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When Starr took the independent counsel's job in 1994--against the advice of virtually everyone he knew--he was immediately assailed as a partisan Clinton stalker. It was an unusual position for him since he'd always enjoyed being the Democrats' favorite Republican--a lawyer trusted enough to be asked to review Senator Bob Packwood's private diaries, a conservative judge with serious credentials as a defender of the First Amendment. He had even ruled in favor of the Washington Post in a big libel suit. "[When] the attacks began," Starr says, "I started saying, 'Well, how do you respond?' And one of the things I said was, 'I will try to bring the qualities of the judge [to the investigation]...eschew political considerations and personal predilections, and [try] to be as steadily neutral as possible."
And there is some solid evidence that he meant it. Most of the charges leveled against Starr--that he colluded with Linda Tripp and the lawyers for Paula Jones to entrap Clinton, that his men mistreated Lewinsky in their long Jan. 16 session with her--turn out to have little basis in fact, according to an investigation by TIME. Starr's last known contact with the Jones team, for example, came years before he ever heard of Lewinsky; Tripp--who clearly did collude with Clinton haters--had been briefing the Jones lawyers about Lewinsky for two months before she made her approach to Starr.
Starr has also been accused of discouraging Lewinsky from contacting her lawyer and of pressing her to wear a wire to set up the President. But Starr insists there was never a plan to secretly tape Clinton. Instead, he says, it was Betty Currie who might have been taped. And many of the actions of his prosecutors that day were approved in advance by senior Justice Department officials--including the outlines of the effort to persuade Lewinsky not to call her attorney, whom Starr and his men suspected was part of the obstruction conspiracy. Starr argues that his team's moves were monitored by a Justice Department official; that man, Administration sources told TIME, was Josh Hochberg, then deputy chief of the public-integrity unit. He was there to say "watch out for this, or watch out for that," Starr says. He took copious notes, asked questions but raised no red flags. Justice Department sources confirm that Starr's office briefed the department in advance on many of its dealings with Lewinsky. Both the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility and the District of Columbia Bar Association are looking into the events of Jan. 16, but in a ruling unsealed in December, Judge Johnson cleared Starr's prosecutors of White House charges that they denied Lewinsky her right to counsel.