Judge Kenneth Starr has died today at the age of 76. I have to borrow from Jake Bleiberg’s AP obituary:
At age 37, he became the youngest person ever to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia also had served. From 1989-93, Starr was the solicitor general in the administration of President George H.W. Bush, arguing 25 cases before the Supreme Court.
Despite his impressive legal credentials, nothing could have prepared him for the task of investigating a sitting president.
In a probe that lasted five years, Starr looked into fraudulent real estate deals involving a long-time Clinton associate, delved into the removal of documents from the office of deputy White House counsel Vincent Foster after his suicide and assembled evidence of Clinton’s sexual encounters with Monica Lewinsky, a former White House intern. Each of the controversies held the potential to do serious, perhaps fatal, damage to Clinton’s presidency.
As Clinton’s legal problems worsened, the White House pilloried Starr as a right-wing fanatic doing the bidding of Republicans bent on destroying the president.
“The assaults took a toll” on the investigation, Starr told a Senate committee in 1999. “A duly authorized federal law enforcement investigation came to be characterized as yet another political game. Law became politics by other means.”
Judge Starr wrote a memoir of the Clinton investigation that he aptly titled Contempt, although Perjury might also have worked.
I greatly admired Judge Starr for his brilliance and his probity. He was a gentleman, a scholar, an outstanding advocate, and, I thought, a judge’s judge.
I attended his speech in Minneapolis at the Center of the American Experiment’s Fall Briefing in 1999 and, thanks to the general counsel of TCF Financial Corporation, my boss Greg Pulles, had the privilege of sitting across from Judge Starr on the flight back to DC on the company jet — talking all the way. We didn’t give him a moment’s rest. (Greg and I flank Judge Starr in the photo below.)
Mitch Pearlstein was president of the American Experiment at the time. Mitch recalled Starr’s kindness to him that day in the 2018 column “Ken Starr and a gracious call home.”
Mitch hosted many prominent men and women in the upper reaches of the world of law, politics, and public policy over the years. Mitch recalled that Judge “Starr’s remarks, as expected, were brilliant that night.” But he was also struck by “how the public persona of an often-ridiculed public figure can be so wildly different from his true and decent self.” Speaking from his experience with men and women of his stature, Mitch assessed Judge Starr “one of the most gracious people I had ever met.” RIP.