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Jewish World Review / Oct. 22, 1998 /3 Mar-Cheshvan, 5759

Paul Greenberg

Paul Greenberg Starr Wars (CONT'D)

THEY'VE CAUGHT HIM for sure this time. And they're going to throw him in the briar patch. No, not Br'er Rabbit, but the Most Wanted on the White House hit list. Any reward money should go to National Public Radio. It's just exposed Kenneth Starr, the man Clinton apologists love to hate. Rack up another accomplishment for Your Tax Dollars At Work.

In a late news flash, NPR's Nina Totenberg reported that the supposedly independent counsel had been talking with Paula Jones' lawyers about her case just before he was appointed to investigate various Clintongates.


OK, this shocker is not exactly hot off the press. Back in 1994, when he was just a private constitutional scholar, Judge Starr would talk to anybody, including lawyers, who asked about the question of presidential immunity from civil lawsuits and why it didn't exist in a government of laws. He was even debating the issue. In public. He was interviewed on McNeil-Lehrer.

And if National Public Radio would consult its voluminous own tapes, it ought to find an old one that features, yes, a pre-Lewinsky Kenneth Starr expounding his position on this very constitutional question. Indeed, in June of 1994, the Washington Times reported that Mr./Professor/Judge Starr was about to write a friend-of-the-court brief in the Jones case. Which makes NPR's big scoop only a little more than five years old. Yep, Your Tax Dollars At Work.

Indeed, it was Ken Starr's prominence as a talking head that led Paula Jones' lawyers to ask him for advice. One of her attorneys back then spotted him on the tube. To quote Joseph Cammarata: "He was out publicly talking about the issue of (presidential) immunity. I saw him on the 'McNeil-Lehrer Report,' and said, 'This is good stuff, let's give him a call.' Gil Davis called him up, and they discussed legal principles, not the facts of the case. That is how it came about.''

Gil Davis confirms that's how it happened. Sometimes, miraculously enough, it pays to watch television. To quote Mr. Davis, Paula Jones' other lawyer at the time: "Mr. Starr absolutely never showed any hostility to the president or expressed a view on the merits of the case.''

That's how these scholars are. Sometimes they're just interested in the principle of the thing and how it works, the way Galileo was interested in gravity. At the same time, they may be completely disinterested in whom the weights they drop might hit. They're just curious about the laws governing the fall.

At the time, Kenneth Starr probably couldn't help talking about the principles involved in the constitutional question of presidential immunity -- whether he was being asked about it on television or at a dinner party. A legal scholar is a legal scholar no matter where you encounter him.

Some of us here in Arkansas have had the privilege of knowing Arkansas' contribution to American legal scholarship, Judge Richard Arnold of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Now and then Bill Clinton talks about appointing him to the U.S. Supreme Court, which speaks well of Bill Clinton. But the president always passes him over, being allergic to real quality. But anybody who's ever had the chance to talk to Judge Arnold is liable to come away with an education, and not just about the law.

Some scholars are like that. They're interested in the principle of the thing. Any conversation with them almost naturally turns to ideas, and dinner into a symposium. They can't help themselves; they're intellectually curious. And they tend to learn as much as they teach when they converse, which distinguishes them from the boors of the world. They don't lecture but pose thoughtful questions. Socrates taught like that, and it's still an education to read him.

Paula Jones' lawyers doubtless got an education from Ken Starr; sometimes the best advice is free. When her case finally reached the Supreme Court, three years later in 1997, the justices agreed with their (and Kenneth Starr's) reading of the Constitution -- nine to nothing.

Hey, what a country. Here law rules, and Kenneth Starr was able to see that earlier than most. And say so. But NPR isn't about to let him get away with it. Galileo wasn't too popular with the keepers of ideological rectitude in his day, either. He got into a heap of trouble by publicizing his views. Anybody who questions authority will.

No matter what NPR says, I can't quite convince myself that a constitutional scholar's openly sharing his view of the law, even with lawyers who might learn something from him, is some kind of scandal. It's more like one more benefit of living in a free, open, and civilized society where people can converse with one another without fear.

The kind of legal ethicists who may see nothing wrong, or at least nothing impeachable, about a little perjury among presidents now are said to be disturbed, concerned, and yes, alarmed that Kenneth Starr did not ``disclose'' his fully public views about presidential immunity, and the identities of any and all he might have shared them with when he got permission to delve into the president's dubious testimony under oath.

Now we have certified ethicists who are shocked to learn that a former solicitor general of the United States once expressed an opinion about an important area of the law he had researched with some diligence, and was even willing to share his opinion with lawyers who sought him out. He was even going to write a friend-of-the-court brief on the topic, as was duly reported at the time. Maybe this was all news to the ethicists, the way it was to National Public Radio. Maybe they should read the papers. Or just subscribe to the Washington Times.


10/19/98:Another retreat: weakness invites aggression
10/16/98: Profile in courage
10/14/98: A new voice out of Arkansas
10/09/98: Gerald Ford, Mr. Fix-It?
10/07/98: Impeachment Journal: Dept. of Doublespeak
10/01/98: The new tradition
9/25/98: Mr. President, PLEASE don't resign
9/23/98: The demolition of meaning
9/18/98: So help us G-d; The nature of the crisis
9/17/98: First impressions: on reading the Starr Report
9/15/98: George Wallace: All the South in one man
9/10/98: Here comes the judge
9/07/98: Toward impeachment
9/03/98: The politics of impeachment
9/01/98: The eagle can still soar
8/28/98: Boris Yeltsin's mind: a riddle pickled in an enigma
8/26/98: Clinton agonistes, or: Twisting in the wind
8/25/98: The rise of the English murder
8/24/98: Confess and attack: Slick comes semi-clean
8/19/98: Little Rock perspectives
8/14/98: Department of deja vu
8/12/98: The French would understand
8/10/98: A fable: The Rat in the Corner
8/07/98: Welcome to the roaring 90s
8/06/98: No surprises dept. -- promotion denied
8/03/98: Quotes of and for the week: take your pick
7/29/98: A subpoena for the president:
so what else is new?
7/27/98: Forget about Bubba, it's time to investigate Reno
7/23/98: Ghosts on the roof, 1998
7/21/98: The new elegance
7/16/98: In defense of manners
7/13/98: Another day, another delay: what's missing from the scandal news
7/9/98:The language-wars continue
7/7/98:The new Detente
7/2/98: Bubba in Beijing: history does occur twice
6/30/98: Hurry back, Mr. President -- to freedom
6/24/98: When Clinton follows Quayle's lead
6/22/98: Independence Day, 2002
6/18/98: Adventures in poli-speke

©1998, Los Angeles Times Syndicate