!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: Kenneth Starr
Kenneth Starr was a participant or observer in the following events:
Knight Ridder is the first newspaper publisher to express public skepticism over White House and media reports of the Clinton “vandal scandal,” which allege that Clinton staffers vandalized and looted the White House and Air Force One in the last days of the Clinton administration (see January 25, 2001 and January 26, 2001). “It was a news story that had a lot going for it,” Knight Ridder correspondent David Goldstein writes, “except on-the-record sources and many hard facts.” Goldstein calls the “vandal scandal” reporting “an example of post-election political warfare waged on a slapstick level” and “clearly a sample of how journalism in Washington is practiced in the age of the 24-hour news cycle and its unceasing demand for information, sometimes regardless of the provenance.” Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism says, “The dirty little secret of the information revolution is often there’s not a lot of verification.” Earlier in the week, US News and World Report printed a story alleging that the White House is spending $10,000 a day repairing the White House telephone system after it was damaged by Clinton staffers, but a White House spokesman responded, “I can’t find any supporting evidence” of that charge. “No one can confirm it.” As for allegations that Clinton staffers looted Air Force One (see January 25-27, 2001), Lieutenant Colonel Dana Carroll of Andrews Air Force Base, which houses the presidential jet, says: “The public was misinformed. There was no china or anything like that missing.” Carroll says the only items missing from Air Force One after the Clintons’ final trip was a tray of 15 glasses, which Clinton staffers say broke during a moment of turbulence; reporters on the aircraft saw the glasses fall and break. Former Clinton strategist James Carville says the reports are little more than efforts to smear Clinton. “It just seems to be like everything else that happens to this president,” he says. Referring to the Whitewater investigations, Carville adds, “Next they’ll be calling for an independent counsel, bring back Ken Starr to investigate this.” House Republican Bob Barr (R-GA) is asking that the General Accounting Office investigate the story (see May 18, 2001). [Knight Ridder, 2/8/2001] In July, Goldstein will call the “vandal scandal” stories “questionable from the beginning.” [American Journalism Review, 7/2001]
David Walker, comptroller of the General Accounting Office (GAO) and a Ronald Reagan appointee, files a lawsuit to compel Vice President Dick Cheney and his office to reveal the names of the private businessmen and organizational officials that his energy task force (see January 29, 2001) met with to craft the Bush administration’s energy policies (see May 8, 2001). This is the first time since its creation in 1920 that the GAO has been forced to file suit to compel another government agency to follow the law and cooperate with its requests. [Dean, 2004, pp. 78-79] In a statement, Walker writes: “This is the first time that GAO has filed suit against a federal official in connection with a records access issue. We take this step reluctantly. Nevertheless, given GAO’s responsibility to Congress and the American people, we have no other choice. Our repeated attempts to reach a reasonable accommodation on this matter have not been successful. Now that the matter has been submitted to the judicial branch, we are hopeful that the litigation will be resolved expeditiously. [General Accounting Office, 2/22/2002 ]
'Fundamental Questions' about Governmental 'Checks and Balances' - Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2004: “This was, to say the least, a high-stakes lawsuit. It raised fundamental questions about the very nature of our system of checks and balances. If the GAO could not get the information it requested, then there was a black hole in the federal firmament—a no-man’s land where a president and vice president could go free from Congressional oversight.” By random selection, the case lands in the court of Judge John Bates, a career Justice Department lawyer who once worked for the Whitewater investigative team led by Kenneth Starr, and had just recently been appointed to the bench by President Bush. The choice of Bates will prove critical to the verdict of the case. [Dean, 2004, pp. 78-79]
Schlafly: Secrecy a 'Mistake' - Conservative commentator and activist Phyllis Schlafly will write in 2002: “[T]he public wants to know how our energy policy was developed. When information is kept secret, the natural inference is that there must be something the administration is very eager to hide. While private businesses and households can be selective about what they tell the world, the American people are not willing to accord the same privacy to public officials paid by the taxpayers. Regardless of the legal veil woven over the energy policy meetings, Cheney’s secrecy is a political mistake.” [Eagle Forum, 3/6/2002]
Entity Tags: Kenneth Starr, Phyllis Schlafly, US Department of Justice, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Dean, Government Accountability Office, Bush administration (43), David Walker, George W. Bush, Energy Task Force, John Bates
Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties
Civil rights division logo. [Source: US Department of Justice]The Bush administration embarks on a program to politicize the Justice Department’s civil rights division (CRD). The CRD is staffed by some 350 permanently employed lawyers who take complaints, investigate problems, propose lawsuits, litigate cases, and negotiate settlements. For decades, the decisions on who should fill these positions have been made by civil servants and not by political appointees. The CRD is an obvious target for politicization, and until now the Justice Department has tried to ensure that no such politicization ever took place. “There was obviously oversight from the front office [where the political appointees work], but I don’t remember a time when an individual went through that process and was not accepted,” Charles Cooper, a former lawyer in the CRD during the Reagan administration, will later recall. “I just don’t think there was any quarrel with the quality of individuals who were being hired. And we certainly weren’t placing any kind of political litmus test on… the individuals who were ultimately determined to be best qualified.”
Hiring Conservatives in Place of Career Lawyers - But Attorney General John Ashcroft changes those rules, without making any sort of official announcement. The hiring committee is not formally disbanded, but it stops having meetings scheduled, and the political appointees begin making career hiring decisions. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write, “The result of the unprecedented change was a quiet remaking of the civil rights division, effectively turning hundreds of career jobs into politically appointed positions.” No longer would career attorneys be hired for their civil rights background; instead, lawyers from conservative law schools or from conservative legal organizations such as the Republican National Lawyers Association are given favorable treatment. Some of the new hires worked with Kenneth Starr’s Whitewater investigative team or had worked with other prominent conservatives, including former Attorney General Edwin Meese or Senator Trent Lott (R-MO). Some list themselves as belonging to prominent Christian political organizations that promote socially conservative views such as opposition to abortion and to affirmative action.
Shift towards 'Reverse Discrimination' Cases - After the new hires are in place, the division shifts its focus: instead of working on voter rights, employment discrimination, and other such cases affecting African-Americans and Hispanics, the division begins working to develop “reverse discrimination” cases in favor of whites and Christians. [Savage, 2007, pp. 295-297]
Driving Career Employees Away - Over the next few years, the types of cases pursued by the CRD changes drastically (see 2005, 2006, and 2006), and career attorneys with decades of service begin leaving the division in large numbers. The Justice Department will even encourage older hires to leave by offering them a buyout. Savage will write, “With every new vacancy, the administration gained a new change to use the new rules to hire another lawyer more in line with its political agenda.” CRD attorney David Becker will tell a 2006 NAACP hearing: “Even during other administrations that were perceived as being hostile to civil rights enforcement, career staff did not leave in numbers approaching this level. In the place of those experienced litigators and investigators, this administration has, all too often, hired inexperienced ideologues, virtually none of which have any civil rights or voting rights experience.” Some supporters say that the Bush administration is merely righting an imbalance, where the CRD was previously top-heavy with liberal lawyers interested in protecting African-Americans over other groups, but one of the CRD’s top career lawyers from 1965 through 1994, Jim Turner, says, “To say that the civil rights division had a special penchant for hiring liberal lawyers is twisting things.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 298-299]
Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Civil Rights Division (DOJ), Charlie Savage, Charles Cooper, Bush administration (43), David Becker, Jim Turner, Trent Lott, US Department of Justice, Edwin Meese, Republican National Lawyers Association, Kenneth Starr
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Steven Bradbury. [Source: Mark Wilson / Getty Images]Steven Bradbury is nominated by President Bush to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). He will continue in that position on an acting basis into 2008, even though Congressional Democrats refuse to confirm him for the job, and even though his continuation in the post violates the Vacancies Reform Act, which precludes non-confirmed appointees for holding their positions for over 210 days (see October 16, 2007). [Washington Times, 9/20/2007; New York Times, 10/4/2007; TPM Muckraker, 10/19/2007] Bradbury takes over from Jack Goldsmith, who resigned the position under fire (see June 17, 2004).
Arm of the White House - Bradbury has a long history of supporting the White House’s agenda of expansive executive power. He came to the Justice Department after clerking with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and mentoring under former Whitewater special counsel Kenneth Starr. [New York Times, 10/4/2007] A co-founder of the Federalist Society [International Herald Tribune, 10/15/2007] , he is as staunchly conservative as any Bush appointee, but unlike some of the more outspoken of his colleagues, he comes across as low-key, pragmatic, and non-confrontational. As a Justice Department lawyer, Bradbury proved himself in line with the neoconservative views of Vice President Dick Cheney and Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington. Former State Department senior official Philip Zelikow recalls Bradbury as being “fundamentally sympathetic to what the White House and the CIA wanted to do.” Bradbury was brought in to the OLC in part to rein in that office, which under its previous head Jack Goldsmith became the hub of the internal opposition to Bush’s policies of “enhanced interrogation” and domestic surveillance (see Late 2003-2005). In 2005, Bradbury signs two secret Justice Department memos giving broad authorization and legal justification for the CIA’s torture of terrorist suspects (see February 2005 and Late 2005),. Bradbury works closely with then-White House counsel and current attorney general Alberto Gonzales to bring the Justice Department back into line with White House demands. Conservative legal scholar Douglas Kmiec, who headed the OLC under former presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush, says he believes the intense pressures from the current administration’s campaign against terrorism has warped the OLC’s proper role. “The office was designed to insulate against any need to be an advocate,” Kmiec says. Now the OLC has “lost its ability to say no.… The approach changed dramatically with opinions on the war on terror. The office became an advocate for the president’s policies.”
Probation - Bradbury was first considered for the job after Gonzales, newly confirmed as attorney general, rejected the idea of promoting Daniel Levin, the acting head of the OLC after Goldsmith’s departure. Gonzales considered Levin unsuitable for the job because of his independence and support for Goldsmith’s dissents. Instead, Gonzales chose Bradbury for the job. But the White House was uncertain of Bradbury’s reliability, and so placed him on a sort of “internal trial,” monitored by Gonzales’s replacement at the White House, Harriet Miers. Miers judged Bradbury’s loyalty to the president and his willingness to work with Gonzales in justifying White House policy decisions. Bradbury reportedly understands that his “probation” is intended for him to show just how compliant and supportive he is of the White House, and he soon wins the confidence of the White House by completely aligning himself with Addington. [New York Times, 10/4/2007]
'Sordid criminal conspiracy' - Harper’s Magazine commentator and lawyer Scott Horton will write in November 2007 that it is obvious “Bradbury was picked for one reason: to provide continuing OLC cover for the torture conspirators.… The Justice Department’s strategy has been to cloak Bradbury’s torture memoranda in secrecy classifications and then to lie aggressively about their very existence.… This episode demonstrates once more the intimate interrelationship between the policies of torture, secrecy, and the right to lie to the public and the courts in the interests of shielding the Bush administration from public embarrassment. And once more the Justice Department is enlisted not in the enforcement of the law, but rather in a sordid criminal conspiracy.” [Harper's, 11/7/2007]
Entity Tags: Kenneth Starr, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Security Agency, Philip Zelikow, US Department of Justice, Steven Bradbury, Scott Horton, Vacancies Reform Act, James B. Comey Jr., Jack Goldsmith, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Harper’s Magazine, Clarence Thomas, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Daniel Levin, Alberto R. Gonzales, Harriet E. Miers, Geneva Conventions, Douglas Kmiec, David S. Addington, George Herbert Walker Bush
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
According to sources with firsthand knowledge, alleged perjurer Lewis Libby (see October 28, 2005), the former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, has given indications of the nature of his defense in his upcoming trial (see January 16-23, 2007). Libby will tell the court that he was authorized by Cheney and other senior Bush administration officials to leak classified information to reporters to build public support for the Iraq invasion and rebut criticism of the war. Prosecutors believe that other White House officials involved in authorizing the leak of classified information may include former Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and White House political strategist Karl Rove. Libby has already made this claim to the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak (see March 24, 2004). As he told the grand jury, Libby will claim that he was authorized to leak classified information to rebut claims from former ambassador Joseph Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson’s husband, that the Bush administration had misrepresented intelligence information to make a public case for war. Libby allegedly outed Plame Wilson, a covert CIA agent, as part of the White House’s effort to discredit Wilson. Libby is not charged with the crime of revealing a covert CIA agent, but some of the perjury charges center on his denials of outing Plame Wilson to the FBI and to the grand jury. Libby has admitted revealing Plame Wilson’s identity to reporter Judith Miller (see August 6, 2005); he also revealed classified information to Miller.
Risk of Implicating Cheney - Law professor Dan Richman, a former federal prosecutor, says it is surprising that Libby would use such a defense strategy. “One certainly would not expect Libby, as part of his defense, to claim some sort of clear authorization from Cheney where none existed, because that would clearly risk the government’s calling Cheney to rebut that claim.” Reporter Murray Waas writes that Libby’s defense strategy would further implicate Cheney in the White House’s efforts to discredit and besmirch Wilson’s credibility (see October 1, 2003), and link him to the leaks of classified information and Plame Wilson’s CIA identity. It is already established that Libby learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from Cheney and at least three other government officials (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003 and (June 12, 2003)).
Similarities to North's Iran-Contra Defense Strategy - Waas compares Libby’s defense strategy to that of former Colonel Oliver North, charged with a variety of crimes arising from the Iran-Contra scandal (see February 1989). Libby’s defense team includes John Cline, who represented North during his trial. Critics call Cline a “graymail” specialist, who demands the government disclose classified information during a trial, and uses potential refusals to ask for dismissal of charges. Cline won the dismissal of many of the most serious charges against North when Reagan administration officials refused to declassify documents he said were necessary for North’s defense. The special counsel for the Iran-Contra investigation, Lawrence Walsh, believed that Reagan officials refused to declassify the documents because they were sympathetic to North, and trying North on the dismissed charges would have exposed further crimes committed by more senior Reagan officials. It is likely that Cline is using a similar strategy with Libby, according to Waas. Cline has already demanded the disclosure of 10 months’ worth of Presidential Daily Briefings (PDBs), some of the most highly classified documents in government (see January 31, 2006). The Bush administration has routinely denied requests for PDB disclosures. A former Iran-Contra prosecutor says: “It was a backdoor way of shutting us down. It was a cover-up by means of an administrative action, and it was an effective cover-up at that.… The intelligence agencies do not declassify things on the pretext that they are protecting state secrets, but the truth is that we were investigating and prosecuting their own. The same was true for the Reagan administration. Cline was particularly adept at working the system.” Michael Bromwich, a former associate Iran-Contra independent counsel and a former Justice Department inspector general, says it might be more difficult for the Bush administration to use a similar strategy to undercut special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, because Fitzgerald was appointed by the attorney general, not a panel of judges as were Walsh and Whitewater special prosecutor Kenneth Starr. Both Walsh and Starr alleged that they were impeded by interference from political appointees in the Justice Department. Bromwich’s fellow associate Iran-Contra counsel William Treanor, now the dean of Fordham University’s Law School, agrees: “With Walsh or Starr, the president and his supporters could more easily argue that a prosecutor was overzealous or irresponsible, because there had been a three-judge panel that appointed him,” Treanor says. “With Fitzgerald, you have a prosecutor who was appointed by the deputy attorney general [at the direction of the attorney general]. The administration almost has to stand behind him because this is someone they selected themselves. It is harder to criticize someone you yourself put into play.” [National Journal, 2/6/2006]
'This Is Major' - Progressive author and columnist Arianna Huffington writes: “This proves just how far the White House was willing to go to back up its deceptive claims about why we needed to go to war in Iraq. The great protectors of our country were so concerned about covering their lies they were willing to pass out highly classified information to reporters. And remember—and this is the key—it’s not partisan Democrats making this claim; it’s not Bush-bashing conspiracy theorists, or bloggers reading the Aspen roots (see September 15, 2005). This information is coming from special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald as filed in court papers. This is major.” [Huffington Post, 2/9/2006]
Entity Tags: Judith Miller, Valerie Plame Wilson, Joseph C. Wilson, Dan Richman, Bush administration (43), Arianna Huffington, Stephen J. Hadley, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, William Treanor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Lawrence E. Walsh, Kenneth Starr, Karl C. Rove, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Reagan administration, Murray Waas, John Cline, Michael Bromwich
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.