Ken Starr, the new president of Baylor University, will always and forever be best known as the dogged prosecutor of President Bill Clinton. His new job brings him back into the spotlight for the moment where the old questions continue to haunt him. Asked if he regretted the work he did as the independent counsel investigation Mr. Clinton, Starr had this to say:
"Oh, I am. Absolutely," he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos today. "Who’s not sorrowful for the entire chapter in American history."
It may surprise readers of this column that I think Starr should regret both his participation in the persecution of Clinton and the degree to which he carried out his orders.
"The law is the law.” Says Starr. But applying the law without the filter or restraint of common sense is a sure-fire way to create injustice, as in the Clinton perjury case.
Perhaps it is unfair to criticize Starr for his role in the affair, pun intended. After all, he was not the one who sprung “the question” on Clinton while the president was on trial for allegedly sexually harassing Paula Jones. And perhaps Mr. Clinton deserved the fines and the legal smack in the chops he received for other activities for which he was not on trial.
Nevertheless, Ken Starr could have examined the matter he was charged to prosecute, found it frivolous – which the Monica Lewinski scandal certainly was – and refused to participate in the Republican-led dog pile that all but ended the Clinton administration. But he didn’t.
We’ll never know what might have happened if Starr had acted thus. Left alone, Clinton might have been able to govern the country effectively during his last 2 years in office. Perhaps he would have pursued known terrorist Osama bin Laden more aggressively, a real possibility given that the 9/11 mastermind was in the CIA sights on more than one occasion during Clinton’s presidency. Or perhaps not.
We’ll never know for sure. But one thing is certain: There is little more Starr and the Republicans in Congress could have done to create a vacuum in presidential leadership between 1998 and 2000 than they did and that’s a travesty given the insignificance of the matter over which Bill Clinton was charged.