Ken Starr On Investigating A President Kenneth Starr led the investigation of President Clinton in the 1990s. NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks with the former independent counsel about Robert Mueller's investigation of President Trump.

Ken Starr On Investigating A President

Ken Starr On Investigating A President

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Kenneth Starr led the investigation of President Clinton in the 1990s. NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks with the former independent counsel about Robert Mueller's investigation of President Trump.


For seven months now, special counsel Robert Mueller has conducted a wide-ranging investigation into links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. Four former Trump associates have been charged with crimes. This past week, reports surfaced that Mueller may interview the president himself. President Bill Clinton was the last president to be investigated. The independent prosecutor who became famous for leading that inquiry is Kenneth Starr. Mr. Starr joins us now from his home in Waco, Texas. Good morning, sir.

KENNETH STARR: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You and Robert Mueller are part of a very small group - those who have investigated a sitting president. There have been very few leaks from the Mueller investigation. But given what we know, how do you think Mueller and his team are doing in your view?

STARR: Well, I think they're proceeding step by step, which is exactly what they should do. And obviously, the fact that there has been scrupulous respect for confidentiality - and especially, of course, anything pending before the grand jury must, as a matter of law, remain secret. So I'm very impressed with the professionalism of what Bob has done. Let me quickly say that there are a number of issues that have been raised of late with respect to his staff - at least one lawyer, several of the FBI agents and so forth. And I assume we'll get into that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, you've written that Mueller should've vetted his team better because, as you mention, of anti-Trump sentiment among a specific member of his staff. Isn't it impossible, though, to divorce these investigations from politics?

STARR: No, it is absolutely not. And it's imperative that they be divorced from politics. During my Whitewater days, we had - and I never talked politics, never - I heard that there were folks on the staff who had voted for President Clinton. That's great. This is a country where we enjoy First Amendment rights. Everybody has them and so forth. But just some of the emails and the like that have been revealed suggest legitimate concerns about fairness and open-mindedness.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mueller did immediately remove the offender from his team, though, we should say.

STARR: Yes, I just want for there to be as much transparency as possible to assure an unbiased investigation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You've written that you feel Congress is the best place to investigate a president and not necessarily a special investigator or special prosecutor. Why?

STARR: I think we've had so many unhappy experiences with independent counsels or special counsels. The Republicans hated the Iran-Contra investigation. The Democrats hated Whitewater and Lewinsky that I conducted. The best way to address issues of misconduct other than the kind of criminality such as the president was bribed - those are the kinds of things that I think are entrusted to the criminal laws. I think when we're talking about the kinds of issues - was there collusion with the Russians and so forth? - to me, that's a political question.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But no criminal consequences?

STARR: Perhaps, but that's not the primary as I see it. And this is one person's view. The American people deserve answers. And they deserve them sooner rather than later. Now, if there is criminal conduct that's identified, then you can face that at the time. You know, obviously, the Congress can refer matters to the Justice Department for prosecution. But I think we have built up this edifice of confidentiality and secrecy, which you have to do when you go down the road of a special counsel or independent prosecutor. And I think that's unfortunate.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Your contention, though, is that Robert Mueller shouldn't be the person to determine whether or not the president has done something wrong. Ultimately, though, won't he submit a report? It might take a little while. But it will be a report that will be available to everybody.

STARR: Well, first of all, there's no clear provision for providing a report to the American people under the regulations under which Bob Mueller was appointed. Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, might see fit to direct the special counsel to prepare a comprehensive report. Then again, he might not. So we just don't know. And so that's why I think, again, we look to the people's representatives as the logical place. It's not ideal, but as Churchill said, democracy's the worst form of government, except for any other. And I think we should just say we want our representatives to stand up and to now really do their job. And obviously, if there's rank partisanship, it's going to be criticized.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Finally, I'd like to ask you about a different issue. You served as president of Baylor University in Texas from 2010 to 2016. And you resigned after an investigation found that the university had inadequately handled reports of sexual assault by members of the football team. As you know, claims like those are being taken much more seriously now in many of our institutions because of a lot of discussion about sexual harassment and sexual assault. Do you view the issue differently now after everything that has been revealed?

STARR: I think as a society, as a culture - and I don't think any of us were turning a blind eye to anything. But more broadly, yes, I think it is very important for us to have a mechanism so that every human being - but especially now in this context of women - are treated with dignity and respect. And I think that was part of the issue, frankly, back in the 1990s that didn't seem to even enter into the conversation.

Here's the president of the United States with a relationship with an intern. Did he commit perjury? Did he obstruct justice? Did he suborn perjury? Did he abuse his power? Those were the issues back then. But now I think as a culture, as a society, we are increasingly - and rightly so - sensitive to issues of mistreatment of people in the workplace, power roles and so forth. We're doing, I think, a better job now at saying we want to protect the dignity of all persons while at the same time having a fair adjudicatory system.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ken Starr is the former solicitor general of the United States and was an independent counsel during President Clinton's investigation. Thank you very much for joining us, sir.

STARR: My pleasure. Thank you.


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