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To Us, Starr Is an American Hero

By Robert J. Bittman, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Solomon J. Wisenberg

Monday, November 15, 1999; Page A23

Richard Cohen's Oct. 26 op-ed broadside, "So Long, Ken Starr," grossly mischaracterizes Ken Starr and his investigation. Cohen ridicules the Lewinsky case, but he ignores the following facts:

Starr uncovered a massive effort by the president to lie under oath and obstruct justice. The House impeached the president. Fifty senators voted to remove the president. Thirty-two other senators who voted to retain the president nonetheless signed a resolution that condemned Bill Clinton for giving "false or misleading testimony" and "impeding discovery of evidence in judicial proceedings" and concluded that he had "violated the trust of the American people." Judge Susan Webber Wright held the president in contempt because he intentionally provided "false, misleading and evasive answers" and "undermined the integrity of the judicial system."

Those conclusions fully vindicate Starr's findings and make Cohen's diatribes against the case ("woe is me, the Republic is in peril") look juvenile.

Cohen contends that certain information in Starr's referral to Congress should not have been made public and that Starr threw "everything out on the lawn for all the neighbors to see." But Starr submitted the report to Congress under seal. It was a bipartisan Congress that publicly released the report without even reviewing it beforehand.

Cohen argues that Starr "trapped" the president. Not so. The president "trapped" himself. Clinton knew long before his civil deposition (because Wright repeatedly so ruled) that his other sexual encounters with subordinate employees were relevant to Paula Jones's sexual harassment case. Yet the president decided to roll the dice and lie under oath and obstruct justice.

Starr did not cause this; Clinton did. Nor did Starr cause the president later to lie to the grand jury, to parse the meaning of the words "is" and "sex" and on and on. Clinton did all of this with premeditation and on his own. The word that ordinarily describes such behavior is not "trapped" but "guilty."

Cohen complains that Starr began by investigating Whitewater and "wound up" investigating the Lewinsky matter. But Janet Reno, not Starr, gave the independent counsel jurisdiction over new matters.

Cohen also notes--ominously--that Starr is a Republican. Special prosecutors traditionally have been respected lawyers of the opposite party. Archibald Cox investigated President Richard Nixon. Former senator John C. Danforth is investigating Janet Reno. The reason is simple: A decision not to indict in a politically charged case is more credible if made by a prosecutor of the opposite party. And a conviction requires that 12 citizen jurors vote for conviction, the procedural check on the "aggressive" prosecutor.

As important as what Cohen says is what he does not say. Cohen does not mention Starr's successful investigation of Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan. Starr obtained convictions of Jim and Susan McDougal, of Gov. Jim Guy Tucker (the first conviction this century of a sitting governor) and of former associate attorney general Webster Hubbell.

And Cohen ignores Starr's investigation of the Clintons' involvement in Madison and Whitewater and his investigations of the Vince Foster, travel office and FBI files issues. Why? Starr brought no criminal indictments and submitted no impeachment referrals in those matters. Starr recognized more than anyone that criminal prosecution (or an impeachment referral, in the case of the president) is not a political game--that a prosecutor should not invoke those processes unless the evidence is strong, almost overwhelming.

Cohen also skips past Starr's remarkable legal record. Starr won nearly every dispute: executive privilege, Secret Service privilege, government attorney-client privilege, jurisdictional issues, the list goes on.

Contrary to Cohen's table-thumping, the record establishes that Starr was a thorough, fair, ethical and successful prosecutor. His record is one of extraordinary accomplishment and integrity. And to us, Starr is an American hero.

Over time, fair-minded people will come to hail Starr's enormous contributions to the country and see the presidentially approved smear campaign against him for what it was: a disgraceful effort to undermine the rule of law, an episode that will forever stand, together with the underlying legal and moral transgressions to which it was connected, as a dark chapter in American presidential history.

The writers served as attorneys in the office of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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