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 TIME on politics Congressional Quarterly CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and Congressional Quarterly

Ken Starr: Case against Clinton about lying, not sex

Clinton and Starr

In interview, he admits prosecutors needed tighter grip on Tripp

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Nov. 25) -- Whitewater Independent Counsel Ken Starr says a sense of duty, not personal dislike of President Bill Clinton's behavior or complicity in a right-wing conspiracy, is what has motivated his investigation into the president's conduct.

In an interview that aired Wednesday night on ABC's "20/20" program -- the first he has given since sending an impeachment referral to Congress in September -- Starr rejected charges that the case against Clinton is primarily about sex and that he has acted like a modern-day Puritan in his investigation.

In this story:

"I was assigned to do a job by the attorney general, and that was to find out whether crimes were committed in this (Paula Jones) sexual harassment lawsuit," Starr said. "The whole idea of equal justice under law means that you've got to play by the rules. It has nothing to do with the underlying subject matter. You just tell the truth.

"Lying under oath, and encouraging lies under oath, does go to the very heart and soul of what courts do. And if we say we don't care, let's forget about courts and we'll just have other ways of figuring out how to handle disputes," he said.

"There is no excuse for perjury -- never, never, never," he said. "There is truth, and the truth demands respect."

Counsel defends report's explicit nature

Despite criticism for the often sexually explicit nature of his impeachment referral to the House of Representatives, Starr said his prosecutors made a "professional judgment" to include that information because it went to Clinton's credibility.

"Don't blame the messenger because the message is unpleasant," he said.

However, he later told interviewer Diane Sawyer, in a post-interview telephone conversation, that he regretted not doing more to prevent Congress from releasing the explicit narrative to the public.

Starr: Adultery 'wrong at a moral level'

Asked his personal views of the president, Starr termed him "extraordinarily talented, wonderfully empathetic."

"I think he inspires just tremendous affection and loyalty by ... a wide range of people," Starr said.

Starr also said he considers adultery "wrong at a moral level." Asked by Sawyer if she had a right to ask Starr about his sex life, he volunteered that he has been faithful to his wife of 28 years.

"I'm not trying to pat myself on the back, but I've tried to live by what I believe is ... my obligation and my responsibility," he said.

Before his tenure as an independent counsel, Starr was often mentioned as a possible candidate for a Supreme Court seat during a future Republican administration. While admitting that he still would like an appointment to the high court, Starr said, "I also know that there's a time and a season, and I think that time, had there been one, has long since passed."

No knowledge of Tripp's contacts with Jones' lawyers

Starr conceded that his prosecutors should have kept "better control" of Linda Tripp, whose secret recordings of phone conversations triggered the investigation into Clinton's affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

At the same time she was cooperating with Starr's prosecutors in January, Tripp was also in contact with attorneys representing Jones, a former Arkansas state employee who was suing Clinton for sexual harassment.

Jones' attorneys used that information to frame questions when they deposed Clinton; his answers are at the heart of the perjury allegations lodged against him.

During testimony last week in the House Judiciary Committee's impeachment inquiry, Starr was criticized for not preventing Tripp from contacting the Jones attorneys.

"My people have assured me ... that they had no indication whatsoever of any involvement (between Tripp and Jones' attorneys,)" Starr said.

Starr also defended the tactics of his prosecutors in confronting Lewinsky at a Virginia hotel and trying to get her to cooperate with them by threatening her with a lengthy prison sentence.

"It was fair and right to go to someone who is in the midst of a very serious thing," Starr said. "She was in the process of committing serious offenses."

Deputies: Starr unschooled in prosecutors' methods

In addition to interviewing Starr, ABC also interviewed three of his prosecutors, who discussed some of the behind-the-scenes activity of their office and what they regarded as Starr's naivete about investigative tactics.

Starr had never been a prosecutor before taking his post as independent counsel.

"What did you have to teach him about prosecuting a case?" Sawyer asked Robert Bittman, a Starr deputy and career prosecutor.

"He was a little naive, or not really naive, ignorant, of some of the processes that are involved. Some of them are not all that clean in terms of the work that prosecutors do," Bittman said.

"Clean?" Sawyer asked.

"Well, some of the methods -- the deals you have to make, for example," Bittman replied.

Bittman was asked whether it would have been appropriate for prosecutors to try to get Lewinsky to secretly tape Clinton or his friend and confidant, Vernon Jordan.

"It's standard prosecutorial practice to do exactly that," Bittman said.

The prosecutors also appeared to have no misgivings about the questioning of Lewinsky's mother, Marsha Lewis, who broke down while testifying in front of a Whitewater grand jury.

"That's done all the time" in criminal investigations, said Julie Meyers, an associate independent counsel on Starr's staff. "We had evidence on phone conversations with Monica Lewinsky that her mother may have engaged in some sort of illegal activity."

Another associate independent counsel, Brett Kavanaugh, said that no one in Starr's office felt the Lewinsky matter should not have been investigated once it came to light.

Investigating the President


Wednesday, November 25, 1998

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