Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr

Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr

E-mail debates of newsworthy topics.
Feb. 15 1997 3:30 AM

Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr

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       Well, Mr. Turpen, interesting response. I can see that you've been taking your Carville pills. I'll respond to your points in the order in which they have come gushing forth:
       1) I gather that you feel that you have found an "ugly fact" that thwarts my "beautiful theory." My beautiful theory, as you see it, is that Ken Starr "is an experienced and objective independent counsel." The ugly fact, you say, is that Starr is not a former prosecutor. Let's examine that point.
       I never said that Starr was an experienced prosecutor. He has had considerable experience as a lawyer, plus about seven years at the highest levels of the U.S. Justice Department and about five years as a federal judge. That is valuable experience for this job. The fact that he was never a prosecutor is hardly disqualifying. He has numerous veteran career prosecutors working for him. Archibald Cox had a very similar résumé, and he was regarded as a pretty good choice for investigating President Nixon. And most of our nation's attorneys general, including such luminaries as Robert Kennedy, Edward Levi, and Griffin Bell, had little or no prosecutorial experience before being appointed as the nation's top prosecutor. Same for Zoe Baird, President (or Hillary?) Clinton's first choice for attorney general. Come to think of it, President Clinton did not have much military experience before being elected--with the help of your vote, I surmise--as commander in chief. What has his on-the-job training cost the American people? (Come to think of it, maybe this helps make your case.) Finally, Starr's lack of prosecutorial experience does not make him any less an "objective" independent counsel.
       Thus, your "ugly fact" isn't ugly, and it does not in the slightest diminish the fact, not a theory, that Starr is an eminently well-qualified independent counsel. And none of the empty rhetoric that you and Carville have been spouting shows any lack of fairness or objectivity on Starr's part. Indeed, he seems to have the full confidence of President Clinton's attorney general--who, by the way, is an experienced prosecutor.
       2) By describing James McDougal as a "now-admitted perjurer," you apparently accept his recent admission that he was committing perjury when he contradicted David Hale's testimony that then-Gov. Clinton had pressured Hale into making an illegal loan. That does, indeed, put President Clinton in a very uncomfortable spot. The only two witnesses to the event are now saying that he committed a federal crime. That would explain why the squealing from Clinton surrogates about Ken Starr's independence has been getting shriller and shriller. The fox is hearing the hounds.
       3) Apparently you do not think too highly of McDougal's character, and you believe that it would be "un-American" if he were to testify against the president. But the president would not have to face accusers like McDougal had he not selected friends and business partners such as McDougal, Web Hubbell, and Jim Guy Tucker. As they say in Arkansas, "Lie down with dogs, get fleas." And if you think it's "un-American" for the president to put up with witnesses like McDougal, imagine how you're going to feel when, as revealed by Bob Woodward's stunning revelations in the Feb. 13thWashington Post, the witnesses turn out to be John Huang, Charles Trie, Pauline Kanchanalak, James Riady, and other money-laundering bag persons for the Peoples' Republic of China.
       4) I do not know whether or when or under what circumstances a grand jury composed of Arkansas citizens might decide to indict the president or his wife. But they can surely be trusted to evaluate the nature of the McDougal and Hale testimony and--let's not forget--all the other witnesses and documentary evidence that have been crawling out of hidden places. If the charge is that President Clinton lied under oath about the Hale loan during his recent videotaped testimony, perhaps Starr will simply forward the facts to the House Judiciary Committee. I think we should wait and see what the evidence is before we decide whether the charge is justified. Your mind seems to be made up already: You've decided to vindicate the Clintons and indict Starr without knowing what the evidence is. That, to me, sounds like the mind of a "politically partisan, agenda-driven ideologue"--to use one of your favorite expressions.
       5) The New York Times has just reported that Hubbell, Huang, Mark Middleton, and Trie have declared that they will refuse to cooperate with investigators trying to get to the bottom of the foreign money fund-raising scandal. À la Susan McDougal. This somewhat predictable development should help you understand why the Starr investigation is "lengthy." Clinton appointees, friends, cousins, law partners, and financial middlemen would rather go to jail than answer questions. It takes a village, and a heap of patience, to investigate this administration.
       6) Incidentally, I see that the Clinton administration has decided to suspend the Army's top enlisted soldier because he was charged with making an unwanted pass at one of his subordinates. No need for this president to wait for a trial of the sexual-harassment charges. Do you favor the same due process rules for Sgt. Maj. Gene McKinney's commander in chief?

Michael Turpen is a lawyer and former attorney general of Oklahoma. To learn more about his views on the conduct of the independent counsel's office, read his exchange with Kenneth Starr. Theodore Olson is a lawyer in Washington, D.C. He served as the U.S. assistant attorney general under President Reagan from 1981 to 1984.