figures of our time. No—worse. One of the most poisonous public figures. Not just in politics, but in any realm. I’d sooner have O.J. over for dinner.
He’s another one of those men who started his adult life as a Democrat—even a Vietnam protester!—but got yucked out by something along the way and became a Reagan man. Like Rudy Giuliani, another historically poisonous figure (I wouldn’t have said this of him, by the way, until the last couple of years).
But let’s just go back to the pivotal moment, when Starr became known by the nation at large. This was 1994, when he was appointed to replace Robert Fiske as independent counsel investigating Clinton. This was one of the sleaziest episodes in recent American political history, at least until Trump came along.
In January of 1994, Clinton reluctantly agreed to let Attorney General Janet Reno name a special prosecutor to look into the Whitewater affair, a land deal in Arkansas that he had invested in while governor there. He did nothing wrong, as subsequent investigations made clear, but the right-wing noise machine, then just gestating into a thing that mattered, was declaring Clinton guilty of swindling his co-investor (the opposite was the truth) and duping regulators. Aides told him, “If you did nothing wrong, a special prosecutor will give you a clean bill of health, and your opponents will have to shut up about this.” Which was true, in theory.
Reno appointed Fiske. He had a strong reputation. He was a Republican. But he was not a movement conservative, and this was his real crime. He sniffed around for about six months, didn’t find much, and issued the first part of his report, about the suicide of Clinton aide Vince Foster. Some right-wingers were literally going around saying the Clintons had Foster iced because he knew too much. Fiske found he committed suicide. No conspiracy.
The wingnuts were up in arms and feared that in Part 2, about Whitewater, Fiske was going to exonerate the Clintons. Fiske has subsequently said that he did uncover evidence of serious crimes, but not by the Clintons. (I know I’m going into some detail here, but trust me, I have to, so you can see how filthy this deal was.)
At this exact time, the independent counsel law was expiring. Congress passed a law renewing it, which awaited Clinton’s signature. Under the circumstances, he couldn’t very well end it. Oh, that’s the kind of thing Trump would do in a heartbeat, but pre-Trump, presidents worried about such appearances.
So Clinton signed the law, which had one fateful impact. It shifted the oversight of the independent counsel from the Justice Department (the attorney general) to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Specifically, to a three-judge panel that consisted of two movement conservatives.
They fired Fiske. They claimed he had a conflict because his firm had once represented International Paper, which years before had done business with Clinton’s Whitewater partner. They replaced him with Starr. Starr’s firm represented International Paper at the time of Starr’s appointment! But somehow, that wasn’t a conflict. And that’s how we came to be saddled with Ken Starr as a household name.
From there, you know what happened. The judges knew that Starr had something Fiske didn’t: zero scruples. Starr would go to any length to pin anything he could on the Clintons. The whole thing was a set-up by hard-right judges, working with hard-right activists to install a hard-right prosecutor who threatened witnesses and leaked grand-jury information and held one witness in a plexiglass cell as if she were some kind of war criminal.
Then he got lucky because another set of hard-right activists learned that Clinton had had intimate relations with Monica Lewinsky (what a great tweet she wrote the other day!), and they told Starr’s prosecutors—who were supposed to be looking, remember, into a real-estate deal—all about it and finagled things so Clinton lied under oath about it, leading to his impeachment and the release of Starr’s sex-obsessed “report” (written, you may recall, with help from a young Brett Kavanaugh.)
That’s who Starr is, in addition to the good Christian man who spent years waving away a wave of sexual assaults at the university of which he was president. Funny thing about Starr and sex. He seems to think it’s evil when a Democratic president has it with someone other than his wife, but OK and worth trying to cover up or excuse when a football player does it to an unconsenting woman.
And now, of course, he’s defending Trump. Starr’s perverted the law for rancid partisan purposes and ruined a major university, but I guess he feels hasn’t done enough damage to America yet, so now he’s going to help exonerate a president who tried to get a foreign government to help him rig the next election.
Principle, you say? There is no principle. Actually, there is one, the same one that drives Bill Barr: That Godless liberals are evil, and when you’re waging jihad against them, nothing is out of bounds.
Of course, this doesn’t explain his behavior at Baylor. Or his legal defense of Jeffrey Epstein. Or his plea to a judge to sentence to community service rather than jail time a Virginia man who admitted to having molested five girls under the age of 14 years before.
So maybe there is another principle at work. Maybe he’s just attracted to sleazy, disgusting men. Takes one to know one.