Starr imparts wisdom to law students

Travis Reed

When asked how he has changed since his investigations of the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky scandals, Kenneth Starr says he’s grown “a little older, and a lot wiser.”
On campus Monday, Starr took to the podium for guest lectures about the separation of legal power on the federal level for two University Law School classes.
Nearly two years after the release of Starr’s final report investigating President Bill Clinton’s extracurricular activities, the images of Lewinsky plastered across the nightly news and the residue of the report’s sexually explicit text still resonates unnervingly in the minds of many Americans.
Now that he’s resigned as independent counsel, is teaching at George Mason University, and has resumed work on a book about the U.S. Supreme Court, would Starr conduct the investigations again if given the choice? In a single word, he says yes.
But that doesn’t mean he would necessarily agree with his task.
Since the independent counsel was formed during the Carter administration 22 years ago, it has been criticized because there are no time limits for IC investigations, and partisan critics say the position lends itself to abuse of power.
“The independent counsel was a mistake as a matter of policy,” Starr said, adding it has not served the interest of the administration of justice in investigations of recent scandals.
But the former independent counsel said he was doing his job in spite of his internal conflict concerning the constitutionality of his position. He says his only regret is that he “should’ve done more in public information to explain to the American people what the investigation is all about and how it came to be.”
Starr said it’s in the best interest of everyone to let the law defining the power of the independent counsel to expire, as is scheduled on June 30 in the absence of congressional action.
Starr’s suggestion would restore investigative authority to the Justice Department, the institution formerly responsible for such matters before the formation of the independent counsel.
“We’ve all come out losers because we’ve chosen to fragment responsibility,” Starr said to University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg’s Constitutional Powers of the Presidency class.
The decision of Robert Ray, Starr’s successor as independent counsel, to consider indictment of President Clinton after he leaves office might make the transition more difficult.
When asked about the extensive public criticism of the length and expense of the Lewinsky investigation, Starr said it was unfortunate that the issue has been viewed by several critics as the pursuit of his personal vendetta.
“At all times, we were operating under the authority of the attorney general of the United States,” he said.
Students in Rotenberg’s class said they were pleased to have a well-recognized national expert on hand to discuss issues they’ve been examining all semester.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to listen to a man who stood at the epicenter of one of the great political challenges of the last few years of the 20th century,” said Patrick Burns, a University law student. “You develop a greater appreciation of how the legal process works and … an idea of what these individuals have to deal with on a daily basis.”
Whether or not Ray decides to proceed in indicting Clinton of formal criminal charges after he leaves office, the implications of the Starr investigations could leave a lasting impact on the language of domestic politics.
“All four of the major presidential candidates have indicated that character is an appropriate topic for discussion and evaluation,” Starr said. “The basic issues of integrity and honesty of the American people are likely to be questions in the presidential campaign, and appropriately so.”

Travis Reed covers environment and transportation and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3232.