Starr, Kenneth Winston
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Starr, Kenneth Winston
Kenneth Starr has served as a judge on the court of appeals, as U.S. Solicitor General, and came to national attention as the Independent Counsel who investigated President bill clinton and his administration. Appointed as independent counsel in 1994, Starr garnered both vilification and praise for his investigation into the Arkansas land deal known as Whitewater and the investigation into the president's affair with Monica Lewinsky, a young White House intern.
Starr was born in Vernon, Texas, on July 21, 1946, to Willie and Vannie Starr. His father was a minister for the Church of Christ in Thalia, Texas; he also barbered and sold milk from the family cow. The children had a strict upbringing commensurate with their father's calling. When Starr was young, the family moved to San Antonio, where he was elected class president of Sam Houston High during his junior and senior years. He first became interested in the political process during the 1960 presidential campaign between john f. kennedy and richard m. nixon.
After high school graduation, Starr attended Harding College, a school affiliated with the Church of Christ and located in Searcy, Arkansas. To help defray his expenses, he sold Bibles door-to-door. According to one of his roommates, Starr did not deviate from his conservative upbringing. Nevertheless, as an editor of the college newspaper, Starr reportedly defended the rights of Vietnam War protesters, although he supported the war.
To better pursue his interest in politics, Starr transferred to George Washington University, graduating in 1968. He obtained a master's degree from Brown University, then attended Duke University Law School. At Duke he served as an editor of the Duke Law Journal. After graduation in 1973, Starr clerked for a federal appellate judge in the District of Columbia, worked briefly as an associate in a law firm, then was selected to clerk for Supreme Court Chief Justice warren e. burger.
"What I fear is an age of constitutional illiteracy."
In private practice after his clerkship, Starr became acquainted with William French Smith. When ronald reagan appointed Smith to be attorney general in 1981, Starr joined the Justice Department. Starr's typically conservative opinions generally meshed well with those of the Reagan administration. However, Starr disagreed with the administration when it supported a Christian evangelical college's efforts to retain certain tax benefits after it was disclosed that the institution had discriminated against minorities.
Reagan rewarded Starr with an appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which is considered the most prestigious federal appellate court. In 1983, at age 37, Starr was the youngest person ever to be appointed to the court of appeals. During his six-year tenure, Starr consistently displayed his conservative ideology, but inspired respect from both conservatives and liberals for his judicial integrity.
Starr accepted the position of solicitor general offered him by President george h.w. bush in 1989. His duties as solicitor general included arguing cases on behalf of the United States in the Supreme Court and deciding which government cases merited appeal. He returned to private practice when President Clinton took office. On August 5, 1994, a three-judge panel selected Starr to replace Robert B. Fiske Jr. as independent counsel for the inquiry into the Whitewater affair clouding the Clinton administration.
Although Fiske had already done so, Starr investigated Bill and Hillary Clinton's connection to the failure of the Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan, a bank in Little Rock, Arkansas, owned by James and Susan McDougal, business partners of the Clintons. Susan McDougal refused to testify before Starr's Grand Jury, and consequently served about 18 months in prison on Contempt charges. Starr also reopened an investigation into the 1993 death of White House counsel Vincent W. Foster Jr. Fiske had concluded that Foster had committed suicide, but conspiracy theories abounded that Foster had been murdered. Starr's July 1997 report concluded that the death was a suicide. At the request of Attorney General Janet Reno, Starr also investigated the 1993 firing of White House travel employees at a time when friends of the Clintons were getting into the travel business, and the misappropriation of FBI files on Republicans by White House staffers.
Starr took an unprecedented step when he called hillary clinton to testify before a grand jury in 1996. Starr had earlier subpoenaed from Hillary Clinton's Little Rock law firm billing records relating to her work for the failed Madison Guaranty. Some of the records were missing until early 1996, when they were discovered in the Clintons' private living quarters of the White House. Starr sought the First Lady's testimony to determine whether the Clintons or others in the administration had hidden evidence or otherwise tried to obstruct justice.
Starr faced significant criticism from the beginning of his tenure for the perceived partisan nature of his investigation, as well as for the cost of the investigation, estimated at $40 million through 1998. Starr was also criticized for a paucity of results. Former Arkansas governor Jim Guy Tucker was convicted of conspiracy for actions in a real estate scheme from his days as a lawyer in public practice, and Susan and Jim McDougal were found guilty of criminal charges. Webster Hubbell, Hillary Clinton's former law partner and high-ranking Justice Department official, pleaded guilty in 1994 to two counts of Tax Evasion and Mail Fraud. David Hale, a former municipal judge and businessman, was convicted on Fraud and conspiracy charges and has claimed that he was pressured by Clinton to make an illegal loan, but these charges are unsubstantiated. Starr failed to obtain convictions in a 1996 trial involving bank officers accused of misappropriating funds, which he tried to link to Clinton's 1986 campaign for governor.
In early 1998, revelations involving President Clinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky began to surface, and Starr's office was immediately in the midst of controversy. Starr sanctioned the wiring of Pentagon employee Linda R. Tripp, a confidant of Lewinsky, in order to learn more about the alleged affair between the president and Lewinsky, and to discover any attempts to conceal the affair. Despite significant criticism that he had gone too far, Starr continued with his investigation, claiming there was a need to determine whether President Clinton had committed perjury or obstructed justice in connection with a Sexual Harassment case brought against Clinton by former Arkansas state employee, Paula Corbin Jones.
In early January 1998, Lewinsky offered an Affidavit in the Jones case denying that she had had a sexual relationship with the president. On January 17, 1998, Clinton made the same denial in a deposition in the Jones case. Starr's investigation was further complicated in April 1998 when Federal District Judge susan webber wright dismissed the Jones lawsuit before trial. Dismissal of the lawsuit engendered further criticism for Starr when he refused to drop his perjury and Obstruction of Justice investigation.
In July 1998, Starr subpoenaed President Clinton to testify before the grand jury. The subpoena was later withdrawn when Clinton agreed to testify voluntarily. Clinton also voluntarily provided to the office of independent counsel a vial of blood to determine whether a dress of Lewinsky's was stained with his semen. The president testified via videotape to the grand jury on August 17, 1998.
Later that day, he admitted in a televised speech that he had had an "inappropriate" relationship with Lewinsky, but he steadfastly maintained that he had not committed perjury or obstructed justice. In the speech, Clinton severely castigated Starr's investigation, a move that angered many of the president's supporters. However, the investigator became the investigated on October 30, 1998, when a federal judge approved a special inquiry into whether Starr's office had leaked secret grand jury information.
In September 1998, Starr delivered his report and 36 boxes of accompanying evidence to Capitol Hill, detailing the president's sexual conduct and setting out possible grounds for Impeachment. Although Clinton continued to enjoy significant support from the public, the Starr Report prompted the House Judiciary Committee to open an investigation into Clinton's actions in October 1998. Starr testified before the House Judiciary Committee for 12 hours in November 1998, and the next month the committee sent four Articles of Impeachment to the full House. The four articles were pared to two by the full House in December—one article for perjury before a grand jury, and another for obstruction of justice in the Jones lawsuit. Clinton was acquitted in February 1999.
Prosecutions by the office of independent counsel continued in the first half of 1999, but showed signs of slowing down. Susan McDougal was acquitted in late April on an obstruction of justice charge, and the jury failed to reach a verdict on two counts of criminal contempt. In May 1999, a mistrial was declared when the jury failed to reach a verdict in the case of Julie Hiatt Steele, whom Starr charged had obstructed justice and made false statements regarding the investigation of alleged misconduct by the president toward Kathleen Willey, a former White House volunteer. Starr later announced that he would not retry either McDougal or Steele.
On June 30, 1999, Webster Hubbell plead guilty to charges that he lied to bank regulators to conceal work by himself and Hillary Clinton on an Arkansas land development project when they were partners in Little Rock. Hubbell was sentenced to a year of Probation. Finally, Starr scored a victory when federal judge Susan Webber Wright held President Clinton in civil contempt for lying in his deposition in the Jones sexual harassment lawsuit.
Senate hearings began in February 1999 to determine whether the Independent Counsel Act, enacted in 1974 in the wake of the Watergate scandal, should be allowed to expire. Kenneth Starr testified against extension of the law. Congress allowed the Independent Counsel Act to expire in June 1999. Starr resigned his post in October 1999 and was succeeded by senior litigation counsel Robert W. Ray. In September 2000 Ray announced that he was closing the Whitewater inquiry based on insufficient evidence. The total cost of the investigation was estimated to be $70 million dollars in public funds.
After he resigned, Starr returned to private practice at the Washington, D.C.-based firm of Kirkland & Ellis. In the 2000s, he continued to practice law, lecture, and write. He also served as an adjunct professor at New York University, and a distinguished visiting professor at George Mason University School of Law in Virginia. In 2002, Starr published First Among Equals: The Supreme Court in American Life.
Posner, Richard A. 1999. An Affair of State: The Investigation, Impeachment, and Trial of President Clinton. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.
Schmidt, Susan, and Michael Weisskopf. 2000. Truth at Any Cost: Ken Starr and the Unmaking of Bill Clinton. New York: Harper Collins.
Starr, Kenneth W. 2002. First Among Equals: The Supreme Court in American Life. New York: Warner Books.
Wittes, Benjamin. 2002. Starr: A Reassessment. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press.