Starr cites 'intense politicization' in resigning post
October 18, 1999
Web posted at: 5:55 p.m. EDT (2155 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In his letter of resignation, Ken Starr wrote Monday that the "intense politicization of the independent counsel process" has diminished public confidence in the justice system.
"To reduce the unfortunate personalization of the process in particular in the wake of the inherently divisive impeachment proceedings, the wiser course, I believe, is for another individual to head the investigation," Starr wrote to the three-judge federal appeals court panel that appoints and oversees independent counsels.
Ken Starr was interviewed Monday by CNN's Bob Franken
Starr resigned from the post Monday before issuing his final report that will cover all aspects of his $47 million investigation, including the Clintons' Whitewater involvement and the president's affair with Monica Lewinsky.
His investigation led to the second presidential impeachment in United States history. The president was impeached by the House but acquitted by the Senate.
Starr's successor, Robert Ray, an assistant prosecutor in Starr's office, was sworn in Monday afternoon. Ray pledged that he and his colleagues would "do our best to be thorough and fair, to discharge the weighty matters and mandates that have been given our office, and to continue the work of this investigation in a prompt, responsible, and cost effective manner."
In an interview with CNN's Bob Franken, Starr said the nature of the now-defunct independent counsel statute led to the politicization.
"I'm not going to start casting stones but when you look at it analytically, what is it that lent it to politicization? I think it's the structure of the independent counsel statute and the fact that the independent counsel is appointed by judges," he said. "And when there is something as divisive as impeachment the intensity of the personalization and politicization of the process is extraordinarily high."
Starr's said charges that he was on a vendetta to get Clinton were "all bogus, totally made up and completely without foundation."
The attacks on the independent counsel's office were unfounded, he said.
"It's easy to throw mud. But our job was to be professional and thorough as possible," he said. "And to be thorough means some people are going to say, 'Gee, I think perhaps the prosecutor has gone too far.' It's common-place, it's inevitable in high-visibility prosecutions, it has been the mantra of defense lawyers for 15 years, attack the prosecution. We just saw that at a much more intense level."
In the Monica Lewinsky investigation, Starr said he now thinks that it would have been better for the attorney general to have appointed another independent counsel to investigate that matter. He said he regretted the perception of a vendetta.
"We did not create those facts but we did have to go and find out what the facts were when the attorney general made the decision -- that I must accept responsibility for accepting -- that it had to be investigated," he said.
He declined to comment on whether Clinton or the first lady would be indicted. But he did comment on whether the president could be indicted after leaves office.
"As a matter of law, yes he could (be indicted), certainly once he leaves office," he said. "It is the Justice Department's position, and it's a perfectly weighty and responsible position, that a sitting president cannot be indicted."
When asked if he felt if the Clintons were honest with him, Starr quickly said "I don't think I should comment."
Starr said he wished Congress had "more carefully handled" his now-infamous referral to Congress that was immediately made public. He said he told Congress that the report included sensitive material about Clinton's relationship with Lewinsky.
"But a political judgment was made to release all this material without any kind of screening or winnowing and I think the results obviously speak for themselves in terms of public perception, that the public was quite rightly put off and offended by this," he said.
Starr said the entire experience taught him that the power of public appearance and perception is "extraordinarily important and that I failed to fully take that into account in terms of what I view and still do as essentially as a legal process and judicial process."
"I've also learned that appearances can end up affecting even jury room deliberations and I think that's unfortunate," he said.
Starr said he hoped to return to his law practice, continue to teach at New York University and finish a book on the Supreme Court that he set aside when he took on the role of independent counsel. He said he would not be writing a book on his experiences as independent counsel in the "forseeable future."
Starr's office is throwing him a good-bye party Tuesday afternoon at the independent counsel's office on Pennsylvania Avenue, a source close to the party planning told CNN.
The source refused to comment when asked if champagne would be served.