© 2021 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
News Partners

Kenneth Starr Cautions Those Seeking To Impeach President Trump


We have follow-up questions for Ken Starr. The prosecutor whose investigation of President Clinton led to his impeachment published a memoir. And after our live interview on yesterday's program, he stayed on the line so we could talk a little more. As we talked, the 1990s intersected with today. In the '90s, Ken Starr investigated the president for lying about an affair. In 2016, Starr was fired as president of Baylor University, accused of ignoring a scandal over sexual assault on campus.

KENNETH STARR: Unfortunately - and this is going to sound like an apologia, but it is the absolute truth - never was it brought to my attention that there were these issues. And I focused on student safety from Day 1.

INSKEEP: Two decades after his investigation of President Clinton, Ken Starr is still trailed by it. His book suggests his notoriety dimmed his prospects for a seat on the Supreme Court. In 2017, he encountered Monica Lewinsky in a restaurant. She was the intern who had an affair with the president. What did she say to you?

STARR: Well, she said - you know, she was friendly in a careful kind of way. She was introducing me to her family. And she said - and I'm now trying to reconstruct it. It was, in effect, that I made some bad choices, and I wish you had made different choices.

INSKEEP: She then goes and describes this encounter in the press. And you acknowledged that she blames you for many bad things that have happened to her. You say that's fine. But then you write, if Monica had cooperated during that first week or even the first month, the country would not have been dragged through an eight-month ordeal. How do you feel it is her fault?

STARR: Oh, I'm not casting blame. It was her responsibility of deciding as a citizen, would she cooperate with an investigation that was duly authorized by the attorney general and the Special Division, or would she not?

INSKEEP: You say, though, if Monica had cooperated during that first week, everything would have been different. What is the alternative scenario? What would have been different if she had said, in that first interview when you get her in a hotel room - yeah, yeah I lied; I asked other people to lie; I had this affair?

STARR: Yes. Well, I think the nation would then - our report would have been wound up in approximately two weeks. And so we would have reported that to the House of Representatives. And the House of Representatives could then make a decision whether perjury in a civil position rose to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors.

INSKEEP: High crimes and misdemeanors - that is the standard for impeachment. Ken Starr told us he would rather that Congress had censured Clinton, severely criticized him. As we talked, it became apparent Ken Starr was also talking about today and a different president now being investigated over collaboration with Russia, payoffs to cover up alleged affairs and more.

STARR: Impeachment is hell. And I think we need to be careful now what we're asking for because impeachment just simply divides the country further unless there is the most compelling kind of case.

INSKEEP: What are you saying about President Trump in the way that you phrase your discussion of censure? Would you be more explicit on where you're pointing us here?

STARR: Well, I do think that when a president conducts himself in a way that is, shall I say, unbecoming to the office of the presidency, then it's appropriate for the people's elected representatives to call that into question. Republican leaders would then go to the president and say - there's no cry, within the Republican Party at least, for your impeachment. But there is a cry for a different kind of approach and tone - and to see what he says. Let's exhaust our remedies. Let's try to be persuasive.

INSKEEP: Can you imagine the current Republican leaders in Congress doing any such thing?

STARR: Yes, depends on the circumstances. They...

INSKEEP: Because they could do it now - and they obviously are not doing that.

STARR: Well, apparently, it hasn't risen - whatever the it is has not risen to the level that would call them to do that. Now, we're about to have midterm elections, and I think that will be a, shall I say, huge reference point for the Republican leadership to then assess that.

INSKEEP: Former independent counsel Kenneth Starr. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.