How Starr Sees It

Probing the prosecutor: a TIME investigation and Starr's first major print interview

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Karin Cooper / Gamma Liaison for TIME

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But his critics--and even some longtime friends in the legal community--believe the decision, coupled with his inexperience, allowed the investigation to be hijacked by aggressive deputies out to bag presidential prey. "Starr's Cowboys," as they became known, were accused of bullying witnesses, but Starr argues that his system kept them in line. "Outside commentators and pundits may say, 'Gee, that seems as if the prosecutor's office is being rather energetic.' Others can judge whether it was overly energetic, [but] we did create a decision-making mechanism that limited the ability of an individual prosecutor or agent to make a significant decision."

Because he did not observe the questioning of witnesses, Starr couldn't give eyewitness answers when challenged about the treatment of witnesses. His apparent aloofness opened him to yet another avenue of attack from Clinton's lawyers, and it raises one loud question: Wasn't he at least tempted to see Lewinsky and get a firsthand sense of her testimony? "Yes! I was!" he replies, his voice rising. So did he rethink the policy? He seems startled by the suggestion. "Rethink it? I was always open to a suggestion that it would be a good thing, or it might be a good thing." But that suggestion never came. His policy was put to the test in July, when Lewinsky was questioned by his agents in New York City--the breakthrough moment that led to her immunity deal. Starr spent the night before the interview in the apartment where she was to be questioned. But, he says, "I structured my departure so that she would not see me. I did not want it to be in the slightest degree more awkward than it had to be."

Starr saw the decision as a testament to his civility; Kendall used it as evidence he was out of touch with his probe. Time and again, Starr's confidence in his own moral rectitude has blinded him to, at the very least, the appearance of bias and conflict of interest. As an old friend and adviser says, "Ken suffers from judicial ethics, a view judges have that they'll do it right and be perceived as doing it right. He doesn't realize that part of the issue is perception."

In 1994, Starr saw his decision to continue a full-time law practice (even defending tobacco interests) while investigating Clinton to be a sign of his independence, because he wouldn't be beholden to the job. Others saw it as evidence of his lack of high seriousness and of his conflicted motives. In 1997, when he decided to quit the probe and take a position at Pepperdine University, he knew the institution was funded in part by the Clinton-bashing billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, who for years has been paying for right-wing fishing trips into Clinton's past. But again Starr didn't see the conflict. In fact, he saw Scaife as one of his own harshest critics because Scaife's minions had attacked a Starr report concluding that Vince Foster killed himself. "What the name Richard Mellon Scaife meant to me was, here was someone who had been financing some of our harshest critiques," says Starr. "This will tend to show my less than fastidiously attentive political antennae."

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