The Starr Chamber
and the Future of American Democracy The Starr Report
(this is the printer friendly version)
The dimpled darling
of the Religious Right and Big Tobacco released his X-rated report
to Congress. In his zeal to "get" the President, he did
not allow Clinton or his attorneys any of the due process afforded
Nixon and Reagan when they were being investigated for genuine abuses
of power. (No opportunity to preview the Report before its release---
even Gingrich was given a week to examine the ethics charges leveled
Next Congress---- all
the Republicans and some of the Democrats---- voted to dump this
one-sided material onto the internet before they had a chance to
read it themselves, much less digest and evaluate it. (Just curious:
I wonder how many of those voting YES on this also voted YES for
that dreadful "Communications Decency Act" a few years
So now we all know the
tawdry--- and frankly, boring--- details of Bill Clinton's latest
Zipper Problem---- from Monica's come-on display of her thong underwear
to the two-minute blow jobs in the presidential bathroom to . .
The ONLY reason for
the release of this report with its many gratuitous pornographic
details was POLITICAL. The Republicans hoped the American public
would have such a collective knee-jerk reaction that we would fail
to analyze those eleven counts for impeachment and would then----
a) demand Clinton's departure by resignation or impeachment
b) stay home from the polls in November or vote Republican.
So far it's not working!
The polls indicate that 62-66% want Clinton to remain in office
at the same time that they certainly do not condone his personal
behavior. (Nor do I.)
What happens if we
allow the Republicans to get a landslide in November?
God help what's left
of our democracy if we allow the Republicans to keep their majority
in the House and expand to a veto-proof majority in the Senate.
In that case we can expect:
---- tax cuts for the wealthy
---- welfare cuts for the poor
---- increased spending for the military ----- Hello, Star Wars!
---- less money for education
---- more money for prisons
---- privatization of Social Security
---- curtailment of Medicare
---- repeal of Roe v. Wade (recommended by Barbara Boxer's opponent)
---- defeat of the handgun bill
---- school vouchers
---- death and burial of campaign finance reform
---- reinstatement of offshore oil drilling (and other threats to
---- abolition of birth control clinics
---- the Istook Amendment or another threat to the separation of
church and state
---- a green light for the Tobacco interests
Remedy: GET OUT THE VOTE
IN NOVEMBER . . . . . . VOTE DEMOCRATIC
Californians: Keep Barbara Boxer in the Senate!
Does the Starr Report
contain grounds for impeachment?
Not for anybody who
can read Standard English!
Sure Clinton lied to the American people. (Not good, I don't approve.)
BUT lying to cover up a consensual sexual encounter is NOT in the
same class as Eisenhower's lie about the U-2, or Johnson's lie about
Tonkin Gulf (which precipitated our commitment to the Vietnam War
with the resulting death of 58,000 Americans, many times that number
of Vietnamese and the expenditure of $120 billion) or Nixon's lies
about _____________________ (not enough space to enumerate), or
the Reagan-Bush lies about mining the Nicaraguan harbor, aid to
the contras (in violation of the Boland Amendment), arms to Iran,
In the Rebuttal David
Kendall makes a case that the very specific requirements to make
a perjury charge stick will NOT prevail thanks to Clinton's clever
lawyerly answers to questions while under oath. What makes sense
to me is that perjury (if it could be proved) about a consensual
sexual relationship (especially in a civil suit that was subsequently
dismissed) does not fall into the category of TREASON, BRIBERY,
AND OTHER HIGH CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS that is prescribed in the
The most ridiculous
and also the most infuriating charge that Starr makes is that of
ABUSE OF POWER. I urge you to read the White House Rebuttals on
this one! We've had REAL abuses of power by presidents in this century
that have gone unpunished. The one that sticks most in my craw is
the Iran-Contra Conspiracy. Its investigation by a much more fair-minded
Independent Counsel, Lawrence E. Walsh, was completely sabotaged.
Remember how the felony convictions of Oliver North and John Poindexter
were overturned on appeal because of the "tainted" testimony
given to the competing congressional committee? And who can forget
that lame-duck George Bush pardoned indicted Caspar Weinberger and
the already convicted four: Elliott Abrams, Alan Fiers, Clair George,
and Robert McFarlane. For an earlier administration read Stanley
I. Kutler's aptly named Abuse of Power which contains the
latest release of Nixon tapes and reveals him as even more corrupt
than we knew at the time.
Sex, Lies and Now
As I write this (Wednesday
evening, September 16, 1998), it seems likely that Congress will
vote to release selective excerpts of President Clinton's videotaped
testimony before the Grand Jury. (I'm betting on another Friday
afternoon release to give the public something to chew on over the
This is beginning to
sound more and more like the actions of a police state. First of
all, the "evidence" given to a Grand Jury is supposed
to be secret. (But secret in this case means only what Kenneth Starr
doesn't want revealed. Such as the exculpatory evidence for the
Clintons given by William Watt and others about Whitewater. Or Starr's
attempts to prevent the prosecution of his prize witness, David
Hale, for allegedly looting funds from a burial insurance company.)
Secondly, we can expect
that the excerpts will be only ones unfavorable to the President
and, like all the salacious bits in the Report, designed to embarrass
him. I imagine we will see angry outbursts as well as some infuriating
I think most of us would
be angry at this Inquisitor who has been mounting a four-year witch
hunt (more about this below). Any weasel answers would be self-preservation
against a modern-day Inspector Javert who, if Clinton should admit
to perjury, would be delighted to invoke the still active Grand
Jury to indict him. Then in a worst case scenario---- jail time
and disbarment? You'd better believe Clinton had to answer very
specifically and very carefully.
If the pundits are correct,
these excerpts will be available for Republicans to run in their
campaign ads. If so, we will probably see certain cuts as frequently
as we have had to endure those damn shots of Clinton hugging Monica---
both the one with the beret and the one with the loose hair. Does
this sound like fair play to you?
History of the Starr
(or What He Has to Show for Four+ Years and $45 Million-and-Still-Counting)
This is a long, sad
and sordid story. Too many details to give it all here, so I'm going
to refer you from time to time to the excellent reporting by the
The witch hunt started
back in 1992 before the election as a last minute attempt by the
Bush White House to instigate a bogus criminal referral about the
Clintons and their failed investment in Whitewater, according to
the Salon article,
"Starr Chamber" , by Mollie Dickenson. Part of Starr's
first actions after his appointment as Independent Counsel in 1994
was to cover up these improper and probably illegal shenanigans
of the White House officials and Bush's attorney general.
On June 30, 1994 Robert
Fiske, the original Whitewater Independent Counsel, filed a report
that Vincent Foster had committed suicide because he was depressed
over the "mean-spirited and factually baseless" editorials
about him in the Wall Street Journal---- and not because
of anything to do with Whitewater and no one had murdered him. On
August 5th Fiske was fired by the three-judge panel and replaced
by Kenneth Starr. (The panel had been selected by Chief Justice
Rehnquist, who was originally appointed by Nixon and promoted to
Chief Justice by Reagan.) Starr re-opened the Vincent Foster
inquiry (imagine how painful that must have been for his family)
and refrained from issuing his yes-it-was-suicide report until after
the 1996 election.
As described by Bruce
Shapiro in "Men
in Black (robes)", there's an important history behind
Starr's appointment. Rehnquist appointed Judge David Sentelle, a
big buddy of North Carolina's two senators, Jesse Helms and Launch
Faircloth. Sentelle lunched with Faircloth (who had been working
for a long time to get Fiske fired) and soon after appointed Starr.
Starr is a senior partner in the law firm of Kirkland and Ellis
whose principal client is the Tobacco giant, Brown and Williamson.
Starr continued to work for the firm (at around $1 million a year)
for most of his tenure as Independent Counsel. North Carolina is
a big tobacco growing state. In Clinton's six years much has been
accomplished to prevent kids from learning to smoke and to make
the tobacco companies liable for damages caused by their products.
Get the picture?
Starr had other conflicts
of interest that would have prevented a more honourable man from
accepting the position.
1---- As Joe
Conason and Murray Waas reported two and a half years ago in
The Nation, at the time of his appointment his law firm was
being sued for professional negligence by the Resolution Trust Corporation;
the Whitewater probe would involve Starr investigating the very
officials in the RTC responsible for bringing the suit against Kirkland
2---- Starr had advised
the attorneys for Paula Jones.
3---- Starr later accepted
an appointment to be the dean of a new school at Pepperdine University
which was funded by the super conservative billionaire Richard Mellon
Scaife who also funded the clandestine Arkansas project. The function
of this group was the promulgation of scurrilous rumors about Clinton----
murder, drug running, you name it. The Arkansas Project also paid
money to convicted felon ex-Judge David Hale, Starr's key witness
in Arkansas, the man whose testimony was needed to indict Jim McDougal
and Jim Guy Tucker. See Jonathan Broder and Murray Waas' "The
Road to Hale".
Starr made life miserable
for everyone in Arkansas with any remote connection to the Clintons,
yet turned a blind eye to the probable perjuries and other felonies
of four of his witnesses, as described by Gene Lyons in "See
Some Evil, Hear Some Evil". Recently on KPFK Lyons said
Starr has "power and ruthlessness instincts that are close
And yet there was NOTHING
about Whitewater in the report Starr sent to Congress! Nor Filegate.
Nor Travelgate. Despite the many, many people he subpoenaed to appear
before both the Arkansas and District of Columbia grand juries.
Despite the fact that he forced the Clintons to produce massive
quantities of documents and every canceled check for the last fifteen
years. (According to a Reuters dispatch he sent someone to search
the private quarters of the White House, including even Chelsea's
underwear drawer, looking for some allegedly missing document.)
He obtained and scrutinized their phone records for the same period.
So Starr was coming
up empty and possibly was close to giving up when he got that phone
call in December from Linda Tripp. He listened to the tapes she
had surreptitiously taped of her "friend" Monica's confidences,
then sent a wired Tripp to further interview Monica. At the end
of that Monica was confronted, held without counsel for several
hours by his investigators and threatened with prosecution and jail
time if she refused to wear a wire and go see Clinton. Isn't that
Monica did refuse, so
the next trap was set: Some woman (most likely La Tripp herself)
called Paula Jones' lawyers and filled them in on the questions
to ask Bill Clinton about Monica Lewinsky in his upcoming deposition.
Clinton, believing Monica when she told him she had told no one
about their affair (HA! Only eleven people!), walked right
into the trap.
Starr most deviously
went to Attorney General Janet Reno and asked for an extension of
his Whitewater mandate, citing obstruction of justice---- the so-called
"talking points" that Bill Clinton was supposed to have
given Monica to suggest to Linda. You will not find anything about
the "talking points" in the Report! Monica says she created
them herself with some help from Linda. (Linda denies any part in
their creation.) The grounds on which Starr obtained his license
to invade Bill Clinton's sex life turned out to be without foundation.
It's against the law
in Maryland to tape a person without his consent. But Linda is safe---
Starr gave her immunity from prosecution. Also Monica. Also Monica's
mother. Which I suppose means that Clinton could never be able to
sue them to recover damages.
of the Grand Jury Procedure
(or Alice in Wonderland Revisited)
The way a grand jury
is supposed to operate: First a crime is committed. There is a possible
or probable culprit. A grand jury is formed to subpoena witnesses,
hear testimony, and decide whether there are sufficient grounds
to indict the target for that crime. The records are sealed because
a) the target and his attorney have not had the opportunity to confront
and cross-examine the witnesses
b) there may be material that would be harmful to innocent people
c) the witnesses have been promised secrecy.
In this case first
the target (Clinton) is named. Two grand juries are formed with
unlimited powers to go on fishing expeditions to find a crime.
Supposed statements of witnesses are leaked with regularity to several
journalists favored by the prosecutor. Clinton has not had the opportunity
to confront and cross-examine any of the witnesses. First the
verdict and maybe never the trial.
What a monstrous perversion
of the law! Still it took over 4 years, over $45 million, a faithless
friend, and a most determined prosecutor to produce this pitiful
Maybe this injustice
to Clinton will cause this country to start evaluating the function
of grand juries. When we inherited this concept from English Common
Law, the grand jury was seen as a protection for the people against
the government or powerful individuals. Lately it seems to be used
as a fishing expedition by over-zealous prosecutors with no Bill
of Rights for the targets. Great Britain abolished the grand jury
several decades ago.
This is a CIVIL LIBERTIES
If this can happen to
Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, the same could happen to you or
me if our activities, influence, knowledge or opinions become inconvenient
in any way to those in power. We may be witnessing the decisive
battle in the Culture War that has been going on for the last decade
or so. If the Religious Right and the Christian Coalition win this
one, watch out!
Are we going to have
privacy in the bedroom or will the government have the power to
legislate what kind of sex is legal? (Twenty-one states still have
anti-sodomy laws on the books.)
Will Roe v. Wade continue
to stand or will its provisions be whittled away a month at a time?
Will we have an Istook
Amendment to the Constitution or will we maintain our First Amendment
guaranteed separation of church and state? The Religious Right is
determined that THEIR ideas on what is RIGHT and MORAL must prevail
and be the law of the land for all. I urge everyone to write or
e-mail all in Congress and express your indignation--- ask for censure
of Starr, not Clinton.
The Sorry Role of
the Media in All of This
The mainstream media
have been aiding and abetting Starr from the very beginning, especially
The New York Times which started the Whitewater rumors and
The Wall Street Journal. Now the major players are literally
screaming for Clinton's scalp. It's hard to understand why they
are so eager to get rid of Clinton; he has moved the Democratic
party far to the right and implemented much of the Republican agenda---
deficit reduction, welfare "reform", harsher laws, etc.
However, here are some possibilities:
1. The media believe
that sex sells copies and improves ratings. They think we are titillated
by details of the private lives of celebrities and Bill Clinton
is our biggest celebrity. (They may discover that sex ad nauseam
repels readers and viewers.)
2. If they can keep us
diverted with scandals--- first OJ, now Monicagate--- maybe we won't
notice that 8 out of 10 of us have less income than a decade
3. The big media names
who are so hot to get Clinton--- Cokie Roberts, Sam Donaldson, Larry
King, et al--- are not poor working stiffs like bygone reporters.
They are in the top 1% income category and out of touch with such
things as the need for affordable day care, a living wage, or a
health insurance program that will deliver when you need it.
4. Reporters have become
fat and lazy for the most part. It's easier to write a story based
on governmental handouts and leaks than to go digging. Then when
they find they missed out on the real story, it's easier to deny
its veracity. Who wants egg on the face?
5. Most of the media
are big corporations themselves now. They scratch each others' backs.
Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post has said that Ken Starr
can do no wrong--- he was the lawyer who saved the Post from
a $11 million libel suit.
6. Possibly Clinton serves
as a symbol for the Sixties in the Culture War---- the draft, marijuana,
the sexual revolution---- even though many of the media names who
oppose him were also baby boomers and had similar lives in that
The irony is that many
of the journals talking about what STARR has done wrong are the
progressive ones--- The Nation, In These Times, Progressive
Magazine, Mother Jones , etc. ---- who have been very
critical of Clinton for his political lurch to the right! They seem
to be the only media with the perspective to realize that this has
been a six year ATTEMPT AT VOTER-NULLIFICATION.
Only in America could
we have a COUP D'ETAT BY PORNOGRAPHY. Let's don't let it happen