Starr strikes back

Defiantly, the independent counsel bids farewell to Malibu while holding tight to his investigation of the president.

Topics: Bill Clinton, Republican Party,

For all those who thought that Kenneth Starr would soon be wrapping up his Whitewater investigation, think again.

The independent counsel has told Pepperdine University in Malibu that he won’t be arriving this spring, as he had planned, to become dean of both the law school and a new school of public policy.

Moreover, Starr threw down the gauntlet to the Justice Department, insisting that he should be left to conduct an internal probe into allegations, first reported by Salon, that key Whitewater witness David Hale was supported by funds provided by a billionaire conservative activist with whom Starr has long been associated.

“I had eagerly looked forward to spending many happy years at Pepperdine after completing my duties as independent counsel,” Starr said in a news conference, quoting from a letter he wrote to Pepperdine President David Davenport. “The work of that office, however, has expanded considerably and the end is not in sight.”

For the White House, Democratic supporters of President Clinton, Justice Department officials and even Republican members of Congress, Starr’s words are unsettling indeed. They suggest the independent counsel’s investigation will extend well beyond May, when it was assumed Starr would present his report on Clinton to Congress.

For GOP lawmakers, it likely means that campaigning for the midterm election in November will get under way with the issues of Whitewater, the Monica Lewinsky affair and Clinton’s possible impeachment continuing to irritate a voting public that, according to all the polls, regards Starr’s investigation as partisan — a sentiment that is working to the benefit of Democrats.

“This is not how we want to kick off the campaign,” said one disgruntled staffer for a Republican congressman.

Senior federal law enforcement officials are also angry at Starr’s perceived delay over the Hale payments probe. They point out that Starr’s office has known about the charges for at least a month, when Salon first reported them. The conflict between Starr’s office and the Justice Department, they say, has now brought the probe to a standstill.

“The question is, how long is this going to go on before this is settled,” a Justice Department source told Salon. “A delay in any criminal investigation always has a negative impact. But in a case of this magnitude” — involving allegations of tampering with a witness who has leveled charges of criminal wrongdoing against the president — “this is unforgivable.”

Last week, the Justice Department asked Starr to determine whether he should investigate allegations that former Arkansas judge and businessman Hale had received payments from operatives working for an anti-Clinton project funded by billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife. In a letter, Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder pointedly noted that Starr might “have a conflict of interest, or the appearance of a conflict, in looking into this matter.”

Holder was alluding to Starr’s connections to Scaife, who funded a the $2.4 million Arkansas Project between 1993 and 1997 to dig up damaging details about President Clinton for the conservative American Spectator magazine. Salon reported allegations that between 1994 and 1996, part of that money was funneled to Hale by Parker Dozhier, an Arkansas sportsman who worked as one of Scaife’s investigators. At the time, Hale, convicted of fraud, was cooperating with Starr’s Whitewater investigation in return for a reduced sentence. As a witness, Hale is crucial to Starr because he claims Clinton pressured him into making an illegal $300,000 loan to Susan McDougal, one of Clinton’s partners in the Whitewater land deal. Clinton denies the allegation.

Justice Department lawyers believe Starr has a financial and political conflict of interest because the positions he accepted at Pepperdine were funded largely by money from Scaife. Two years ago, Scaife provided the university with more than $1 million to launch its public policy school. Officials at Pepperdine insist Scaife had no role in Starr’s selection for the dean’s position.

But in a letter sent Thursday to Holder’s boss, Attorney General Janet Reno, Starr left no doubt about who should be in charge of the Hale probe. First rejecting Holder’s suggestion that the independent counsel had a conflict of interest regarding Hale, Starr noted that the Justice Department itself had a conflict of interest because Hale has provided information damaging to Reno’s boss, President Clinton.

“We are deeply concerned that the above considerations would create actual conflict of interest problems in any investigation of these allegations by the Department of Justice,” Starr wrote. He went on to suggest that his concerns had been heightened by the Justice Department’s support of several White House aides who have claimed executive privilege before Starr’s grand jury, causing delays to his investigation.

Responding to Starr’s statements, Democrats are insisting Starr still had a conflict of interest, despite removing himself from the Pepperdine job. It noted that Starr still sits on the board of the conservative Washington Legal Foundation, an organization that received nearly $3 million from Scaife between 1988 and 1996; that he is a member of the Federalist Society, another conservative legal organization that received $920,000 from Scaife during the same period; that he has worked with the conservative Landmark Legal Foundation, another Scaife-funded group; and he worked on a brief for the Paula Jones lawsuit on behalf of the Independent Women’s Forum, a conservative group that received $450,000 from Scaife over the past three years.

At his news conference, Starr said he has never met or talked to Scaife. “I have had no arrangement — implicit, explicit, direct or indirect — with him,” he said.

Jonathan Broder is Salon's Washington correspondent.

Murray Waas is a frequent contributor to Salon.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 22
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Talking Heads, 1977
    This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith, Bowery 1976
    Patti lit up by the Bowery streetlights. I tapped her on the shoulder, asked if I could do a picture, took two shots and everyone went back to what they were doing. 1/4 second at f/5.6 no tripod.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Blondie, 1977
    This was taken at the Punk Magazine Benefit show. According to Chris Stein (seated, on slide guitar), they were playing “Little Red Rooster.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    No Wave Punks, Bowery Summer 1978
    They were sitting just like this when I walked out of CBGB's. Me: “Don’t move” They didn’t. L to R: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradley Field, Liz Seidman.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell + Bob Quine, 1978
    Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing CBGB's in 1978, with Richard’s peerless guitar player Robert Quine. Sorely missed, Quine died in 2004.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bathroom, 1977
    This photograph of mine was used to create the “replica” CBGB's bathroom in the Punk Couture show last summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So I got into the Met with a bathroom photo.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Stiv Bators + Divine, 1978
    Stiv Bators, Divine and the Dead Boys at the Blitz Benefit show for injured Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977
    “The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…” View from the unique "side stage" at CBGB's that you had to walk past to get to the basement bathrooms.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Klaus Nomi, Christopher Parker, Jim Jarmusch – Bowery 1978
    Jarmusch was still in film school, Parker was starring in Jim’s first film "Permanent Vacation" and Klaus just appeared out of nowhere.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Hilly Kristal, Bowery 1977
    When I used to show people this picture of owner Hilly Kristal, they would ask me “Why did you photograph that guy? He’s not a punk!” Now they know why. None of these pictures would have existed without Hilly Kristal.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Dictators, Bowery 1976
    Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with his girlfriend Jody. I took this shot as a thank you for him returning the wallet I’d lost the night before at CBGB's. He doesn’t like that I tell people he returned it with everything in it.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977
    We were on the median strip on the Bowery shooting what became a 45 single sleeve for Alex’s “Bangkok.” A drop of rain landed on the camera lens by accident. Definitely a lucky night!

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery view, 1977
    The view from across the Bowery in the summer of 1977.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977 – never before printed
    I loved shooting The Ramones. They would play two sets a night, four nights a week at CBGB's, and I’d be there for all of them. This shot is notable for Johnny playing a Strat, rather than his usual Mosrite. Maybe he’d just broken a string. Love that hair.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell, Bowery 1977 – never before printed
    Richard exiting CBGB's with his guitar at 4am, about to step into a Bowery rainstorm. I’ve always printed the shots of him in the rain, but this one is a real standout to me now.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith + Ronnie Spector, 1979
    May 24th – Bob Dylan Birthday show – Patti “invited” everyone at that night’s Palladium show on 14th Street down to CBGB's to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday. Here, Patti and Ronnie are doing “Be My Baby.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Legs McNeil, 1977
    Legs, ready for his close-up, near the front door of CBGB's.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Suicide, 1977
    Rev and Alan Vega – I thought Alan was going to hit me with that chain. This was the Punk Magazine Benefit show.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ian Hunter and Fans, outside bathroom
    I always think of “All the Young Dudes” when I look at this shot. These fans had caught Ian Hunter in the CBGB's basement outside the bathrooms, and I just stepped in to record the moment.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Tommy Ramone, 1977
    Only at CBGB's could I have gotten this shot of Tommy Ramone seen through Johnny Ramones legs.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery 4am, 1977
    End of the night garbage run. Time to go home.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>