'Clinton Vs. Starr': A 'Definitive' Account Ten years after President Clinton's impeachment, law professor Ken Gormley reviews the entire scandal in his new 800-page book The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr. Gormley joins Fresh Air to discuss the independent counsel investigation — and why it continues to resonate today.
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'Clinton Vs. Starr': A 'Definitive' Account

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'Clinton Vs. Starr': A 'Definitive' Account

'Clinton Vs. Starr': A 'Definitive' Account

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TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

In this time of extreme partisan division in Washington, a new book re-examines the impeachment of President Clinton and the partisan divisions it represented. The author, Ken Gormley, says he wanted to write a neutral, definitive book about how an investigation into a real estate deal gone bad became an investigation into President Clinton's affair with an intern and ended with the president's impeachment by the House and acquittal in the Senate.

Gormley's new book is called "The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr." Gormley interviewed Clinton and Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel who led the investigation. Gormley also spoke with many other key players in the story, including Monica Lewinsky, Linda Tripp, Paula Jones, Susan McDougal and Henry Hyde. Gormley is a professor and interim dean at Duquesne University Law School. He's an expert on Watergate and special prosecutors, and wrote the book "Archibald Cox: Conscience of A Nation."

Ken Gormley, welcome to FRESH AIR. Now, in your research of the Kenneth Starr investigation, you say that President Clinton now thinks that his decision to appoint an independent counsel to investigate Whitewater was one of the greatest miscalculations of his presidency. Why did he do it in the first place? Why did he want a special prosecutor?

Professor�KENNETH GORMLEY (Law, Interim Dean, Duquesne University Law School; Author): Well, I don't think he wanted a special prosecutor, Terry, but at the time, you have to understand that the independent counsel law was viewed as a good government measure.

It had been born during the aftermath of Watergate. It was viewed as a measure designed to prevent that sort of scandal at the highest levels of the executive branch from creating problems again. And President Clinton, in the election campaign of 1992, had campaigned in favor of the independent counsel law. There was almost no way out of it, out of signing that bill back into law.

I think at the time, he believed, and he told me that he believed, that this would be a relatively quick and painless matter where folks would investigate the Whitewater matter, see that the Clintons had had no involvement in any wrongdoing by Jim McDougal, who was the individual in Arkansas who had really masterminded that real estate deal and then turned it into Madison Guarantee Savings and Loan investments that ended up defrauding the savings and loan industry.

President Clinton and Mrs.�Clinton believed that they had nothing to do with any of this and that, pretty swiftly, that would be determined, and that would be the end of it. It turned out not to be the case.

GROSS: Why didn't it go away? If they were really innocent of doing anything, why did the investigation continue and get larger and larger?

Prof. GORMLEY: Well, that was what was so remarkable about working on this book project, Terry. And I have to tell you after nine years of working on it, I never got tired of it. You couldn't make up this story if you tried to invent it in your wildest imagination, because it started with this relatively benign Whitewater land deal, which was, you know, encompassed some other things, including this Madison Guarantee Savings and Loan, masterminded by Jim McDougal.

But because of this confluence of events and characters, it turned into the second impeachment trial in the United States history. You had the totally unexpected death of Vince Foster, while he was working in the White House.

You then, quickly on the heels of that, had the filing of the Paula Jones lawsuit. And as a number of people told me, in looking back on this time who were involved in it, people started connecting dots that didn't really connect, and all of a sudden and certainly there was a group of folks who believed that Bill Clinton was the wrong person to be president under any circumstances, and this kind of gave credence to their belief that he should never have been in the White House in the first place.

And so all of these pieces of the scandal come together, almost like a perfect storm, and then once we have the Monica Lewinsky revelations in the winter of 1998, that was just almost blew the roof off of this thing and literally almost led to the removal of President Clinton.

GROSS: You say that Hillary Clinton was almost indicted by the Office of the Independent Counsel. This is something that you discovered, I believe.

Prof. GORMLEY: Well, it was known that there was discussion of indicting Hillary Clinton, and this was around March and April of 1998, right in the thick of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

This was one of the kind of exciting, heart-stopping moments in my research, because I found a copy of the draft indictment of Hillary Clinton that no one had ever seen - President Clinton, Hillary Clinton had never seen it.

It was somewhere where it shouldn't have been, and I was able to sit down and actually read this document. And it was amazing because it turned out to be a draft indictment of both Hillary Clinton and Webster Hubbell, who had been her partner at the Rose Law Firm and then became deputy attorney general and had to resign in the face of his own scandal.

But the effort to indict Hillary Clinton - what was so amazing about it was it came about right at the time that the Monica Lewinsky investigation had sort of stalled, and Starr's operation was looking for a way to put pressure to try to make something give here. And so there was serious consideration to indicting the first lady. There were attempts to indict Webster Hubbell again, to indict Susan McDougal again, to make her talk. So all of this was pushing very hard in about March and April of 1998 to try to finally break the logjam and get to President Clinton on one of these charges.

GROSS: I can't tell from how you're describing it, whether you think this was an effort on the part of the Office of the Independent Counsel to get to the truth, or an effort to just impeach the president and get rid of him.

Prof. GORMLEY: Well, that's the million-dollar question, I guess. I did my best to call this one down the middle and to let the major players themselves tell the story in their own voices. Certainly Ken Starr and his prosecutors in the Office of Independent Counsel believed that their job was to get the truth, and they believed that Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton were lying and stonewalling. And they reached this conclusion over a period of time, I believe, so that when we get to the winter and spring of 1998, they were firmly convinced that the Clintons were hiding things, that they were up to their ears in some of not only in the Whitewater-Madison Guarantee matters, but in covering that up.

So in their mind, I believe they were trying to get to the truth. However, we reached the point, and I put the point, I'd say, in the book when the Starr office decides to expand into the Monica Lewinsky matter. And I believe that Ken Starr, while a first-rate lawyer, was the last person in the world who should have been appointed to deal with that particular investigation when half the country at that point, rightly or wrongly, viewed him as biased, as being on a witch hunt.

And I think that at that point, the independent counsel office was so deeply distrustful of President and Mrs.�Clinton, that they sort of lost their composure as prosecutors, that they sort of lost their cool. And at that point, I think they were set on getting President Clinton because they believed that he was doing everything within his power to stonewall and to circumvent their investigation.

President Clinton, for his part, obviously, believed from the start that this was nothing but a political witch hunt. And this was the problem, in my view, Terry, and certainly I think that both sides deserve some responsibility here, because both sides failed to exercise restraint.

It was as if in the name of their position that they believed so strongly was true, and in President Clinton's mind, the Starr prosecutors were simply out to oust him from office because they wanted a regime change - I think both sides were willing to go for broke here and almost win at any cost. And there was such a lack of restraint that it ended up leading to this train wreck that was a terrible, terrible thing for the country.

GROSS: My guest is Ken Gormley, author of the new book "The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Ken Gormley. He's the author of the new book "The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr." It's about the Kenneth Starr investigation into President Clinton that led to the House impeaching the president. He was acquitted in the Senate. And Ken Gormley is the interim dean at the Duquesne University Law School, where he's also a professor of law.

GROSS: Now, let me ask you about the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit against President Clinton, and this how does this tie into the special prosecutor's investigation, first of all?

Prof. GORMLEY: Well, first of all, Paula Jones files this sexual harassment suit in 1994, and it just intensifies the drumbeat for more investigations and this notion that Clinton had a kind of serious character defect. But ultimately, it becomes critical because it is through that Paula Jones lawsuit that Monica Lewinsky is forced to testify, and instead, she signs this affidavit that turns out to be false, denying any sexual relationship with Clinton.

And it is through that Paula Jones lawsuit that President Clinton is forced to take a deposition, and in that, he denies any sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

So everything is interconnected here, and without the Paula Jones lawsuit, you cannot get to the Monica Lewinsky charges, which ended up being the principal basis for the impeachment.

GROSS: Now, you discovered that President Clinton's lawyer, Bob Bennett, had what you describe as a box full of surprise evidence that would create massive problems for Paula Jones if her case came to a jury.

The most amazing thing you describe here is a 45-minute piece of raw film footage of Paula Jones and her husband, Steve, discussing allegations against President Clinton, and this was before her case had attracted national attention. This was before the nation knew her name. Would you describe this film and why Bob Bennett thought it would undermine Paula Jones?

Prof. GORMLEY: Well, yes. This was raw film footage that was taken for the film "The Clinton Chronicles" that was a right-wing - extreme right-wing film aimed at accusing President Clinton of all sorts of atrocities, including murder, including running drugs in Arkansas and all sorts of things.

But this was right at the beginning...

GROSS: I want to stop you and just say Jerry Falwell was one of the producers of the movie.

Prof. GORMLEY: Yes, that's correct. And this was in the beginning, Terry, of the whole effort by Paula Jones to get her story national attention. And that's what's so remarkable about it because this is, you know, in a very early stage, where she's telling her own story before she's being handled by these PR gurus like Susan Carpenter McMillan.

And this raw film footage, which I've seen and studied carefully, is really remarkable because what's so significant about it is, if this were shown to a jury, I believe it would undermine any notion of an aggrieved plaintiff who had been exposed to something shocking - not that I'm saying one way or the other whether the facts are true with respect to her allegations, but this was not a woman who looked as if she was shell-shocked by the occurrences.

She's, you know, kind of being irreverent, blowing raspberries into the camera, making jokes that have themselves little sexual innuendo and things like that, with her husband, Steve, who clearly, intensely disliked President Clinton and seemed like he wanted to punch his lights out for any number of reasons, appearing on the film kind of coaching her along at times.

It just would have, as I think I said in the book, sort of lit a stink bomb in the whole proceedings if it had been thrown in there as evidence. And Bob Bennett, President Clinton's lawyer, was waiting to show that.

The other thing that was so significant, I think...

GROSS: Can I just stop you for a second?

Prof. GORMLEY: Oh, sure.

GROSS: I think you also mentioned in the film, like, she's laughing as she describes the incident. She doesn't seem you say she comes off like a cabaret dancer, not like a traumatized victim of sexual harassment. And what you say about her husband, who appears onscreen, he looked like an angry, would-be actor who wanted to punch the president's lights out, in part because the president made a pass at Stephen's then-fianc�e, and in part because Steve simply hated Clinton's guts.

So you were going to bring something up, and I interrupted you.

Prof. GORMLEY: Yes, well, it relates to that, and that is that what Bob Bennett was also prepared to bring out to the jury that was very significant, I think, and largely overlooked was - at the time, Paula Jones went up to that hotel room in the Excelsior Hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas, where the pass allegedly occurred, she was engaged to Stephen Jones, and in fact, they got married seven months later.

So, she did have a motive to shade the facts in her favor, and of course, the conflicting evidence that was contrary to her version of the story with President Clinton exposing himself and her being traumatized and all of that, was Trooper Danny Ferguson, who said that she came out of the room and didn't seem upset at all and in fact gave him a phone number to pass along to President Clinton and said she wanted to be his girlfriend.

So, all I can say on this is that although large parts of her story may be true, it's the five percent which has to do with her participation and involvement in this that I just couldn't be certain about.

But what I can say, is that Bob Bennett had a lot of evidence that would, if he had ever gone to trial on this, would certainly have made Paula Jones not a sympathetic character.

GROSS: So Paula Jones filed her lawsuit in 1994. In 1997, just as Kenneth Starr was wrapping up his investigation into Whitewater, you say that he made a decision that altered his legacy, which was to authorize his team to interview Arkansas women about past sexual liaisons with President Clinton. Why did he make that decision?

Prof. GORMLEY: That's a very tough question to answer, in terms of just one of the true mysteries for me, why Ken Starr's team went down that path. When I interviewed Bob Woodward, who wrote a story for the Washington Post that broke that story that Starr's prosecutors were now interviewing women in Arkansas with respect to their past potential relationships - sexual relationships with President Clinton - he believed that this was a real pivotal moment in the whole story, that something changed. It was almost as if you could feel the temperature change.

One explanation, I believe, is that Ken Starr was hurting at this point. He had just announced, shortly before that, the Whitewater investigation was wrapping up. He announced that he was going to be leaving to become dean at Pepperdine Law School, and he received so much flak from that, it totally caught him off guard - from Republicans as well as Democrats, and I think he was hurt by the fact that the White House sort of rubbed his nose in this.

And he had reached a sort of conclusion, with respect to Whitewater, and as he told me, he took the approach that you have to turn over every stone to make sure you weren't missing something and that women in Arkansas potentially could have some information, if Clinton was intimate with them, with respect to this whole Whitewater-McDougal thing.

But something about that still doesn't seem right. Something about that seems as if the Office of Independent Counsel made a conscious decision to start moving in a different direction, and in fact, it is from that beginning point that it ends up linking up with the, otherwise wholly unrelated, Paula Jones civil lawsuit.

GROSS: Let's talk a little bit about Linda Tripp and her story. In early 1998, she calls Jackie Bennett(ph), one of Kenneth Starr's investigators, and tells him that she has tape she secretly made of phone conversations she had with Monica Lewinsky, who had been an intern in the White House, and in these tapes, Monica confesses about her relationship with Clinton.

So Jackie Bennett gets this phone call, and he decides to meet with Linda Tripp, and he doesn't ask Kenneth Starr's approval first. Why is that significant?

Prof. GORMLEY: Well, I thought it was significant because this was the most important decision in Ken Starr's tenure as independent counsel. Should they start moving into a totally new direction and meet with and investigate the allegations of this woman, Linda Tripp, that President Clinton was about to hadn't done it yet but was about to commit perjury in the Paula Jones deposition that was coming up, based upon his denial of a relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

Jackie Bennett, one of Ken Starr's top prosecutors, did inform - keep Ken in the loop and informed him that they were going to meet with Linda Tripp, but this was not and Ken told me he was focused on other things. He was focused on, at the time, Whitewater and trying to bring those matters to closure in Arkansas.

But it was such a significant thing, and you have to understand that an independent counsel, a special prosecutor under the law at this time, has a specific charter that says what he can do in terms of an investigation. He is not authorized to just go into whatever he may feel is worth investigating. He has a very specific charge, and in this case, the charge was principally Whitewater-Madison Guarantee and also the Vince Foster matter, later on.

Yet he allows his prosecutors to go into this significant new direction, to go out and meet with Linda Tripp. And literally, within 24 hours, they have FBI agents wiring up Linda Tripp as she goes to meet with Monica Lewinsky for lunch to try to get all of this on tape.

That was just such a dramatic decision that altered, really, Ken Starr's legacy in terms of as Whitewater prosecutor, as special counsel here, unalterably -yet it really happened without much input of Ken.

GROSS: Ken Gormley will be back in the second half of the show. His new book is called "The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr." You can read an excerpt of the first chapter on our Web site, freshair.npr.org. Gormley is a professor and the interim dean at the Duquesne University Law School. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Im Terry Gross, back with Ken Gormley, author of the new book "The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr." He wants his book to be the definitive neutral story of how an investigation into a real estate deal gone bad became an investigation into President Clinton's affair with an intern. Gormley spoke with many key players in the story, including Clinton, Starr, Monica Lewinsky, Linda Tripp, Paula Jones, Susan McDougal and Henry Hyde.

One of the things you learned in your investigation into the Kenneth Starr investigation was that Kenneth Starr had hoped to use information from Linda Tripp's tapes of Monica Lewinsky for the Starr Report. But right before the report was published, he found out that there were serious problems with the tape. What was wrong with the tapes?

Prof. GORMLEY: This was part of the story that never really came out at the time. I was surprised to find it myself. But the Office of the Independent Counsel - the Starr prosecutors - came to feel burned by Linda Tripp because she had insisted that the tapes had not been altered in any way, yet FBI analysis of the tapes indicated that there were erasures - a kind of harkening us back to Watergate and the great Nixon mystery of erasures on the tapes. But there were erasures made on those tapes, and that, in the minds of the Office of the Independent Counsel, tainted the evidence.

And so they literally went back right at the final hour as they were completing the Starr Report and removed references to all of those tapes, because they believed they were now subject to attack. So by the end of it, even the Office of the Independent Counsel didnt feel real good about Linda Tripp and her cooperation with them, and that remains one of the puzzles as to whether there were any significant erasures.

One of the principle things missing, I have to tell you, was she had talked about the kind of smoking gun in terms of Vernon Jordan agreeing to get Monica a job in return for lying in her affidavit, and there was no such statement in those tapes. That key fact was missing, and that was a very significant omission. Linda Tripp told me she had just failed to tape record that conversation, or hadn't hooked up the gizmo properly. But that was a very serious omission, because Starr's office had put a lot of stock in that when they went forward in the first place to get permission to investigate the Lewinsky case.

GROSS: And they ended up not having any evidence.

Prof. GORMLEY: Yeah. And if you look at the Starr Report, one of the amazing things is that this whole supposed connection with Vernon Jordan, there is very little discussion of that and his getting jobs, you know, trying to get a job for Monica Lewinsky - very little discussion to that in the Starr Report. In fact, he began trying to get her a job in New York before she was on the witness list, because she wanted to get out of Washington. President Clinton had, in effect, ended the relationship. She was feeling terribly burned, and she wanted to move to New York. And she ended up getting a job - as she pointed out - that was probably half the pay of her job in Washington. So hardly a great prize here. She just wanted help in moving and moving on with her life.

GROSS: There were conflicts between the Justice Department and the Special Prosecutor's Office about various things. One of them was the wire tapping of Linda Tripp. Now, Eric Holder, who's now the attorney general, figures into this part of the story. He was an assistant attorney general during the investigation. And so one of the things he said to you was that he didnt think that the Office of the Independent Counsel really got the permission they needed from the attorney general to wire tap Linda Tripp.

Prof. GORMLEY: Well, certainly Eric Holder, who was number two in command after Janet Reno, believed it would've been better if Ken Starr's office came and asked permission before going and doing the wiring of Linda Tripp. So that was a point of concern from the start. There was secondly a concern because, at the time, Ken Starr's office pushed hard to expand into the Monica Lewinsky matter, and Eric Holder came up with notes that he shared with me that clearly showed from their discussions that Starr's office was pushing hard. They weren't simply asked to do this, that they did not disclose a lot of preexisting connections with the whole Paul Jones case.

If they had known - if the Justice Department had known about that, Eric Holder told me, they never would've appointed Ken Starr as the person to investigate this matter. They would've gone to someone else and appointed a wholly new independent counsel.

GROSS: Why would they have not gone to Ken Starr and appointed a new independent counsel?

Prof. GORMLEY: Well, because the independent counsel law is all about appearances. You dont even have someone in the job in the first place unless the public has trust in that person. And so when you have someone like Ken Starr, in this case, who had actually publicly gone on television talking about the ability to sue the president in the Paula Jones case, had been prepared to write briefs in that case, when you had the Office of Independent Counsel having conduits with Paula Jones' lawyers in terms of some of the folks helping the Paula Jones lawyers, if the Justice Department knew about any of that, that would've just set red flags up all over the place and they never would've appointed Ken Starr because the country couldnt possibly have the confidence that this person could be neutral on that matter.

GROSS: There was another point of disagreement between the Justice Department and the Office of the Independent Counsel. And I'm thinking of the disagreement over whether the Office of the Independent Counsel could subpoena Secret Service members who guarded President Clinton and question them. What was this argument about?

Prof. GORMLEY: That, to me, was one of the most fascinating, unexpected little stories in this book, because it turned out there was a fierce battle that we didnt know about between the Justice Department on one hand and the Office of the Independent Counsel and the FBI on the other, in terms of whether Secret Service agents should be brought before the grand jury and subpoenaed to talk about what they had seen and heard in protecting President Clinton. And specifically, Ken Starr's lawyers were trying to get evidence that the Secret Service agents had witnessed, you know, these liaisons with Monica Lewinsky, and there were stories abounding at the time that Secret Service agents had seen the president and Monica in compromising positions and all of these sorts of things.

The Justice Department agreed with Secret Service director Lew Merletti that for 100 years, the reason Secret Service agents hadn't been forced to testify is that their job was to protect the president, and any - if they were forced to be, you know, moles in essence and to rat on the president, that presidents would push away, that they would endanger themselves because they would be afraid of the Secret Service agents watching them.

Even President George H.W. Bush, to his credit, supported the Secret Service position in this, understanding the danger posed to the president and presidents in the future if Secret Service agents were brought in to testify. But ultimately, the Secret Service lost that battle, and Ken Starr succeeded in bringing them before the grand jury.

GROSS: Another thing that you learned is that Lew Merletti, who was then the head of the Secret Service, was also furious that the FBI was spending so much time investigating sexual questions, sexual allegations, when Merletti knew that al-Qaida was a serious threat. In fact, Merletti helped prevent an assassination attempt on President Clinton in Manila during a conference there.

Prof. GORMLEY: That's correct. And this is the first time, I believe, that that fact has been disclosed. But Lew Merletti told me that story to emphasize the fact that the Secret Service is not going to go along with the president, who tells them to do something if they think it is going to be harmful to the president. And in this case, there was information that possibly they had picked up information in their earpieces using the words wedding and bridge, and there was - in terrorist lingo, that could indicate an assassination. And so he refused to let the presidential limousine go over a bridge in Manila to his next destination, even though it made Clinton far, far later for his next appointment that he wanted to be. And they had a heated exchange, but Merletti made the car go in another direction.

They went and looked under the bridge, and there were explosives significant enough to blow up the whole presidential entourage, and it turned out this was linked to a little-known at that time terrorist name Osama bin Laden. But the point was, first of all, the Secret Service was not going to do the bidding of a president if it endangered him in any way. And second of all, it was, as one looked back on it, just a terrible, terrible thing for the country, that the FBI and law enforcement was running around interviewing women in Arkansas about possible sexual relationships with the president when there were terrorists who were already beginning to stalk the United States and were already developing their plots.

GROSS: My guest is Ken Gormley, author of the new book "The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr."

We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If youre just joining us, my guest is Ken Gormley. His new book is called "The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr," and it's about the Starr investigation into President Clinton, which led to his impeachment in the House. Ken Gormley is the interim dean at the Duquesne University Law School.

Let me quote something else you write in your book "The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr." You write: There were unanswered questions about the Office of the Independent Counsel's handling of the Lewinsky sting on which its whole case against Clinton was built. These uncomfortable secrets about OIC's conduct would be locked in a government archive for a decade, but they would not be lost altogether.

Did you get access to this information?

Prof. GORMLEY: Well, I got access to Jo Ann Harris, who was the individual who had worked in Janet Reno's Justice Department, and then left the Justice Department to be a law professor and practitioner in New York, who was hired by Ken Starr's successor to look into the many, many charges of misconduct by Starr's office. And the one that really seemed to stick that was the most serious had to do with their handling of Monica Lewinsky during the sting at the Ritz Carlton Hotel.

Jo Ann Harris, who was viewed as a straight-shooter, called them down middle, interviewed all of the participants, and this did not come out looking very good for Ken Starr's office. Her conclusion was that they should've gone nowhere near Monica Lewinsky, especially after she made clear she wanted to talk to her lawyer, who was Frank Carter at the time. They should've, at that point, have ceased right there, allowed her to meet with Carter.

And so the Office of the Independent Counsel at this stage really did, in her view, cross a line. Its one the pieces of the story that was kind of swept under the carpet. She felt it was very important, even though it was under seal, to let the American public know about this, and I agreed. I thought that so much came out about so many people's lives in this whole saga, it seemed wrong to hide the one piece of information that was really a very significant blemish on Ken Starr's investigation, as she concluded that their handling of the Monica Lewinsky matter from start to finish was really very, very poorly done.

GROSS: So Starr didnt let Monica Lewinsky talk with her lawyer when she asked to?

Prof. GORMLEY: Well, the question in this case and the defense of the Starr's team was, was this her lawyer for this purpose? Frank Carter is the person who had drafted that affidavit. As Monica said to me, this was the only lawyer she had. Most people dont have five or six lawyers for every particular matter. So there was a legal issue under the Department of Justice regulations in terms of whether this was permissible.

But Jo Ann Harris' point was in a situation like this, you air on the side of allowing the person to talk to their lawyer. And ironically, Frank Carter was an excellent, highly respected criminal defense lawyer, former public defender from Washington, D.C. And many think if he had stepped in at this early stage, things could've been resolved in a very professional, low-key manner, and the country may have been spared the, you know, the scandals that erupted over the next year.

GROSS: Well, what could've happened differently if she had his representation when she asked for it early on?

Prof. GORMLEY: Well, you know, one of the things that is - that Frank Carter told me is, dont forget, the affidavit that Monica Lewinsky signed hadn't even been filed yet. One thing he could've done is to...

GROSS: This is the affidavit in which she said she did not have sexual relations with the president.

Prof. GORMLEY: Correct. He could've called Judge Susan Webber Wright's office in Arkansas and said please dont open that. Send that back to me. He could've sat down with her, perhaps she would've decided to cooperate. That's why people have a chance to talk with their lawyers.

And the other thing that could've happened, and a number of judges and prosecutors who I interviewed, both Democrats and Republicans said this, you know, it is not the job of federal prosecutors or of the Office of the Independent Counsel to get any individual, including President Clinton, to lie.

If this had all come out in advance and President Clinton found out that they knew about the relationship with Monica Lewinsky, and if he went into that Paula Jones deposition and told the truth, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. I mean law enforcement isn't supposed to try to encourage lying. So a whole bunch of things potentially could've fallen into place differently if she had been given a chance to meet with the lawyer as she requested.

GROSS: I'm going to ask you to explain what you mean when you say that the Office of the Independent Counsel wanted to time things so that President Clinton would lie in the Paula Jones deposition. They wanted him to lie. What are you referring to?

Prof. GORMLEY: Well, I'm not prepared to say that they wanted him to lie. They wanted him to have the opportunity to do that if he was going to do that and not to be tipped off in advance. What was hanging over their head was a deadline that had been established by Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff. Isikoff told the Office of the Independent Counsel that he knew about Monica Lewinsky, that he had the story, he had talked to Linda Tripp, and he was going to publish the story, or at a minimum he was going to contact Monica Lewinsky and Vernon Jordan to let them know the version of events he was going to publish and give them a chance to respond.

If that happened, clearly, President Clinton would find out about it before he walked into the deposition in the Paula Jones case on that Saturday. So there was this sense of pressure, of wanting to get all of this buttoned down with Monica Lewinsky and to have her cooperating before Clinton walked into the deposition. So if he decided to lie, which they fully expected that he would do and deny this relationship with Monica Lewinsky, that would be the end. He would be caught red-handed at that moment. Finally, as Jackie Bennett said, they would be ahead of the curve and they would have him dead to rights.

GROSS: So if Clinton lied in the Paula Jones investigation, then the OIC could accuse him of perjury and they could nail him, which is how it played out.

Prof. GORMLEY: That's correct. And dont forget, by this point the Office of the Independent Counsel believed that President Clinton had lied and, you know, kind of dodged bullets in every direction with respect to their other investigation, so they felt justified in essence nailing him on this one that was very clear cut and would be simple to prosecute.

GROSS: So it was the Paula Jones case that actually led to the impeachment charge of perjury and obstruction of justice.

Prof. GORMLEY: It was one of the charges in the impeachment articles. Ironically, it was one of the ones that failed in the House of Representatives. The two that passed had to do with Clinton's subsequent alleged lying in his grand jury testimony that had - it was a follow-up to the Paula Jones testimony, in essence, and also obstruction of justice, allegations that he was trying to get witnesses to lie as well, not only Monica Lewinsky, but his secretary, Betty Currie, for instance.

GROSS: You spoke to Sam Dash before he died, and he was an ethics counsel to Ken Starr's investigation, and also - what was his role in Watergate?

Prof. GORMLEY: He was the special counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee. He became a hero during Watergate because he had kind of led the Congress through this very difficult period that led ultimately to the resignation of President Nixon.

GROSS: Okay, so when asked about lessons learned from the Starr investigation, he said: My personal view is that it's not as much a lesson learned as a suspicion confirmed, and that is that there are those in the name of acquiring greater power in this republic are prepared to use whatever means available to them. And by that he was referring to the Ken Starr investigation.

I wonder what you think of that statement.

Prof. GORMLEY: Well, you have to put it in context. I have to tell you that Sam Dash, who I interviewed extensively, really defended Ken Starr throughout most of the interviews. He believed that he was an honorable person, that he had really tried to do the right thing in the Whitewater investigation. He didnt think it was - Dash didnt believe it was as significant as Ken Starr and his prosecutors believed, but he really thought Ken was sincerely trying to do an honest job and that he was most troubled by Ken Starr's decision prompted, I think, by those in his office to go into the House Judiciary Committee after the Starr Report was published and to take a public stand really in essence in favor of impeachment.

For him, that was just crossing the line. That was going way beyond what a neutral prosecutor was supposed to do in getting into the political process of impeachment, and that's why Sam Dash resigned.

GROSS: My guest is Ken Gormley, author of the new book "The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr."

We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

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GROSS: Let's get back to our interview with Ken Gormley. His new book, "The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr," is about how an investigation into a land deal became an investigation into President Clinton's affair with an intern.

Weve talked a lot about Ken Starr's investigation. What surprised you most about President Clinton's behavior?

Prof. GORMLEY: Well, I think there was certainly an element of recklessness that was evident from the start. When you look at everything in context and you look at the fact that when Paula Jones went up to that hotel room in the Excelsior Hotel, President Clinton had just announced that he was running for president.

When he begins his relationship with Monica Lewinsky in the White House, the Supreme Court had just granted certiorari, had just agreed to take the case of Clinton v. Jones, and the Jones lawyers were publicly saying on television and in the media that they intended to go after the issue of other women. So President Clinton was on notice that all of this could come back to haunt him, yet he pursued it anyway. And I think that that element of recklessness was certainly a part of the ingredient here of this collision that took place in Washington, and the lack of balance on both sides is what set it up for this catastrophic ending.

GROSS: Youve written extensively about, you know, the Office of the Independent Counsel, special prosecutors. After the Ken Starr investigation, the law authorizing the Office of the Independent Counsel was not renewed and that whole special prosecutor thing - the whole the Office of the Independent Counsel was over. Is that a good thing, do you think? You know that office and its function very well.

Prof. GORMLEY: Well, I was one of the last human beings to testify in the Senate that it was worth reauthorizing that independent counsel, only because I had studied it since its inception during Watergate. And I think that the key thing is there has to be some mechanism to deal with these crises at the highest level of the executive branch.

During Watergate, Archibald Cox and the attorney general, Elliott Richardson, literally had to kind of make up the rules on cocktail napkins, they told me, and scribble down how they were going to set up this thing, because it hadn't been put in place in advance.

I think its essential for our country to be equipped to deal with these crises when they come along. I do think even though the independent counsel expired, that we came up with a good compromise, which is that this is handled within the Department of Justice and special prosecutors can be appointed by the attorney general and then just kind of walled off from the Justice Department's operations, and I think that that seems to be working pretty well. But I do think it is essential to have some mechanism to have investigations of the president and other high level executive officials just for in terms of public confidence in the system of government in the United States.

GROSS: In some ways it seems the impeachment of President Clinton is almost like the prequel to the divisions in our country today; the government is kind of at a standstill. The divisions between Democrats and Republicans are so deep now; the country is so divided now.

Having spent nine years investigating the Ken Starr investigation, has that affected the way you see America's political landscape today?

Prof. GORMLEY: It has. I do believe that this was the beginning of the division of Americans into almost two camps. You know, the red and blue states that we talk about, literally different news stations and media outlets that are viewed as liberal or conservative - this was the beginning of that sharp division and distrust, I think, among Americans. And it's a tragic story for me, to tell you the truth, Terry. And its one of the things - one of the reasons I worked for nine years on this, is it is a story that needs to be told. I think it's essential that we do not let something like this happen again in our country.

I think it's essential that both sides exercise restraint when it comes to these matters and realize that it is not worth burning down the house and trying to win at all costs for the sake of ones own view of what American virtue is, that it is essential to work together. And I think this was a low point in many ways for our country. I think Americans work much better when they work together than when they are put into warring camps like this. And I believe that we still need to learn that lesson in America today.

GROSS: Ken Gormley, thank you so much for talking with us.

Prof. GORMLEY: Thank you so much, Terry.

GROSS: Ken Gormley's new book is called "The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr." You can read an excerpt on our Web site, freshair.npr.org. Or you can also download podcasts of our show. Author Ken Gormley is professor and interim dean at Duquesne University Law School.

Clinton and Starr have both in the news in the past few days, Clinton because of the two stents inserted last week to open a clogged artery; Starr because he was just named the new president of Baylor University.

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