Ken Starr Dies at 76

(WASHINGTON) — Ken Starr, a former federal appellate judge and a prominent attorney whose criminal investigation of Bill Clinton led to the president’s impeachment, died Tuesday at age 76, his family said.

In 2020, he was recruited to the legal team representing President Donald Trump in the nation’s third presidential impeachment trial.

For many years, Starr’s stellar reputation as a lawyer seemed to place him on a path to the Supreme Court. Starr, 37, became the youngest ever member of the U.S. Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit. He also served as Chief Justice John Roberts’s deputy and was joined by Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Antonin Scalia. Starr served as the solicitor general under President George H.W. Bush, who argued 25 cases before The Supreme Court.

Even with his legal skills, nothing prepared him to investigate a sitting president.

In a probe that lasted five years, Starr looked into fraudulent real estate deals involving a long-time Clinton associate, delved into the removal of documents from the office of deputy White House counsel Vincent Foster after his suicide and assembled evidence of Clinton’s sexual encounters with Monica Lewinsky, a former White House intern. Each of the controversies held the potential to do serious, perhaps fatal, damage to Clinton’s presidency.

As Clinton’s legal problems worsened, the White House pilloried Starr as a right-wing fanatic doing the bidding of Republicans bent on destroying the president.

“The assaults took a toll” on the investigation, Starr told a Senate committee in 1999. “A duly authorized federal law enforcement investigation came to be characterized as yet another political game. Law became politics by other means.”

Starr, in a bitter conclusion to his Lewinsky probe that drew even more condemnation, filed a report with the U.S. House of Representatives, per law. He concluded that Clinton lied under oath, engaged in obstruction of justice and followed a pattern of conduct that was inconsistent with the president’s constitutional duty to faithfully execute the laws. House Republicans used Starr’s report as a roadmap in the impeachment of the president, who was acquitted in a Senate trial.

In 2020, he was recruited to help represent Trump in the nation’s third impeachment trial. In a memorable statement to Congress during the Trump impeachment trial, Starr said “we are living in what I think can aptly be described as the ‘age of impeachment.’” He said that “like war, impeachment is hell, or at least presidential impeachment is hell.”

Clinton’s legal problems began during the 1992 presidential campaign. Questions arose over the candidate’s ties to the owner of a failed Arkansas savings and loan. This issue was quickly forgotten. But it caught the attention of federal regulators, who began looking into whether money from the S&L had been diverted to a real estate venture called Whitewater in which Bill and Hillary Clinton and the S&L’s owner, Jim McDougal, shared a financial interest.

Clinton accepted intense pressure from Republicans as well as some Republicans to name a special attorney to examine Whitewater. Starr was selected by a three-member appeals board for independent counsels.

On the Whitewater front, Starr’s prosecutors investigated Mrs. Clinton’s legal work for Jim McDougal’s S&L. Both she and the president were questioned by Starr’s prosecutors and their videotaped depositions were played for juries in criminal trials of McDougal and his ex-wife Susan. Whitewater did not lead to any charges against either of the Clintons.

The investigation of Clinton’s intimate relationship with Lewinsky was a Washington spectacle.

Lewinsky was an intern in the White House from 1995 to 1996. She and Clinton met in the hallway next to the Oval Office during the 1995 government shutdown. This was the first of ten sexual encounters that Lewinsky would have over the course of the following year. Lewinsky confided the affair to a co-worker, Linda Tripp, who tape recorded some of their conversations and brought the tapes to Starr’s prosecutors. Lewinsky was granted immunity from prosecution and became Starr’s chief witness against the president, who had denied having sexual relations with Lewinsky.

Starr decided to leave the investigations behind and pursue a career as an academic. He was first dean at Pepperdine University’s law school, where he taught civil procedure, and then he became president of Baylor University, his hometown in Texas. He also became an author, writing “First Among Equals: The Supreme Court in American Life.”

Starr was born in Vernon, Texas and raised in San Antonio. He earned his B.A. Starr received his B.A. from Vernon, Texas in 1967 and then earned his M.A. His M.A. degree was received from George Washington University in 1968, his M.A. Duke University Law School, 1973. Between 1975 and 1977, he served as Chief Justice Warren E. Burger’s Law Clerk.

As a young attorney at the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Los Angeles, Starr worked with William French Smith, who became attorney general in the administration of President Ronald Reagan. Starr served as Smith’s counselor and was then nominated to the federal appeals courts by Reagan.


Pete Yost (ex-Associated Press reporter) contributed to this article.

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