Is The Prosecutor Running A Starr Chamber?
(TIME, february 2) -- A week ago, Ken Starr was just another lawman who had spent
three years and $30 million poking into bad Arkansas land deals
and finding little. But suddenly, the man who put Susan McDougal
behind bars and cracked the "Castle Grande" scandal has hit pay
dirt. A sob sister wired for sound has done what years of
dutiful subpoenaing couldn't: lay bare the Clinton
Administration to paralyzing scrutiny. That seeming triumph,
however, has only reignited a fierce debate that has dogged
Starr from his first days as Whitewater special prosecutor.
Prosecutors are supposed to be above the political fray, but
Starr has always had trouble fitting the model. There was
controversy from the start. He was chosen after U.S. Judge David
Sentelle, the Republican who headed the three-judge panel that
appointed him, was seen at lunch in the Senate dining room with
Jesse Helms and Lauch Faircloth, the conservative Republican
Senators from North Carolina. Sentelle denied they had talked
about Starr or the Whitewater prosecutor post.
Starr also came with a luggage cart's worth of political
baggage. He once considered challenging Oliver North in
Virginia's Republican Senate primary. He nearly filed a court
brief for Paula Jones in her sexual-harassment suit against
President Clinton. And even while serving as special prosecutor,
Starr has continued to represent private clients with a
conservative political agenda, including the tobacco industry.
In September 1996, PBS anchorman Jim Lehrer asked Clinton if he
thought Starr was out to "get you and Mrs. Clinton." Clinton
answered, "Isn't it obvious?"
Critics see in Starr's latest foray evidence of ax grinding. Sex
close to the Oval Office is, after all, a far stretch from
Arkansas land investments. "The idea of taping someone who may
have had a relationship with the President in order to prove a
pattern of dealing with witnesses has such an attenuated
connection with Whitewater [that] it's high-tech Columbo," says
University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein. In his view
Starr, whom he otherwise respects, is "so fixated on the task of
investigating Clinton that he's lost all perspective on what the
appropriate role of a prosecutor is."
Defenders of Starr's actions say the Lewinsky probe does flow
legitimately from his Whitewater charge. He was duty bound, they
say, to follow a pattern of obstruction of justice wherever the
evidence led him. As for suggestions of opportunism, Starr may
have hurt himself by taking on a frustrating job and the
withering attacks that go with it. Starr could have been an
Attorney General or a Supreme Court nominee, says New York
University law professor Stephen Gillers, who believes those
prospects are now unlikely. "I'll give 3-to-1 odds," says
Gillers, "Ken Starr wishes he had never accepted this
--By Adam Cohen. With reporting by Andrea Sachs/New York