The independent counsel who investigated President Bill Clinton told the Atlanta Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society Thursday not to expect a similarly detailed report from Robert Mueller on President Donald Trump.
“We may not have that much to read when the Mueller report finally comes out,” Kenneth Starr said to a packed room full of lawyers and judges over lunch at the Peachtree Street offices of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton.
“Minimalist” was the word Starr used to describe what he expects to see from Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. “Firecracker” was the term he used referring to his own detailed report that was published on the Internet and across multiple pages of newspapers in 1998.
Starr talked about what has changed since his report. And he sold and signed piles of copies of his new book, “Contempt: A Memoir of the Clinton Investigation.” The cover photo shows Hillary Rodham Clinton whispering in the ear of her husband, President Bill Clinton.
“The name of the book is harsh,” Starr said. “But it was the president’s own fault.”
Clinton “could have settled it,” Starr said. He didn’t say how, but he suggested by resigning the presidency as Richard Nixon did when impeachment loomed. Instead, Clinton fought impeachment and survived it.
“William Jefferson Clinton had contempt” for the law, Starr said. He said the key point in his 11-count indictment of Clinton wasn’t perjury—lying about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky—but abuse of power.
Starr had praise for Trump’s choice for attorney general, Bill Barr. “He will be a wonderful attorney general,” Starr said. And he gave the Senate Judiciary Committee high marks for what he said was an evenhanded approach to questioning Barr in his confirmation hearing Tuesday.
“This was a magnificent week,” Starr said. “The Senate Judiciary Committee is back from the abyss. I won’t name it. I’ll just call it the recent unpleasantness.”
He did later name the man at the center of the “recent unpleasantness” before the Senate committee: now-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Two decades ago, Kavanaugh was among the Starr advisers saying the report was too detailed. “Take some of this out,” he said Kavanaugh and others advised. “This is horrible.”
Starr agreed the report was horrible, but he said it was necessary to prove that the president had committed an impeachable offense. So the details stayed in—right down to the number of buttons to be undone on Monica Lewinsky’s dress and what the president did and didn’t do after that.
Starr was asked during a lively response from the audience if he were aware of the impact his report had on the next generation’s views of sex and social standards.
“There has been a coarsening of the discourse and a sexualization of our culture,” Starr said. “And it was the level of detail we felt we had to go into.”
As he put on his hat to head for the elevators to catch a flight back to Texas, Starr paused in the hallway for one more question: Why does he expect Mueller’s report to be so completely different from his own?
The difference is in the structure of the investigation, he said. As independent counsel, Starr reported directly to Congress. And it was the decision of Congress to release the report. And he agrees with his friend and former colleague Barr that the Mueller report should be made public as well. But Mueller’s report will go to the attorney general, and the Justice Department is under the executive authority of the president.
Starr is currently of counsel at the Lanier Law Firm in Houston. He is a former president of Baylor University and dean of Pepperdine University School of Law. He also has served as a U.S. solicitor general and a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Starr earned his undergraduate degree from George Washington University, a master’s degree from Brown University and his law degree from Duke University Law School. He and his wife of 48 years live in Waco, Texas, and are the parents of three children and the grandparents of seven, according to an introduction given by Atlanta Lawyers Chapter of The Federalist Society chairman Frank Strickland.
Like his report 21 years ago, Starr’s memoir is a page-turner. He admits he understands why Monica Lewinsky still blames him for the heartache she experienced after the investigation was made public. But Starr said the blame lies at the feet of the president, for exploiting the young intern and the first lady who stood by him.
“In her fierce but misguided loyalty, Monica allowed herself to become a tragic figure of late twentieth-century America,” Starr writes in the book. “She carries with her forever the living reality of the Clintons’ victim-strewn path to power, the most visible casualty of the Clintons’ contempt.”