What Did Ken Starr Do Wrong?

Critics of Special Prosecutor Ken Starr have long called him “out of control” or other general epithets, but during the last couple weeks the complaints have gotten specific. Specific, yet confusing. What exactly is Starr alleged to have done and what allegedly is wrong with it?

Allegation One:Starr learned about Lewinsky from Jones’ lawyers

Starr says he first heard of Monica Lewinsky from Linda Tripp on January 12. But the New York Times reported that Starr heard Tripp’s tale at least a week earlier–from Jerome Marcus, a fellow member of the conservative Federalist Society who previously had been involved in the Paula Jones lawsuit. Marcus had heard about Lewinsky from the ubiquitous Lucianne Goldberg.

So what? What difference does it make that Starr may have known about Lewinsky earlier than he claimed? His critics say (a) this shows that Starr is more connected to the “vast right-wing conspiracy”–and the Jones lawsuit in particular–than he has admitted; and (b) in any event, he lied about it when asking to expand his jurisdiction to cover the Lewinsky matter. Starr maintains that all he got from Marcus was a vague “heads-up.”

Allegation Two: Starr leaked evidence (and manipulated judges)

A limo driver says that, on January 15, he overheard Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff place a backseat phone call saying Starr had just played the Tripp tapes for him. One day later, Starr asked his supervisory judges to authorize an investigation into Tripp’s charges. The decision ought to be expedited, argued Starr, because Isikoff was on the verge of breaking the story. (Starr had hoped to pressure Monica into getting President Clinton and Vernon Jordan incriminating themselves on tape before the story became public.)

Both Starr and Isikoff deny the allegation. What would be wrong if it’s true? First, it’s against the rules for Starr to leak evidence to a reporter–and Starr has repeatedly insisted he never did so. Second, if true the limo driver’s story would expose Starr’s urgent request to the judges as disingenuous to say the least.

Allegation Three: Starr lied in court (and manipulated judges)

In a July court hearing, Starr argued that Clinton’s conversations with aide Bruce Lindsey were not covered by lawyer-client privilege because any thought of impeachment–the only relevant legal proceeding–was “premature.” Three days later Starr asked his supervisory judges, in secret, for permission to release his report–which recommended impeachment. If this isn’t lying in court, say Starr’s critics, it’s very close.

Allegation Four: Starr gave legal advice to Paula Jones

One of Jones’ attorneys, Gilbert Davis, consulted Ken Starr four or six times during early 1994 about whether a sitting president could be sued. Starr was not Independent Counsel at the time of the consultations nor was he paid for his time. But he didn’t disclose the contact to the Justice Department, either when he was appointed in August 1994 or when the Lewinsky matter brought the Paula Jones case into his inquiry.

And this is wrong because? Because, first, he should have disclosed his involvement, however minor, in a lawsuit against the president–especially when that lawsuit became central to his own investigation. Second, say his critics, because it shows once again that Starr is not a neutral pursuer of justice but an ideologically motivated pursuer of President Clinton.

Next question?