THE BLOG
11/08/2007 04:35 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Starr Report: How To Impeach A President (Repeat)

More than any other U.S. government document, the 1998 report of the Independent Counsel provided the Constitutional grounds for impeaching President William Jefferson Clinton. "The Starr Report" was the product of thousands of hours of work involving FBI agents, investigators from the Office of the Independent Counsel (OIC), Justice Department lawyers, grand juries, legal teams from the Congressional staffs, and dozens of independent researchers, (as well as the labors of Matt Drudge, Ann Coulter, Lucianne Goldberg and others who provided their assistance). These efforts, coupled with the earlier investigations of "Whitewater" and "Travelgate," cost American taxpayers about $70 million.

Kenneth W. Starr was a federal judge on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals during the Reagan years, and a former Solicitor General under Bush I. He later became "Dean Starr" at the conservative Pepperdine University School of Law, and he regularly writes opinion pieces for scholarly legal journals and in the Wall Street Journal. He is also active in the Federalist Society, the pipeline organization for nearly all of President George W. Bush's judicial appointments. While he was Solicitor General, Starr mentored a young lawyer who caught his attention and he appointed him to be his top deputy; Starr's former aide is now the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts.

At the time Starr produced his report he knew that he was writing a significant document that future historians would examine closely to interpret its meaning. The Starr Report has become part of the historical record, and it is a primary source of immense importance to professional historians and other scholars who wish to better understand American history. The Starr Report made a forceful case for impeaching the President, and it will surely become an area of fruitful research. This vital government text deserves to be studied for years to come, and it should be the subject of multiple doctoral dissertations and serious scholarship.

The strongest evidence indicating that President Clinton had been untruthful about the nature of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky came from DNA tests. This aspect of the investigation is summarized here (verbatim) from the Starr Report:

"Physical evidence exclusively establishes that the President and Ms. Lewinsky had a sexual relationship. After reaching an immunity and cooperation agreement with the Office of the Independent Counsel on July 28, 1998, Ms. Lewinsky turned over a navy blue dress that she said she had worn during a sexual encounter with the President on February 28, 1997. According to Ms. Lewinsky, she noticed stains on the garment the next time she took it from her closet. From the location, she surmised that the stains were the President's semen.

"Initial tests revealed that the stains are in fact semen. Based on that result, the OIC asked the President for a blood sample. After requesting and being given assurances that the OIC had an evidentiary basis for making the request, the President agreed. In the White House Map Room on August 3, 1998, the White House Physician drew a vial of blood from the President in the presence of an FBI agent and an OIC attorney. By conducting two standard DNA comparison tests, the FBI Laboratory concluded that the President was the source of the DNA obtained from the dress. According to the more sensitive RFLP test, the genetic markers on the semen, which match the President's DNA, are characteristic of one out of 7.87 trillion Caucasians." ("The Starr Report: The Official Report of the Independent Counsel's Investigation of the President," Prima Publishing, Rocklin, Ca., 1998, pp. 42-43.)

Judge Starr liked to tell reporters that he saw himself in a similar role as the character "Joe Friday" in the old television cop show "Dragnet," whose tag line was: "just the facts, ma'am." With his soft-spoken, demur manner; Mr. Starr made every effort to appear affable and courtly in public. Yet he chose to include summaries of Ms. Lewinsky's testimony about several encounters with the President that the DNA evidence should have rendered superfluous.

For example, quoting again from the Starr Report:

"Monica Lewinsky began her White House employment as an intern in the Chief of Staff's office in July 1995. At White House functions in the following months, she made eye contact with the President. During the November 1995 government shutdown, the President invited her to his private study, where they kissed. Later that evening, they had a more intimate sexual encounter. They had another sexual encounter two days later, and a third one on New Year's Eve." (p. 58).

". . . At one point, Ms. Lewinsky and the President talked alone in the Chief of Staff's office. In the course of flirting with him, she raised her jacket in the back and showed him the straps of her thong underwear, which extended above her pants." (p. 60).

". . . There, according to Ms. Lewinsky, they kissed. She was wearing a long dress that buttoned from the neck to the ankles. 'And he unbuttoned my dress and he unhooked my bra, and sort of took the dress off my shoulders and . . . moved the bra . . . . [H]e was looking at me and touching me and telling me how beautiful I was.' He touched her breasts with his hands and his mouth, and touched her genitals, first through underwear and then directly. She performed oral sex on him." (p. 69, original ellipses inside Lewinsky quote).

The Starr Report contains details that appear to have nothing to do with the two articles of impeachment the House of Representatives brought against the President. Much of the report dwells on the minutiae of the physical relationship between the President and Ms. Lewinsky. There are long passages that seem to have been inserted into this non-partisan report for no other reason than to humiliate, malign, and embarrass President Clinton. I am sure the even-handed Judge Starr can explain the complex theories of jurisprudence behind these editorial decisions.

In 1998, Kenneth Starr was a dedicated prosecutor of Executive abuses of power, and he believed the President had committed impeachable offenses. But Mr. Starr's passion for "checks and balances" seems to have cooled given his silence about President George W. Bush's evoking of the "unitary executive," his NSA surveillance program, signing statements, and his sanctioning of torture.

Dean Starr's apparent inconsistencies raise the question: If Clinton could be impeached for trying to hide a private sexual relationship, shouldn't Bush and Cheney's actions be subjected to an investigation that is equally aggressive, only less pornographic? President Bush lied about policies that led to the spilling of Iraqi and American blood. The only blood spilled during the Clinton impeachment was Clinton's own, drawn by court order for two DNA tests.

During the investigation, evidence surfaced that Kenneth Starr's Office of Independent Counsel (OIC) had been working behind the scenes to feed the 24-hour news cycle a steady diet of salacious tidbits about President Bill Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Starr had become a darling of the corporate media whose appetite for new sexual innuendo, fact or fiction, against Clinton could never be satiated.

Maureen Dowd even won a Pulitzer Prize for her sassy, prurient commentary in the New York Times on the Clinton-Starr showdown. Dowd's pieces on the subject sound a like a Catholic schoolgirl who just discovered that boys like sex. It was stunning that she won a Pulitzer for offering zero "analysis" of the impeachment except that Clinton had been reckless and Starr was a prude, and they both were equally to blame. Time magazine chose Starr for the honor of being 1998 "Person of the Year" along with his nemesis, President Clinton. The political TV talk shows owed their bottom lines to Starr's ferreting out every steamy detail of the Clinton-Lewinsky relationship.

Like the later furor over a glimpse of Janet Jackson's nipple during the Super Bowl halftime show, America revealed its unflattering puritanical side by denouncing the President's extramarital affair, while at the same time salivating over the descriptions of the sex acts themselves.

Starr's office worked hand-in-glove with right-wing radio hosts who stoked the fires daily about the latest Clinton calumny after receiving that morning's talking points from the Republican National Committee. The right-wing blogosphere was in its infancy but grew up fast by chronicling Clinton's sex life; Matt Drudge, Ann Coulter, Christopher Hitchens, and dozens of imitators cut their teeth as mainstream pundits on the Clinton sex scandal. At a time when the Internet was still seen as "new" and National Public Radio commentators waxed eloquent about how this revolutionary technology was going to cure all of our social ills, the web was abuzz with every kind of unproven charge against Clinton that only the parameters of one's own imagination could limit.

In 1996, Rupert Murdoch and the right-wing media had benefited greatly from Clinton's signing of the terribly regressive "Telecommunications Act." In February of that year, when Clinton signed this odious Republican-written deregulation bill, he naively thought it would win him some favor with the corporate media going into his 1996 reelection campaign. But Murdoch's media mouthpieces, along with the rest of the commercial media, generated hundreds of millions of dollars in new advertising revenue by mercilessly exploiting every piece of bad press, fact or fiction, that could be thrown Clinton's way. The media attacks on the Democratic President had begun long before Monica became a household name.

With the help of the corporate media, the Starr Report worked far better for the Republican Party in damaging President Clinton than did the impeachment. Impeaching Clinton backfired after it became apparent that the Republicans had overreached (as they always do). The American people turned against them. The Republicans even lost seats in the 1998 midterm elections. The U.S. Senate had no stomach for removing a president on such flimsy grounds relating to his private sexual conduct; and Clinton's approval rating hovered at around 67 percent during the entire episode.

On February 12, 1999, Abraham Lincoln's birthday, the Senate voted. On Article I, perjury, the President was acquitted, 55 to 45. On Article II, obstruction of justice, the President was acquitted, 50 to 50. The President was acquitted on all charges. (The Republicans needed 67 votes to remove Clinton from office.)

But in 2000, Vice-President Al Gore distanced himself from Clinton, in part, because Gore's people believed that Starr and his media allies had succeeded in making Clinton damaged goods, especially in the conservative parts of the country like the South. Gore then chose Senator Joseph Lieberman to be his running mate, in part, because no other national Democrat had denounced Clinton's moral lapses more vociferously (and superciliously) than Lieberman. Choosing the highly "moral" Lieberman, Gore thought, would play well with voters who might be outraged by what they had heard in the Starr Report.

So, in a sense, the Starr Report probably did more to get George W. Bush elected (or selected) in 2000 than most other factors. Given Clinton's record of peace and prosperity, Gore would have been wiser if he had been joined at the hip with Clinton on the campaign trail. Instead, he refused to appear with the former two-term President thinking he was politically toxic. The Starr Report had succeeded in weakening the Democratic Party's 2000 ticket.

But that is all history now. Here are two more excerpts from the Starr Report to remind taxpayers what they got for their $70 million:

". . . Ms. Lewinsky testified that she and the President had a sexual encounter during this visit. They kissed, and the President touched Ms. Lewinsky's bare breasts with his hands and mouth. At some point, Ms. Currie approached the door leading to the hallway, which was ajar, and said that the President had a telephone call. Ms. Lewinsky recalled that the caller was a Member of Congress with a nickname. While the President was on the telephone, according to Ms. Lewinsky, 'he unzipped his pants and exposed himself,' and she performed oral sex. Again, he stopped her before he ejaculated." (p. 63).

". . . In the hallway by the study, the President and Ms. Lewinsky kissed. On this occasion, according to Ms. Lewinsky, 'he focused on me pretty exclusively,' kissing her bare breasts and fondling her genitals. At one point, the President inserted a cigar into Ms. Lewinsky's vagina, then put the cigar in his mouth and said: 'It tastes good.' After they finished, Ms. Lewinsky left the Oval Office and walked through the Rose Garden." (p. 72).

None of these sexual details have anything to do with the articles of impeachment that were brought against the President. If a President can be impeached based on this kind of pornographic testimony, written poorly and often without purpose, shouldn't we be considering impeaching a President for documented abuses of power relating to the illegal surveillance of citizens, sanctioning torture and secret prisons, and lying about the causes that brought the nation into a catastrophic war? I wonder how Starr would have responded if President Clinton fought his inquest by citing the "unitary executive."

The Starr Report was nothing more than a partisan attack job of the first order designed to cripple Clinton's presidency and so weaken the Democratic Party that it would lose big in the 1998 midterm elections, and possibly lose the White House in 2000. The venerable Judge Starr tipped his hand. He revealed himself to be a political hack willing to shred the Constitution and drag the nation into the mud as long as it furthered the hard Right's agenda. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and the rest of our current rulers are clearly adherents to this same extremist ideology.

Before George W. Bush and Dick Cheney cause more damage to the world by escalating the war in Iraq, or bombing Iran, or unleashing Israel in another short-sighted attack on one of its neighbors, we must impeach him and remove him from office. There has never been a man so undeserving of power who has been given so much of it. Bush might even hold messianic fantasies about the all-powerful post that happenstance has given him; hence, he sleepwalks through history. We are now entering the most dangerous time of the Bush presidency. He has nothing to lose. His "legacy," as the historian Eric Foner noted, is that he is the worst president in American history. The world is too perilous, and the technology too lethal to allow George Walker Bush and Richard Bruce Cheney to remain in office. We must impeach them and remove them from office before it is too late.