By The Associated Press
Well, good afternoon. With me is John Bates, who is deputy independent counsel here, Saul Weisenberg, who has recently joined our staff here in Washington from the United States Attorney's Office.
As most of you know, a school that's very dear to me, Pepperdine University, recently honored me and announced that I had accepted the positions of dean at the Law School, succeeding Ron Philips, the distinguished founding dean of that Law School, and to serve simultaneously as founding dean of the new School of Public Policy.
It has become clear to me that for the sake of continued confidence in this investigation, it would be inappropriate on my part to set any arbitrary date upon which to terminate my service as independent counsel.
Accordingly, I have informed Pepperdine University, in consultations with its distinguished president, David Davenport, with whom I have been working collaboratively, that I do intend to continue as independent counsel and that I will assume no duties or responsibilities at Pepperdine until the investigation and any resulting prosecutions of any persons who were named in the original order appointing me, or high-ranking government officials have been substantially completed.
And I am pleased to say that Pepperdine has kindly agreed to this arrangement.
My commitment is to the people and to the pursuit of the truth. As we say frequently, we want the facts. And I will seek to fulfill that responsibility to the best of my ability and for as long as it takes. And I regret -- I deeply regret -- any action on my part that has called into question my commitment in that respect.
Are there questions?
Q: Are you going to continue to represent other interests with your law firm?
A: Well, I -- as you know, the statute specifically provides for individuals called to be independent counsel to carry on. In fact, the original appointment order appointed me as a member of the firm of Kirkland & Ellis, and so I am continuing as a partner in the firm.
But having said that, from the outset my top priority has been this investigation. That has been my understanding with my law firm, the partners of whom I value and whom I treasure. And that first priority continues to be this investigation.
Q: If it's so important, Mr. Starr --
Q: --that caused you to reverse your decision?
A: I think there was a sense that the vision that I tried to articulate at the Duke Law School in May of 1995, and which I re-articulated just two days ago, as to my vision of the function of the independent counsel, was not a sufficiently complete vision of what that role is.
The Office of Independent Counsel is a new entity in our structure of government. And I articulated on the public record, I think with some care and in some detail almost two years ago, what my vision was. I re-articulated that, or tried to at least, two days ago. But it is my sense that public confidence in the investigation calls upon me to continue my service now.
Q: Mr. Starr, if it's so important to stay on the investigation in order to keep, you know, the confidence in it, why would you have stepped down in the first place, which you certainly realize took a lot of people by surprise?
A: Well, I frankly, was of the view that my role, as I had articulated it, was at such a stage that it would have been appropriate for me to step down in August and to assume the duties at Pepperdine. But it is my judgment that setting an arbitrary date was unwise. It was incorrect. In retrospect, it was a mistake for me to set an arbitrary date in which I would conclude my duties as independent counsel.
Q: But did you think it was going to go on and be completed in due course, you know, without you, or --
A: It was my sense that my role and responsibility could be discharged during the time that was left for me to serve as independent counsel. But it is my sense, and I have been in collaboration with my colleagues in the office, that that was an unwise judgment on my part.
Q: Did you consult with those colleagues before you made your announcement? And did the issue, the concerns, that you are now acknowledging are valid, were they raised and discussed before you made your decision on?
A: I consulted inadequately with my colleagues at the office. And I have since, since I have trumpeted the concerns with respect to the need in the exercise of governmental responsibility, especially this kind of responsibility, that there be a process, that there be in fact a procedure and a process that, if it's understood by the American people, will be understood as essentially a microcosm of the Justice Department and a well-functioning United States Attorney's Office, operating with integrity, operating with professionalism.
I believe that exists. I believe it exists now. I think it has existed for some time. But it is also clear to me, including from communications from outside the investigation, that that vision that I had articulated as recently as two days ago was an insufficient and incomplete view of my role, my responsibilities.
Q: But when you say you consulted inadequately, did they raise the concerns and you just didn't hear them; or --
A: I'm not going to --
Q: did they not raise the concerns; or did you not solicit their concerns?
A: I am taking, Mike, responsibility for the decision that I made, including the fact that I do not believe in retrospect that I adequately consulted with my colleagues.
So, as Fiorello LaGuardia would say, when I make a mistake, it's a beaut. I try not to make mistakes. I do make mistakes. But it is an example, by the way, of I've learned my own lesson, the importance of the deliberative process that I have been trumpeting.
Q: Sir, has the events of the last couple of days with the Asian-American connection of possible money laundering given you more impetus, and maybe you thought it over again; or has there been some pressure for you to stay on in light of these new revelations?
A: No, I can't comment on any aspect of the substance of our ongoing work. It really was a determination that in order for public confidence to be what it needs to be in this investigation, that it was our considered judgment, and I think it was shared by each person in the office, that I should remain on with no arbitrary date for departure. And so what I have done is to determine to commit to the completion of the work of this office with no arbitrary time limit set on that.
Q: A follow-up --
A: Just one second. I'm sorry.
Yes, follow up?
Q: So that means you will continue investigating the first lady and the president?
A: Well, I'm -- let me just say that the original mandate that was given to me in the appointment in August of '94 was the investigation of James B. McDougal, the president and the first lady and their relationships with three entities in Arkansas.
Now, that mandate has been expanded in several respects since that time, but the original mandate is as I have stated it, and that is my job, my obligation.
The -- I'm sorry, back in the back.
Q: Pepperdine's School of Public Policy, which you're going to be the founding dean of, has been partially underwritten by the Scaife Foundation, whose chairman, Richard Scaife, has been promoting some theories about some of the things you're investigating, most notably the death of Vincent Foster.
Are you concerned about -- were you aware of the money? Are you concerned there'd be a possible appearance of a conflict of interest?
A:: Well, let me say generally that I have been very familiar with Pepperdine and the individuals -- some of the individuals in Southern California who have been supportive of it. And I can say -- and I think anyone in Los Angeles, where I lived once upon a time, will say that the support of Pepperdine University is very broad based and comes from pillars of the community in Southern California and beyond, some of whom I know.
With respect to the particular individual you mention, I was made aware of a grant for start-up funds, a grant from a foundation that has been funding organizations that have been sharply critical of this investigation.
My view is, what is this university, what are its values, and what does the university's mission call upon it to try to achieve? And that mission is a mission with which I am very comfortable and one that in the fullness of time I look forward to trying in my own small way to contribute, under the leadership of David Davenport and others at the university.
Q: Judge Starr, for those of us with short memories, what is the vision that you had of the office that has now been proven to be wrong?
A: Yes. Thank you for that reminder that perhaps not everybody was at the Duke Law School in 1995, or even in Tyson's Corner before the Fairfax Bar Association 48 hours ago or so.
The vision, in a nutshell, is to create a microcosm of the Justice Department and to create a microcosm of a U.S. attorney's office, in light of the nature of our mandate.
Our mandate is a broad mandate that has been expanded by the attorney general of the United States, so that we have a number of lawyers, in both Washington, D.C., and Little Rock, carrying on and with a record of accomplishment.
We have a number of persons who have entered into collaborative agreements, agreements of cooperation, individuals who have been willing to accept their responsibility of having committed crimes and then to assist us in the job of ferreting out the truth. We want to get the truth, and that's what a good U.S. attorney's office is interested in doing.
And that's what my vision was. It should not be the will of one individual. That, I think, is a dangerous thing.
What is of comfort -- or should be of comfort to the American people -- is that an office that is exercising governmental authority, be it a part of the Justice Department or be it the U.S. attorney's office, has a process and a procedure with experienced professionals.
And the kind of people that I have assembled is exactly that. It was my vision as a two-time veteran of the Justice Department that we had succeeded in creating that and that we had reached a point in the investigation where I could depart to assume new duties as of August.
Q: And you --
A: That was a judgment call on my part, and it was a mistake in judgment for me to say, on a -- by a particular date, I feel comfortable in leaving the investigation.
Q: You now realize that you embody the investigation? Is that it?
A: No, I -- it is a sense that there has been, I think, a sense on the part of my colleagues in the office, informed by their professional judgment, their professional experience, that it is unwise for the person who has been designated to lead the office to leave the office at a specific time.
Q: Mr. Starr, some will view today's position as a suggestion that strong evidence that implicates the Clintons in this investigation has emerged. Would you react to that?
A: I can't comment at all on the evidence. And I know that there is a sense that why don't -- why doesn't this investigation report its results and the like. What I can only speak to -- because I am constrained under law, I can't be issuing reports with respect to the ongoing work of the grand jury.
And I think it's important for the American people to understand that basic fact. If I stand here and report facts, I will be in violation of the law. I cannot do that, either as a matter of conscience and duty or law. So I can't be commenting about that.
What I can say is what is in the public domain. And what is in the public domain is that there a number of persons, including most recently Mr. McDougal, who have entered into discussions with the government in our ongoing effort to understand all the facts.
Q: Do you have any warnings that you'd like to issue to those who breathed a sigh of relief, particularly in the White House, when you decided you were going to step down?
A: Well, because of my sense that there was a misinterpretation of where the investigation was, I felt it important to say that it is unwise and it is wrong to be reading into the actions of one individual in the investigation, albeit the lead of the investigation; to read anything into that in terms of its conclusion, and especially since I was saying all along I have many months to go, God willing, as still the head of this office under the original understanding with Pepperdine.
But, as I say, my misunderstanding was a -- a flawed one.
Q: Ken, are you -- based on what you're saying about thinking that August -- initially thinking that August was a good time to leave, are you entering a phase -- when you say that you're starting to wrap things up?
I mean, both grand juries are set to expire within a few months. Are you planning to ask for extensions, or do you think you're seeing a finish line?
A: Well, first of all, you are, with all respect, mistaken as a matter of fact with respect to the schedule of the grand jury at least in one jurisdiction. But beyond that, I don't want to get into grand-jury practice and procedures.
And it certainly would not be appropriate for me to be characterizing where we are, other than to say, as I have said in recent weeks, that we have made very substantial progress in this investigation and that we are deep into our evaluative process. And, at the same time, our investigation is going forward.
Q: Mr. Starr, would you make a commitment to staying until the final report is completed?
A: Well, the reporting requirement set forth in the statute is one of a final report completed on the investigation.
And what I've said in the statement today is that I am committing to remain while the -- until the investigation is complete, and any prosecutions of certain enumerated categories has been substantially completed.
The reporting requirement is one that Congress has wrestled with. It continues to wrestle with the issues of to what extent should a prosecutor's office be writing reports, because there are basic issues of human dignity, the ability of people to carry on with their lives without matters hanging over their head in the form of a report with respect to the discharge of obligations by an independent counsel -- a whole host of very complex and sensitive issues that really go to basic issues of human decency, human dignity are wrapped up in that, and I think that is a process that is going to be a very challenging one.
Q: One of the things that's been hanging over people's head, of course, is -- hanging over the heads of both Clintons -- whether or not they may get indicted, which is a pretty important thing to be hanging over their heads and over the head of the country.
Do you have any idea when you might reach some evaluative judgment on that, and if so, will you then tell the American people that you either are going to or aren't going to seek prosecution?
A: I think other than to indicate what I've already indicated, that it's inappropriate for me, for reasons that I've learned, Jack, very firmly in the last few days, it is a wrong thing for me, understanding full well the interests of the country in bringing these matters to an orderly and fair conclusion one way or the other, but I think it would be a mistake for me to be placing time frames on it, and I've learned that lesson the hard way.
Q: Well, without placing a time frame on it, can you say, though, that when you do reach a judgment that you will, as soon as you make a judgment, go ahead and let the American people know what that judgment is?
A: At the time that we come to a conclusion, I will very carefully evaluate the fullness of my responsibilities, including what I take to be a serious responsibility and that is the public information function.
But I am not going to be in the position of making some sort of firm assurance procedural process here, other than to say that the process that I have once again gone through -- the process of listening to my colleagues, of weighing and evaluating the various and sundry factors, by whom, by highly professional people, people of goodwill, people of great experience, great trial experience, in some instances just fabulous trial experience, and great academic experience and the like, thoughtful and careful people, we will go through that process.
Q: Judge Starr, are you --
Q: Were you under pressure to reconsider?
A: I'm sorry?
Q: You mentioned the context of people outside the office also. What kind of pressure were you under to reconsider?
A: It was the sense from within the office that it was imprudent on my part to set a specific, arbitrary time when I would be willing to step down and set aside my duties as independent counsel. And that was based upon the collaborative judgment of an enormous amount of careful thinking by very thoughtful lawyers, and I was very much involved in that judgment.
It was a learning process for me, quite frankly, and it was useful for me to hear their judgment. It was that determination, our own internal deliberative process, evaluating the circumstances as we -- as a community of colleagues in both Washington and Little Rock analyzed it.
Q: Were there any consultations with the special court?
A: I view it as my responsibility to keep the special division informed, and I seek to live up to that responsibility.
Q: Did they urge you to take -- to reconsider?
A: I'm not going to characterize at all any conversations or discussions with the special division. I think that would be inappropriate.
Q: Are you concerned that, even with your --
Q: Judge Starr, did any of your subordinates tell you flat out that they thought you were making a mistake?
A: In so many words. I think that there was a fairly broad-based sense that I had made a mistake.
Q: Judge Starr, are you concerned that, even with your actions today, the decision that you made to leave has already sent a message, inadvertently or not, and that that message has already been sent?
A: Well, if a message was inadvertently sent, the message has been corrected. We are going about our work. We are going about it professionally, as we had been doing.
The last few days have not been conducive to getting a whole lot of constructive work done, but when we conclude here, our plan is to go back to work, get back to work, full steam ahead and carrying on in now what I hope and trust will be an uninterrupted process of truth finding, fact finding, and then evaluation of the truth to see what we have.
Q: Has the integrity of this investigation been undermined by all this publicity?
A: Well, I think what the process has revealed is -- and I hope this is coming through in my various statements, for those who weren't listening at -- in Duke of 1995 -- and that is the integrity comes out of a process of professionals who have taken an oath of office, an oath of office that is essentially dedicated to the rule of law.
And that's who I have. I have very highly professional people, with vast years of experience, working with me collaboratively in these vineyards. That ultimately, I think, will be yielded up in the determination and the work product of this office, the decision to charge or the decision not to charge, and then the ultimate results of that process. But it's the process that I think is important to the American people.
Q: Judge Starr, do you think -- it's only February. Do you think there's some chance you could still wind up at Pepperdine by August?
A: I am not going to comment at all having learned the hard way. As we say in my native Texas, "My mama didn't raise no dummy." And I'm not going to get into the business again of commenting with respect to what the month of March or April or May or thereafter may bring. I think that would simply be unwise.
Q: Just to be precise here, your statement says you will stay for the prosecution of anybody in the -- named in the order or high-level government officials. Are we talking about current high-level government officials, or current or former high-level government officials?
A: I'll make those judgments as the need arises, Mike. It does seem to me that it is in the interest of the nation, in light of my own learning process, that I be involved in decision-making and to have the ultimate responsibility for decision-making with respect to high-ranking individuals in government, in addition to those set forth in the order.
And beyond that, I don't think I'll comment.
Q: Did Attorney General Reno talk to you this week?
A: No. I've had no conversations with the attorney general.
Q: But the three-judge panel did make some contact with you?
A: No. I -- as I said, I have viewed it as my responsibility, as I'm sure other independent counsel do, to keep the Special Division aware, as appropriate, of our own personal situation, and I did do that.
Q: Did they tell you to stay on?
A: I'm not going to comment at all with respect to --
Q: Were your comments with the Special Division both before your announcement Monday and before the announcement today, twice? Did you have two conversations with them or did you inform them --
A: I had more than one conversation in the effort to keep the Special Division fully informed of the situation. I felt it important for the Special Division to be aware of material events affecting my own service and stewardship.
Q: Are you personally disappointed not to be able to move on to the next chapter?
A: I am more personally humble than I am anything else. It has been a difficult experience for my family, especially in light -- you know, we're blessed with children and we have to make plans. But I think their -- my children's father has learned a few lessons this week.
Q: Would it be fair to say you were surprised at the outside reaction to your --
A: Well, the outside reaction, Jack, was, I suppose, a source of reassurance that I should just keep my hand on the plow indefinitely and not set an arbitrary date or deadline as to when I should be departing.
But in all seriousness, I think there have been expressions that in this process of trying to find out the truth, that there have been other entities seeking to do that.
I had a letter from a United States senator, for example, indicating that the Senate had from time to time in its work deferred to the work of this office, and that members of the Senate would say, you know, "Judge Starr is looking at this."
And that, shall I say, more personalized, individualized vision is, again, something that I've had to learn this week by virtue of the experience of consulting more fully with my colleagues; when, again, veteran as I am of the Justice Department, I've long had this assurance that as valuable as a particular individual may be, when he or she leaves, the function of government goes on as long as there are good, honest, honorable men and women carrying on that exercise of judgment and responsibility.
But at the same time, I was very clear that I was anticipating remaining at the helm for many months to come. It was the establishment of that date, which, of course, was guided by Pepperdine's understandable needs -- they have an academic year, they have a calendar, and that calendar, which I full well understand -- required certain decisions to be made on my part within a specific time frame.
And then the Los Angeles Times, Mr. Nelson, seemed to find our fairly quickly once I had made my decision a week ago today that I had, in fact, made that decision. But Pepperdine, I do want to add, especially for our colleagues from Los Angeles, has been marvelous in its understanding of the situation and its graciousness in considering interests that go beyond the institutional interests and needs of the university. And I'm very grateful for that.
Q: Can I just ask you one other question? How important do you think it is, though, now to do this really expeditiously and bring it to a close sometime just because it has been going on for an awful long time now?
A: Well, remember too that a number of very important aspects of our jurisdiction are really quite new when one considers that the matters pertaining to the White House Travel Office came into our jurisdiction less than a year ago, the FBI files matter came into our jurisdiction, both at the determination of the attorney general of the United States, much less than a year ago.
One new matter involving an individual came into our jurisdiction as recently as the fall of this last year.
And that is part of the basic point that I have been trying to make, but I've made it unsuccessfully and inartfully thus far. And that is, the nature of our function has, both by virtue of its breadth to begin with and then the expansion of its jurisdiction, grown so that we are in fact a microcosm of the Justice Department handling a variety of very important matters at the Justice Department. And that's why the creation of that culture of the microcosm of the Justice Department has been so important to me in terms of my sense of what my obligations are as independent counsel, with the particular jurisdiction that has been given to me.
Q: Thank you.
A: Thank you very much.