A dozen questions Congress should ask Kenneth Starr


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Murray WaasJoan WalshDavid Talbot
November 19, 1998 1:00AM (UTC)

Congress finally gets to interrogate the great interrogator. On Thursday, independent counsel Kenneth Starr will appear before the House Judiciary Committee as it decides whether to pursue an impeachment inquiry against President Clinton.

The committee chairman, Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., has announced his intention to limit questions to Starr. The 37 committee members will be given five minutes each to question the independent counsel about the allegations of bias, leaks, conflicts of interest and collaboration with Clinton's enemies that have plagued his inquiry from the outset.

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As Salon has revealed, Starr pursued his initial investigation into Whitewater with the key assistance of David Hale, a tainted witness who stands accused of taking money and legal help from anti-Clinton activists at the Arkansas Project, a secret $2.4 million project to undermine Clinton financed by Starr's former patron, Richard Mellon Scaife. When Starr's Whitewater inquiry went nowhere, he latched onto Paula Jones' civil suit, and then when that failed, he wired Linda Tripp and finally snared Clinton on adultery. The ties between Starr, Tripp and Jones -- which have not been satisfactorily explained -- helped the independent counsel create a perjury trap for the president in his Jones deposition that would lead to the impeachment crisis.

To enable committee members to use their five minutes well, Salon has prepared a list of questions that Starr should be asked.

1) What was the nature of your contacts with the Paula Jones legal team prior to your appointment as independent counsel?

2) Did you know that your partner at Kirkland and Ellis, Richard W. Porter, was assisting the Paula Jones legal team?

3) When did your office first learn of allegations of payments to David Hale by conservative political activists?

4) Was your office aware of attempts by David Hale to suborn perjury from his brother Milas regarding Whitewater?

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5) Did you ever discuss with your friend and former Justice Department colleague Theodore Olson the Arkansas Project and/or David Hale?

6) What steps did your office take to maintain the independence of special investigator Michael Shaheen to investigate David Hale?

7) Did you or your office ever inform the attorney general, or the three-judge panel that appointed you, of the ties between you or your law firm and the Paula Jones legal team?

8) How and when did you learn of the existence of Linda Tripp's tapes?

9) Why has your office refused to disclose the salaries and other compensation paid to you and your prosecutors?

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10) What steps are you taking to accommodate the special master investigating potentially illegal leaks by your office to the media?

11) In a letter to Steven Brill, editor of Brill's Content, you denied your prosecutors ever suggested Monica Lewinsky wear a wire and secretly record conversations with Vernon Jordan and the president. But Lewinsky testified to the grand jury that your office indeed made that demand. Who is telling the truth?

12) Having now served as independent counsel, would you favor reauthorization of the independent counsel statute? And would you like to see changes to the statute?

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Here is a fact sheet of what every American citizen should know about Kenneth Starr and his probe.

1) After successful lobbying by staunch conservatives such as North Carolina Sen. Lauch Faircloth, a three-judge panel dominated by Republicans replaced moderate Whitewater prosecutor Robert Fiske with Kenneth Starr in August 1994. Starr, former chief of staff to Reagan Attorney General William French Smith and a member of an ambitious circle of activist conservative attorneys, accepted the job despite the fact that he had opposed the independent counsel law when he was a Reagan official and helped prepare a brief arguing it was unconstitutional, vesting too much power in one unaccountable person.

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2) At the time of his appointment as Whitewater independent counsel, Starr, a $1 million-a-year Washington attorney with the high-powered firm of Kirkland & Ellis, was advising the Paula Jones camp on her sexual harassment suit against Clinton and offered to write a friend-of-the-court brief on her behalf. He was also representing the tobacco industry, an ardent foe of the Clinton administration. Later, Iran-contra prosecutor Lawrence Walsh would comment that, considering Starr's conflicts of interest, he should have felt obligated to turn down the job of investigating Clinton.

3) Starr proceeded to build his Whitewater case against Clinton largely around the testimony of confessed felon David Hale, a corrupt municipal judge and businessman who claimed then-Gov. Clinton had pressured him into making an illegal $300,000 loan to Jim and Susan McDougal, Clinton's partners in the failed Whitewater real estate deal. Starr's Whitewater investigators unearthed a formidable amount of evidence casting doubt on Hale's testimony against Clinton, including the fact that Hale had falsely invoked Clinton's name on a separate occasion to win a $50,000 kickback from an Alabama health company seeking an Arkansas state contract. But Starr chose to overlook this inconvenient episode in Hale's past, as well as the fact that his star witness had turned his courthouse into a personal ATM when he served as a municipal judge, taking kickbacks from a private collection agency he had installed to gather fines. A Salon investigation has also revealed that David Hale attempted to get his respected brother Milas, a judge, to falsely corroborate his allegations about Clinton's role in the Whitewater affair.

4) William Watt, another former municipal judge implicated in the Whitewater scheme, was used by Starr to corroborate Hale's testimony during the trial of the McDougals and Gov. Jim Guy Tucker. But Watt would later tell Salon that Starr's investigators ignored exculpatory information he provided them about Clinton and tried to pressure him into telling a more incriminating story about Clinton: "I was told they didn't like the truth the way that I told it. I had my truth and they had their truth and I was told that they liked their truth better." Watt also told Salon that he regarded Hale as someone who would "lie and manipulate people. He was a pathological liar."

5) David Hale, while cooperating with Starr as his chief Whitewater witness from 1994 to 1996, would sometimes stay rent-free at a fishing resort in Hot Springs, Ark., owned by anti-Clinton activist Parker Dozhier, who passed on secret cash payments to Hale. This charge was made to Salon by Dozhier's former live-in girlfriend, Caryn Mann, and her teenage son, both of whom have repeated their testimony before a federal grand jury. According to Mann, the money came from conservative attorney Stephen Boynton and David Henderson, vice president of the foundation that owns the conservative American Spectator magazine. Boynton and Henderson oversaw the Arkansas Project, an anti-Clinton muckraking campaign lavishly funded by right-wing billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, who funneled his contributions through the Spectator.

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6) "We're convinced that none of our people had any knowledge of any such [Arkansas Project] payments [to Hale]," asserted Starr's chief Arkansas deputy, W. Hickman Ewing Jr. But the first meeting of the Arkansas Project took place in the Washington law offices of Theodore Olson, a friend, political ally and former colleague of Starr's, whose relationship dated back to their days as young activist conservatives in the Reagan Justice Department. Olson and Starr were also both beneficiaries of Richard Mellon Scaife's politically inspired generosity. Starr was scheduled to take a Scaife-funded deanship at Pepperdine University until controversy about his connections to Scaife forced him to resign the post. Olson has served on the board and as the attorney of the Scaife-funded American Spectator as well as on the advisory boards of four other right-wing institutions funded by Scaife. Referring to Olson's oversight role on the Arkansas Project, one source told Salon, "Olson is somebody who Scaife would trust to see that nothing went wrong and that his money would not be wasted."

Like Starr, Olson worked on the Paula Jones case. Last year, when Jones challenged Clinton's claim of immunity from civil suits while in office, Olson, together with Robert Bork, held a moot court to prepare Jones' lawyers for their successful argument before the Supreme Court.

7) Olson -- who, along with his wife, Barbara, is often called upon by the press to defend their friend Starr -- also represented David Hale when he was called to testify before the Senate Whitewater Committee. Later, Hale lied under oath about how he came to retain Olson while testifying at the trial of Tucker and the McDougals. Two sources told Salon that by lying Hale was trying to conceal his connection to the Arkansas Project. It was the project's Stephen Boynton and David Henderson who put Hale in touch with Olson. (Olson's Arkansas Project connection is never mentioned when the New York Times and other media outlets call on him for comment about Starr's investigation of the president.)

8) While Hale was cooperating with Starr's Whitewater case, the independent counsel aggressively protected the man he called "a model witness," despite all evidence that Hale was anything but. Starr and his deputies tried to stop an insurance fraud case brought against Hale by Arkansas prosecutors, who charged that Starr's office tried to intimidate them into dropping the case. The trial, which Starr succeeded in delaying but not stopping, will now begin in March. It will certainly cast a further cloud on Starr's "model witness," for Hale is charged with bilking poor black clients in rural Arkansas out of their funeral payments.

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9) Some of Starr's deputies were alarmed by the independent counsel's unquestioning embrace of Hale. They shook their heads in dismay when Starr argued in court for a reduced sentence for "Judge Hale," as he called him, telling the court, "I have witnessed his contrition. I believe, your honor, that he is genuinely remorseful of his criminal past. I have been impressed with his humble spirit." Taking issue with Starr, one Whitewater investigator told Salon, "With someone like Hale, you can never let down your guard. You should never get to a point where you begin to trust him."

10) Starr deputy Hickman Ewing met quietly several times during the course of his Whitewater investigation with Rex Armistead, a private eye hired by the Arkansas Project to dig up dirt on Clinton. Armistead's investigation focused on allegations that then-Gov. Clinton had protected a cocaine-smuggling ring operating out of the Mena airport in rural Arkansas. The drug charges were examined and rejected by three separate federal investigations.

One Whitewater investigator expressed concern about Ewing's meetings with the private eye, because of the controversial connection between Starr and Scaife and because not all the meetings were recorded in official files: "This was either the worst case of judgment or something worse."

11) At a critical juncture in Paula Jones' long-running legal battle with the president, the Arkansas Project's Stephen Boynton, David Henderson and Parker Dozhier intervened to find her experienced litigators, just before the statute of limitations on her lawsuit ran out. The suit was successfully revived -- and it in turn would later revive Kenneth Starr's flagging pursuit of the president.

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Another connection between the Jones case and the Arkansas Project surfaced when Salon reported that William Lehrfeld, a conservative attorney who has worked for Scaife and who served as legal counsel for the project, contributed $50,000 to Jones' legal fund from a little-known foundation he ran.

12) In early 1997, Starr's Whitewater case against Clinton had reached such a dead end that he made an effort to flee his job for the sunny Pepperdine campus in Malibu, Calif. When his attempted escape provoked howls from his political and media supporters, Starr returned grimly to his Whitewater post. But his fortunes would dramatically reverse later in the year when the Jones lawsuit was green-lighted by the Supreme Court -- with help from Starr's friend Olson -- and Jones' lawyers subpoenaed Clinton and a then-obscure former White House intern named Monica Lewinsky.

13) Finally, in recent months, new attention has been given to the previously reported fact that Starr had close ties to the Paula Jones case even while he was seeking to replace Robert Fiske as Whitewater independent counsel in August 1994. Before his appointment, Starr had publicly spoken out against presidential immunity from Jones' suit and had even prepared an amicus brief for Jones. Starr also consulted directly with Jones' lawyers about the case, a fact he may not have told Attorney General Janet Reno when he sought approval to extend his probe into the fetid waters of Jones-Lewinsky-Tripp.

Perhaps most important, new documents have revealed that Starr knew much earlier than he told Reno about Linda Tripp's Monica Lewinsky tapes; and that Tripp herself, not Lewinsky or Clinton, suggested to Lewinsky that she ask Vernon Jordan to help her find a job in exchange for her silence about her affair with the president.

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By ensnaring Jordan in the Lewinsky matter, Tripp built the bridge that Starr walked across to move from the Reno-authorized Whitewater probe -- where he was investigating whether Jordan helped Clinton pal Webster Hubbell get a job in exchange for his silence about the Whitewater deal -- into the unrelated, but much more enticing matter of the Lewinsky affair. The shadowy ties between Starr, Tripp and Jones and their right-wing friends allowed the independent counsel's office to create the perjury trap for Clinton in his Jones deposition that would result in the current impeachment crisis.

And so the Clinton-Starr drama came full circle. By returning to the Paula Jones civil case that he had counseled before his appointment as Whitewater prosecutor, Kenneth Starr was finally able to get his man. Like Roger Chillingworth, the vengeful moralist who relentlessly pursued the adulterous Hester Prynne and her lover, the Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale, in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter," Starr branded Clinton with the scarlet "I" -- for impeachment.

But this month's election showed that most Americans have resisted the hysterical anti-Clinton sermonizing. They understand that Starr's enterprise was a political inquisition from its very birth, and that his marriage of limitless prosecutorial force and political vengeance is a much more dangerous specter than President Clinton's libido. It's this sense of decency and balance that will, we hope, save the country from being torn apart over a matter that should never have been dragged into the public arena.


Murray Waas

Murray Waas is a frequent contributor to Salon.

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Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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David Talbot

David Talbot, the founder of Salon, is the author of the New York Times bestseller “Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years.” He is now working on a book about the legendary CIA director Allen W. Dulles and the rise of the national security state.

MORE FROM David TalbotFOLLOW davidtalbot

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