TCS Daily


Ken Starr Saved Bill Clinton from Himself

By John E. Tamny - June 25, 2004 12:00 AM

In advance of this week's release of his 957-page memoir, former President Bill Clinton is already rewriting history. Most notably he has excoriated Ken Starr; a remarkable delusion on Clinton's part given that the former Whitewater special prosecutor arguably saved him from committing perjury before a federal grand jury.

The spin began last week, with the former president telling USA Today that Starr was guilty of an "abuse of power" that "crushed innocents." Perhaps mixing journalism with advocacy, CBS anchor Dan Rather noted in the same USA Today piece that Clinton's most "interesting and riveting" comments from Sunday night's 60 Minutes interview concern Ken Starr, and his "'unethical and illegal' attempt to destroy his presidency." Rather went on to say that Clinton "described Starr as a 'proverbial hatchet man for very wealthy, radical-right Republicans.'"

That Bill Clinton would attempt to cast himself as the unwitting victim of a vast right-wing conspiracy is not surprising. What is fascinating is that he would do so in the face of so much contradictory evidence.

Consider his assertion that Starr was the "hatchet man for very wealthy, radical-right Republicans." The "radical right Republican" that he no doubt referred to is Richard Mellon Scaife, but according to the book Truth At Any Cost,

"Starr and Scaife had never met, and shared a mutual distrust. Scaife bankrolled
journalistic ventures by far-right conspiracy theorists who believed Vince Foster
had been murdered. He was contemptuous of Starr's conclusion that Foster died

by his own hand. Starr believe Scaife was irresponsible, and the public
suspicions he stirred up unnecessarily dragged out his probe. Starr even thought
Scaife might try to scotch his job at Pepperdine."

Regarding the above-mentioned book's authors, Susan Schmidt and Michael Weisskopf: they, if anything, would qualify for the vast left-wing media conspiracy; Schmidt being the co-author of a book titled Tell Newt to Shut Up (guess which Newt), while Weisskopf worked for the Washington Post (as did Schmidt) before switching to Time Magazine. Despite their lefty credentials, their book was surprisingly evenhanded, and certainly came to different conclusions about Starr.

Contrary to Clinton's "unethical and illegal" characterization, Schmidt and Weisskopf wrote that,

"Starr flatly opposed an early subpoena of Clinton. He told his troops that
as a matter of respect and comity they should 'exhaust all remedies' to get him
to appear voluntarily. Clinton was in a unique bind, Starr thought, and

prosecutors had to be careful about exploiting it."

Starr knew that Clinton could not invoke the Fifth Amendment as an ordinary American might because "it would be seen as an admission of guilt and fuel calls for his resignation or impeachment." That in mind, Starr's office invited Clinton to testify several times, but did not make those invitations public.

But what makes Bill Clinton's demonization of Ken Starr truly shocking is that had he been the vindictive sort, the latter could have trapped Clinton in a lie before the federal grand jury investigating Whitewater. Indeed, while in the process of the Janet Reno ordered probe into the president's ties with Monica Lewinsky, Starr's team eventually learned from the FBI lab that the stain on Lewinsky's dress was in fact semen.

This is important because, as Schmidt and Weisskopf wrote, "prosecutors could have waited until after the (Clinton's) testimony to ask for a blood sample, keeping him in the dark. Then, if he stuck to his denial of a sexual relationship with Lewinsky, Starr would have an open-and-shut case of perjury."

Rather than trap him in a lie, Starr chose to throw "Clinton a lifeline" and ordered a blood test of then President Clinton. In asking for the test, Starr team-member Bob Bittman "tacitly confirmed DNA had been found on the dress," a truthful admission that saved Clinton from making false ones.

As opposed to destroying Bill Clinton's presidency, it could be argued that Ken Starr did more than anyone to save it. While it's impossible to know for sure, it doesn't seem like much of a reach to say that Clinton would not have survived a perjury conviction.

Despite what Ken Starr did for him in the darkest moments of his presidency, Bill Clinton has resorted to cheap shots about him, and has once again taken the low road as he tries to rewrite history. Rather than join him, Ken Starr has once again taken the dignified route, saying on Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered that he "understand(s) the depth of his (Clinton's) feelings."


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