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Jewish World Review May 9, 2000 / 3 Iyar, 5760

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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The vindication of Kenneth Starr --
THE NEXT SOUND you hear will be conservatives cocking their heads as if suffering from swimmer's ear. You mean two reporters from the liberal-leaning Washington Post have written a book vindicating Kenneth Starr?

They have. Susan Schmidt and Michael Weisskopf (now at Time) offer the first of what will doubtless be scores of post-Clinton histories. This one gives Kenneth Starr his due. "Truth at Any Cost" is not a brief for the much-maligned independent counsel, but it is surprisingly sympathetic, and about the right things.

This book not only refutes the manifold lies spread by the Clinton forces about Ken Starr -- it goes further and presents the battle between these two men in essentially moral terms. Schmidt and Weisskopf might, if you woke them in the middle of the night, confess that they personally find Starr a bit self-righteous. But that didn't prevent them from describing the confrontation between Starr and Clinton as a battle between a man of rectitude and a reprobate.

Clearly, despite his sterling reputation for honesty and fairness, Starr was not the ideal choice for independent counsel. The perfect foil for Bill Clinton would required the combined skills of Jesse Ventura and Will Rogers.

In a contest that required perfect political pitch, Starr often gave the impression of tone deafness.

Long, long before he had become a Javert in the public mind, he should have defended himself against the Clinton character-assassination machine. Before Linda Tripp ever crossed his threshold, during the Whitewater, Filegate and Travelgate probes, Starr should have responded publicly to misstatements by the administration.

When the White House claimed to be "cooperating fully" with the investigation(s), Starr should have held a press conference to announce (more in sorrow than in anger, surely) that this was hardly the case. He should then have itemized the subpeonas flouted, documents lost and requests for information ignored.

When the administration sent its attack dogs to discredit Starr personally, he should have fought back. If he had, he would have given heart to the very, very many honest people (even some in Washington, D.C.) who wanted to defend him -- and the rule of law. Even if Starr had not been what he was -- a completely honorable, utterly straightforward, moderate and learned man; a man who took very seriously the tradition that a prosecutor speaks only in court -- the attacks on him by the Clinton spin machine would have been unconscionable.

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For the president or his agents to smear and attempt to discredit a legally constituted officer of the United States government is disgusting. It would have been so even if they had told the truth. They didn't. And this caused great misery for Starr and his family.

For Starr, the investigation of Clinton was never personal. Even in private discussions within the office, Starr always referred to Clinton as "the president." (Bill Clinton, you may recall, declined to address former President Bush by his title.)

If it did nothing else, this book would be worth reading for clarifying the whole loud, messy business about leaks. You will recall that the president's lawyers and spinners whined and shrieked about leaks from Ken Starr's office throughout the eight months of the Lewinsky investigation. These accusations nearly derailed the investigation more than once. Well, those who suspected that the leaks really came from the White House or its allies will find confirmation here.

With truly flabbergasting gall, the president's side was capable of leaking information to the press and then promptly denouncing the Starr people for it. In their final confrontation, though, before the House Judiciary Committee, Starr was able to best David Kendall on the subject. The most sensitive information about the president, he pointed out -- the FBI report on the semen-stained dress -- never leaked, because no one in Kendall's defense network knew about it.

Which raises another point. The president's defenders used up a lot of oxygen claiming that Starr had laid a perjury trap for Clinton. This book reminds us that he easily could have. He received the results of the DNA analysis on the dress before Clinton testified. But instead of permitting Clinton to walk into the grand jury room ignorant of that fact, Starr leaked it.

Bill Clinton and many of his allies have shamed and mortified this nation. But the fact that Ken Starr stuck to his principles bouys our spirits ome -- as does the very welcome publication of "Truth At Any Cost."

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate