TRUTH AT ANY COST : Ken Starr and the Unmaking of Bill Clinton
April 2000 (Newstream) — Throughout much of Ken Starr’s tenure as independent counsel conventional wisdom portrayed him as a right-wing zealot out to destroy President Clinton. This notion was further strengthened in January, 1998 when Starr began the Monica Lewinsky investigation. By the time impeachment hearings commenced eleven months later, Bill Clinton was widely considered a victim whose only “crime” was a private indiscretion. These impressions remain firmly fixed in the minds of many Americans today. How legitimate are they? What really drove the man who nearly toppled a presidency and forced the most serious constitutional crisis in twenty-five years? How should history judge Ken Starr? How much of the Clinton/Starr story remains unexplored and what is the truth behind the myths that continue to distort it?
What Really Happened?
In TRUTH AT ANY COST: Ken Starr and the Unmaking of Bill Clinton (HarperCollins; April 25, 2000; $26.00), two of America’s preeminent investigative reporters, Susan Schmidt and Michael Weisskopf, reveal for the first time what really went on inside the Office of the Independent Counsel (OIC), the Justice Department (DOJ), and the White House during the year of the Lewinsky investigation. This book details Ken Starr’s motivations, his inner struggles, and his anguish as he comes under attack by Clinton’s ferocious partisans. It goes behind the locked doors of Starr’s office as prosecutors make the fateful decision to pursue the case against Clinton for lying to conceal his embarrassing affair with an intern half his age. It lays bare what happened on the night when FBI agents first confronted Monica Lewinsky, how the White House launched a political Jihad to survive, and how Starr’s team agonized over Clinton’s fate.
Extensive Interviews with More than 150 Key Participants
In creating this valuable addition to the historic record Schmidt and Weisskopf immersed themselves in the personalities and decision making of the various camps. To do so they conducted extensive interviews with more than 150 key participants, among them Starr and twenty-five of his subordinates, fourteen of Bill Clinton’s lawyers, aides and advisers; thirteen Justice Department and Secret Service officials; and fourteen lawyers and advisors for Paula Jones, Linda Tripp, Monica Lewinsky and other key players. The result is a fascinating look behind the scenes at the decisions, the pressure points, the political considerations, and the human dimensions of an investigation that both captivated and repulsed an entire nation.
New Information and Highlights
New information, revealing highlights and extraordinary anecdotes detailed in TRUTH AT ANY COST include:
* The momentous decision by Starr’s staff at an April 27, 1998 meeting that the evidence was not strong enough to indict First Lady Hillary Clinton for her Whitewater involvement or grand jury testimony, although Starr and his staff believed she had lied to government investigators. The biggest problem was the unexpected death a month earlier of Bill Clinton’s former business partner, Jim McDougal, who would have been a witness against her.
* Soon after Starr’s probe was launched, Janet Reno and her deputy, Eric Holder, began to quietly work at cross-purposes with the OIC. The authors reveal that Holder called presiding Judge Norma Holloway Johnson and offered the DOJ’s help on pending matters, including White House charges of grand jury leaks. He told associates that he believed Starr’s office had a more extensive relationship with the Paula Jones camp than revealed during the granting of authority to investigate. And as Starr was defending himself before Judge Johnson against journalist Steven Brill’s charges of grand jury leaks, Holder set plans to inform the judge of a DOJ probe into charges of prosecutorial misconduct against Starr-a plan Holder abandoned when Starr protested.
* In November, four days before Starr testified before the House impeachment committee, Janet Reno informed him she had decided to launch an investigation into his office-a move leaked to the press. Starr blamed Reno for compromising the grand traditions of the Justice Department, forsaking her fidelity to the rule of law and turning DOJ into a mouthpiece for the White House, not unlike the DOJ of Richard Nixon. Reno saw Starr as prickly and overly sensitive. .
* New insight into Starr’s crippling failure to recognize the larger burden of a prosecutor to assure public support for an investigation of a twice-elected president. The book shows that starting as a young man, Starr possessed a kind of tunnel vision that enabled him to focus on the issues and duties at hand without paying much attention to wider realities. In the first hours of the investigation, the authors note, Starr plunged forward without calculating the impact of the largely negative public view of his work and his own negative view of the Clintons. This political shortsightedness dogged him throughout the investigation, right up to the point of misreading how Congress would handle the sexually explicit portions of his impeachment report.
* The allegation investigated by Starr that Clinton had pressured his hand-picked Secret Service director, Lewis Merletti, to keep his employees from talking about the president and women. A source connected to the Secret Service’s top command told the OIC that shortly after the New Year, 1998, Clinton had called Merletti into the Oval Office and given him marching orders: “I want Secret Service lawyers to research the question of executive privilege. I don’t want anything coming out of the Secret Service about women.” Starr resolved to push for Secret Service accounts of Lewinsky’s comings and goings in the Oval Office, but was never able to prove the allegation.
* Clinton’s dramatic confession to a spiritual adviser in February even as he was sending out his cabinet secretaries, aides and wife to deny the affair with Lewinsky.
* New evidence of collusion between Linda Tripp’s lawyer, the Paula Jones lawyers and the team of legal “elves” aiding them. Just twelve hours before President Clinton gave his fateful deposition in the Jones case, they gathered in a Washington hotel room and compared notes. As the Jones lawyers grilled Clinton the next day, they knew of Ken Starr’s secret investigation and that he was trying to win Monica Lewinsky’s cooperation.
* The wrenching impact of Starr’s controversial Brill’s Content interview which almost derailed the investigation. At the request of the president’s lawyers, Judge Johnson ordered Starr and several prosecutors to submit to interrogation by Clinton’s team. Starr was planning to defy the order at the risk of being held in contempt and being fired on the spot by Janet Reno. An 11th hour investigation maneuver freed him from danger, and he seized the authority to move forward.
* The decision by the president’s private lawyers to wage Jihad against Starr and his aides after White House lawyers failed to persuade Starr not to force the disclosure of discussions between them and Clinton. The authors shows how the president’s desperate aides and allies, guided by polls, poisoned public perceptions of Starr through relentless attacks on his integrity and official practices. They also report on the role of James Carville, who made tape recordings of calls that purportedly contained discussions about the sexual and personal backgrounds of Starr’s team.
* The efforts by D.C. Bar Counsel Leonard Becker to launch confidential ethics probes of Starr and his staff. Becker carried out his efforts-which were ballyhooed by the White House, tied up the OIC, and helped sully its reputation-at the same time that he was seeking a high level job in Clinton’s Justice Department.
* New details on the search for Monica Lewinsky’s infamous semen-stained dress and on Ken Starr’s decision to throw Clinton a lifeline by tipping him off, before his grand jury appearance, that there was in fact semen on the dress. Schmidt and Weisskopf also describe a dramatic late night encounter to draw the president’s blood.
* The contradictory role of presidential secretary Betty Currie, who went into hiding for fear of White House pressure after the Lewinsky story broke. The authors reveal that Currie sent her lawyers to Starr’s office to disclose that Clinton had rehearsed her statements with her, confessed at a weekend series of debriefings with prosecutors, then backpedaled in the grand jury. The book shows how her lawyers got Currie on the right side of prosecutors, then informed the president’s worried legal team what she had said a day before her grand jury appearance.
* The arrangements that Clinton’s attorneys worked out with some defense lawyers to keep close tabs on what Starr was learning in the grand jury. The White House lined up lawyers for people and received regular debriefings. The president’s legal team also received back-channel information from one of Monica Lewinsky’s lawyers on the thinking of the witness who posed the biggest threat.
* The never-before-told story of what really happened at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel when Starr’s aides first confronted Lewinsky. Rather than being interrogated against her will and denied legal counsel, she turned the tables on prosecutors and stole precious time from the undercover phase of their investigation. The book shows how Lewinsky wiggled out of trouble without compromising Clinton. “I’m not going to be the one that brings down this fucking presidency!” she told her mother that night.
* The extensive role of top Justice Department officials in commissioning the Lewinsky investigation and explicitly approving decisions by the Starr team they would later call into question. As Schmidt and Weisskopf make clear, Justice officials knew and approved of the Ritz-Carlton encounter, including the plan to keep Lewinsky away from her attorney in the Jones case while prosecutors sought her undercover cooperation.
* The end-game maneuvering in July by Starr and his aides to force the Secret Service to testify, land Lewinsky’s cooperation and secure Clinton’s testimony.
* Starr’s extreme distrust and disdain for Bill Clinton and his White House operation as he took on the Lewinsky probe. By January 1998 Starr had come to view the Clinton presidency as a colossal moral failure. But he saw no alternative to investigating the fast-moving allegations.
* Internal battles by Starr’s staffs, which were more diverse and less ideological than portrayed by Starr’s enemies. They disagreed on many aspects of the case, most dramatically over the decision of whether to enter into an immunity agreement with Lewinsky in February on the basis of a written statement she provided. Truth at Any Cost shows how the shifting positions of Lewinsky’s lawyer ultimately led Starr to reject it, but not before a battle royale. The book details exactly what Lewinsky offered and why it was rejected, and sheds new light on the much-discussed question of whether Starr made a fateful misstep in not sealing a deal with her then. It also shows how the bizarre actions of Lewinsky’s lawyers came to unite Starr’s staff.
* New details on the actions of presidential friend Vernon Jordan. Schmidt and Weisskopf reveal that Jordan urgently pressed Clinton lawyer Robert Bennett to settle the Jones case in early November, only hours after he met with Monica Lewinsky to discuss jobs with her. Jordan did not inform Bennett of Clinton’s interest in Lewinsky. In the hours after the story broke in January, Bennett rushed to Jordan’s office, demanding, “Vernon, I want to know what the hell is going on.” The authors also dissect Jordan’s grand jury testimony, and show how an unexpected cache of telephone records forced the president’s confidante to revise elements of his story with each grand jury appearance.
* Details of last-minute snags that threatened to cancel the August grand jury testimony of Bill Clinton, including Starr’s discovery of technical problems with Linda Tripp’s tapes.
* New details on Starr’s background, including his austere, religious but loving home, his marriage to a Jewish woman and eventual break from the Church of Christ, his earliest political ideas and the surprising existence of a brother who had been convicted of land swindles.
In the epilogue of this historic investigation, Schmidt and Weisskopf reveal that the Office of the Independent Counsel drafted a prosecution memo and sample indictment in January 1999 for the possible charges of President Clinton. Starr and his legal team weighed the issues, but deferred a decision on whether to go forward with a Clinton indictment. The office also resolved that in the event of indictment, they would wait for Clinton to complete his term in January 2001. Before leaving office in October 1999, Starr convened a final summit meeting to discuss the president’s fate before handing off to his successor. The entire office-including recently departed aides-listened as lawyers Michael Emmick and Andy Leipold presented four possible charges in an indictment of the president: perjury, subornation of perjury, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. No one doubted the strength of their evidence, at least in a perjury case. The issue before them then-and before Starr’s successor now-is prosecutorial discretion.
TRUTH AT ANY COST casts Ken Starr in a new light: as an upright but politically na�ve prosecutor who withstood public vilification to pursue the truth-including what he and his deputies saw as the president’s attempt to use the power of his office to thwart a legitimate inquiry.
About the Authors: Susan Schmidt and Michael Weisskopf, both award-winning investigative reporters, worked together at the Washington Post for several years until Weisskopf’s move to Time in 1997. Schmidt broke the Lewinsky story in the Post in January 1998 and piled up scoops on every front. Weisskopf co-wrote Time’s Man of the Year story on Ken Starr and is the co-author (with David Maraniss) of Tell Newt to Shut Up.
For further information about TRUTH AT ANY COST, or to arrange an interview with Susan Schmidt and Michael Weisskopf, please contact Rose Carrano at 212-207-7522.
TRUTH AT ANY COST
Ken Starr and the Unmaking of Bill Clinton
by Susan Schmidt & Michael Weisskopf
Pub. Date: April 25, 2000
Produced for HarperCollins Publishers
CONTACT: Rose Carrano