Starr, Kenneth W.

Starr, Kenneth W.
▪ 1999

      On Sept. 9, 1998, Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr reported to the U.S. Congress grounds for finding that Bill Clinton (q.v.) had committed perjury, obstructed justice, tampered with a witness, and abused his power as U.S. president. In the report, which was accompanied by voluminous evidence that included a semen-stained dress, tapes of telephone conversations, and grand jury testimony, Starr charged that Clinton had lied under oath about a sexual relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky and had taken steps to cover it up. The report was both legalistic in its tone and salacious in its explicit descriptions of sexual encounters between the two. On October 8 the full House voted 258-176, with 31 Democrats joining the Republican majority, to conduct impeachment hearings, and on December 11-12 the House Judiciary Committee reported four articles of impeachment against the president. On December 19 the full House approved two of the charges, perjury and obstruction of justice.

      Starr was born July 21, 1946, in Vernon, Texas. His father was a minister, and during one summer Starr sold bibles door-to-door to earn money for college. He graduated from George Washington University, Washington, D.C. (B.A., 1968), and Brown University, Providence, R.I. (M.A., 1969), and earned a J.D. (1973) from Duke University, Durham, N.C. He held government positions, serving as a law clerk (1975-77) to Chief Justice Warren Burger, as a counselor to the U.S. attorney general (1981-83), as an appellate judge (1983-89), and as U.S. solicitor general (1989-93). In August 1994 he took over the investigation of the so-called Whitewater affair, which involved a land deal in Arkansas during the time Clinton was that state's governor. As a result of the investigation, 11 people—including Clinton associates James and Susan McDougal—were convicted of crimes. Starr later investigated the suicide of Vincent Foster, a longtime friend of the Clintons and White House counsel, but the matter was eventually closed. He subsequently was directed to investigate what came to be known as Travelgate, involving the firing of longtime White House workers, and Filegate, pertaining to FBI files on Republicans that were found in the White House. In 1998, however, the Clinton-Lewinsky relationship consumed Starr's attention.

      Controversy surrounded Starr's investigation, which included the media's relentless reporting of lurid information, and both Starr and the White House were charged with making improper leaks. There were accusations that the investigative activities of Starr, a fervid Republican, were politically motivated. Starr also was criticized for continuing to represent clients of his law firm, Kirkland & Ellis, and he was eventually forced to take an unpaid leave from the firm. As the inquiry progressed, the president's and the prosecutor's approval ratings moved in opposite directions: Clinton's rose and Starr's fell. This seemed partly to reflect much of the public's distaste for the Starr investigation, which many saw as an attempt by congressional Republicans to topple the president over a matter of private rather than public conduct. Some observers even called for abolition of the role of special prosecutor, an office established in the 1970s, or for its modification when authorization expired in 1999.


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Universalium. 2010.

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