On Tuesday, University of Southern California law professor and legal expert Orin Kerr drew a comparison between Attorney General William P. Barr’s summary of the Mueller report and the full release of the Kenneth Starr report. Kerr wondered on Twitter how differently the Lewinsky-Clinton scandal would have played out if then-Attorney General Janet Reno had, like Barr, read the Starr report privately and then concluded in a public letter that “President Clinton committed no crimes.”
Lewinsky’s response? “if. . . . only.” — the missing bit is an expletive we’d prefer not to repeat.
To get the full weight of those three words, we have to go to a whiteboard. Here’s a mini refresher on the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, which made independent counsel Starr a household name.
As summarized most recently in The Washington Post’s Retropolis blog, Reno appointed Starr in 1994 to look into the Clintons’ failed real estate deal in Arkansas, specifically their investment in a land development called Whitewater. The couple was never charged with a crime in relation to the deal, but the four-year long investigation uncovered Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky, a White House intern, and the fact that the president lied about it to a grand jury. That was a crime — not the crime Starr was originally investigating but a crime, nonetheless.
“On Sept. 11, 1998, the Starr Report was released, giving the public the sordid details one might find in a romance novel. Three months later, the House impeached Clinton for perjury and obstruction of justice, but the Senate acquitted him in February 1999.”
Flash-forward 20 years and Washington is waiting for a special counsel’s report to be released in full while the president is doing a victory lap, telling Senate Republicans that Barr’s weekend summary of Mueller’s report “could not have been better.”
Meanwhile, the Clintons and Lewinsky are likely somewhere wondering what their lives would have been like if the Starr report got the Barr treatment.