How Starr Sees It

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

  • Karin Cooper / Gamma Liaison for TIME

    (6 of 11)

    Part of the answer lies in the makeup and background of Starr's handpicked team. Though Starr prides himself on having created a "microcosm" of the Justice Department, "but perhaps more elaborately fine tuned," true legal diversity eluded him. He had tough prosecutors and brilliant litigators recruited from around the country, but his Lewinsky team had few lawyers with strong criminal-defense backgrounds to provide balance, help plot the next move or weigh in on the treatment of witnesses. "Government lawyers have never had to sit in a room with somebody who is completely innocent," says a former Starr assistant, "and know the personal toll on that person and their families." Starr's ethics adviser, Watergate eminence Sam Dash, signed off on major decisions but not the nuts and bolts. (He resigned in November, calling Starr too strong an advocate for impeachment.) A female attorney was known for her sensitivity to civil liberties issues, but the attitude won her the nickname Hallmark, after the famously sentimental greeting-card company. "This isn't the United Nations," says Starr spokesman Charles Bakaly. But when the Lewinsky scandal broke, there was nobody with the sensibility to point out, for instance, that subpoenaing Lewinsky's mother might not play too well in the real world.


    In some ways, Starr was remade by his prey. Four years of chasing Clinton--hunting for wrongdoing in Whitewater and its tributaries, butting heads against the Clinton stonewall--changed the man. He and his lieutenants apparently became persuaded that they were dealing with a kind of ongoing criminal enterprise. The more Clinton stalled, the more Starr pushed. The more Starr pushed, the more Clinton stalled. And in the end, each drove the other to a kind of madness. It's a subject Starr's friends discuss gingerly.

    "There was not a lot of confidence in the probity of the White House," says one. "There was a long experience with its not being forthcoming and truthful." Starr claims the experience didn't change him, but the evidence contradicts him, and so do many of his friends and allies. They say he became tougher, more aggressive, more willing to assume the worst about Clinton and his people. "The impact was almost unavoidable," says a Starr associate. "You're less likely to...give people the benefit of the doubt." Starr became less deferential, summoning Hillary Clinton to the grand jury in 1996 rather than questioning her at the White House. He relied on hard-nosed prosecutors like Bittman, Jackie Bennett Jr. and Michael Emmick. He became so intense in his pursuit that in early 1997, he authorized his agents to question Arkansas state troopers about Clinton confidants, including alleged paramours from a decade before, who might have picked up scraps about shady business deals. Starr was so sure of his righteousness that he became outraged when the story broke and people had the temerity to question his motives. For the White House, it provided a predicate offense--the first piece of evidence used to paint Starr as a sex-obsessed keyhole peeper.

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