International Papers

Kenneth Starr: a “Witty and Benign Companion”

In an interview Tuesday with Britain’s Daily Telegraph, Kenneth Starr accused President Clinton of continuing to lie to the American people but reserved his harshest words for Monica Lewinsky. The independent counsel’s only stated regret was that he didn’t do enough to stop Congress publishing the most salacious material in his report. He deplored Congress’ decision to authorize publication of the unexpurgated evidence instead of “screening and winnowing” it first. “I wish I had done more to say to Congress: be careful,” he said. Some of the most sensitive evidence he gathered has never been made public, he said; and “had the President seen fit to tell the truth, we would have been spared the intrusive nature of the details.” But he said that much of the information published was vital to the credibility of Lewinsky’s testimony.

Starr complained that even now, a year later, Clinton has “admitted no offences, other than to have the inappropriate relationship, which is not a matter of interest to federal law. To the contrary: he has very vigorously stated that he at no time committed any federal offences.” Starr said that “in one of the most unfortunate episodes of the entire drama” Clinton made the decision, when his relationship with Lewinsky came to light in January 1998, that he was not going to tell the truth. He was advised by Dick Morris “that the American people would readily forgive an adulterous relationship, but they would not be forgiving of offences against the justice system. And the President informed him, ‘Well, we will just have to win, then.’ Thus, instead of telling the truth, admitting the facts and seeking forgiveness of family and nation, he launched a campaign designed to erode confidence in the duly appointed system of justice.”

Asked if he regretted the personal distress suffered by Lewinsky, Starr replied: “She–as an obviously highly intelligent young adult, a professional, a college graduate–made a most unfortunate judgment, and that was that she would commit federal crimes in order to obstruct the judicial process in the form of a sexual harassment action [the Paula Jones case]. Not only that: she importuned another person, Linda Tripp, to likewise engage in federal crimes. That was serious business. She did it not on the spur of the moment; she did it over a considerable period of time. She knowingly went to one of the most powerful lawyers in the country, who in turn guided her to another lawyer to prepare what she knew to be a perjurious affidavit. One should not blink at those kinds of offences.” Because of her decision “not to be readily forthcoming,” Lewinsky had “put the nation through seven months of a wretched and miserable 24-hour news cycle,” he said. “Miss Lewinsky did not co-operate until July 1998. This could have been over in January.” The enduring lesson of the whole affair, Starr said, was that “we in the United States take the law seriously and that we are all accountable.”

The Telegraph, a conservative paper that was vigorously anti-Clinton throughout the scandal, sponsored a lecture by Starr Tuesday. His interviewer was much taken with him. “The grimly bespectacled prosecutor is only the public face,” he wrote. “In private, he is a witty and benign companion. He enjoys a Martini and is relaxed on the subject of sex: by no means the prudish teetotaller portrayed by the White House. One of the best legal minds of his generation, he speaks in perfectly grammatical sentences, with the same exhaustive precision as his celebrated report.”

In an editorial Wednesday headlined “Gore’s Burden,” the Times of London said Vice President Al Gore’s virtues are largely being ignored in the election campaign because of his “intense and inevitable association with President Clinton–to whom some 55 per cent of the electorate believe that Mr Gore is ‘too close’ for their comfort.” If he is to beat Bill Bradley for the Democratic nomination, “he must emerge as something more than the President’s favoured successor,” the paper said. “Mr Clinton secured the White House as the candidate of change. In this respect, at least, Mr Gore has lessons to learn from his President.”

But the main focus of the British press Wednesday was Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose speech at the annual Labor Party Conference promising to end the class war, create equality of opportunity, and purge Britain forever of “the forces of conservatism” generated many editorials. His “vision of a nation more like America than Britain is laudable,” the Times said, “but he will have to pursue it with a passion and defend it with care.” The Daily Telegraph, however, called it a “strangely nerve-wracked speech, at once belligerent and insecure, that seemed to reveal an inner uncertainty about what his Government is trying to achieve, and why.” The liberal Guardian said the speech was “as accomplished as any speech Mr Blair has given,” but the Independent said “real radicalism needs substance, not just a collection of good tunes.” The Financial Times praised his radical rhetoric, but also said he failed to explain “how all this translates into hard-edged policies.”

Another FT editorial said the ice is breaking in corporate Japan, with companies changing “in ways that would have seemed impossible only a few years ago.” It concluded, “As Japan’s politicians continue to posture in much the same old familiar ways, the economy is at last beginning to be restructured from the bottom up.” But in Tokyo, Asahi Shimbun dwelt on the human cost of this, reporting a rapid rise in the number of Japanese businessmen diagnosed as psychotic depressives. “The trigger for their slide into mental illness is constant anxiety in the workplace,” it said. “Many are alarmed by the prospect that their company’s restructuring drive will single them out.” Some of them check into a Tokyo psychiatric clinic at weekends in order to find the strength to go to work on Mondays, when important business meetings are often held, the paper added.

In Israel, Ha’aretz led its front page Wednesday with a report that the change of government in Israel has ended efforts by Russian mobsters to establish ties with Israeli government officials. Such ties had been “ripening” under the premiership of Benjamin Netanyahu, it said, quoting police and intelligence sources, but were broken after Ehud Barak won the election.