For many years, Starr’s stellar reputation as a lawyer seemed to lead him to the Supreme Court. At 37, he became the youngest person ever to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia also served. From 1989-93, Starr was the chief counsel in the administration of President George H.W. Bush, arguing 25 cases before the Supreme Court.
Despite his impressive legal credentials, nothing could have prepared him for the task of investigating a sitting president.
In a five-year investigation, Starr looked into fraudulent real estate deals involving a longtime Clinton aide, delved into the removal of documents from White House deputy counsel Vincent Foster’s office after his suicide, and gathered evidence of Clinton’s sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky, a former White House intern. Each of the controversies had the potential to do serious, perhaps fatal, damage to the Clinton presidency.
As Clinton’s legal troubles worsened, the White House denounced Starr as a right-wing fanatic doing the bidding of Republicans bent on destroying the president.
“The raids took a toll” on the investigation, Starr told a Senate committee in 1999. “A duly authorized federal law enforcement investigation was characterized as yet another political game. Law became politics by other means.
In a bitter end to his investigation into the Lewinsky affair, which has drawn even more criticism, Starr filed a report, as required by law, to the US House of Representatives. He concluded that Clinton had lied under oath, engaged in obstruction of justice and followed a pattern of conduct inconsistent with the president’s constitutional duty to faithfully execute the laws. House Republicans used Starr’s report as a road map to impeaching the president, who was vindicated 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 Trump’s impeachment trial, Starr said that “we live in what I think can be aptly described as the ‘era of impeachment.’ He said that “like war, impeachment is hell, or at least presidential impeachment is hell.”
Clinton’s legal troubles began during the 1992 presidential campaign, when questions arose about the candidate’s ties to the owner of a failed Arkansas savings and loan. The problem quickly subsided. 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 McDougall, shared a financial interest.
Bowing to intense political pressure from Republicans and some members of his own party, Clinton called for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Whitewater. A three-judge independent counsel appeals court chose Starr.
On the whitewater front, Starr prosecutors are investigating Mrs. Clinton’s legal work for Jim McDougall’s S&L. Both she and the president were questioned by Starr’s prosecutors, and their videotaped testimony was played for jurors in the criminal trials of McDougal and his ex-wife, Susan. None of the Clintons have ever been charged in connection with Whitewater.
The investigation into Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky was a Washington spectacle.
In 1995, Lewinsky went to work at the White House as an intern. During the government shutdown later that year, she and Clinton had sex in a hallway near the Oval Office, the first of 10 sexual encounters over the next year and a half. Lewinsky confided the affair to her colleague, Linda Tripp, who recorded some of their conversations and took the tapes to Starr’s prosecutors. Lewinsky was granted immunity from prosecution and became Starr’s star witness against the president, who denies having sex with Lewinsky.
Leaving the investigation behind, Starr began a career in academia, first as dean of Pepperdine University’s law school, where he taught constitutional issues and civil procedure, then as president of Baylor University in his home state of Texas. He also became an author, writing First Among Equals: The Supreme Court in American Life.
Born in Vernon and raised in San Antonio, Starr received his BA from George Washington University in 1968, his MA from Brown University in 1969, and his JD from Duke University Law School in 1973 .He was a law clerk to Chief Justice Warren E. Burger from 1975 to 1977.
As a young attorney at the Los Angeles law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Starr worked with William French Smith, who became attorney general in President Ronald Reagan’s administration. Starr became an adviser to Smith and from there was nominated by Reagan to the federal appeals court.
Former Associated Press writer Pete Yost contributed to this report.
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