Ken Starr Dead at 76

His investigation led to Bill Clinton's impeachment
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 13, 2022 4:45 PM CDT
Ken Starr Dead at 76
Ken Starr, an attorney for then-President Donald Trump, takes an elevator as he arrives on Capitol Hill, Feb. 3, 2020.   (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Ken Starr, a former federal appellate judge and a prominent attorney whose criminal investigation of Bill Clinton led to the president’s impeachment, died Tuesday at age 76, his family said. In 2020, he was recruited to the legal team representing Donald Trump in the nation’s third presidential impeachment trial. For many years, Starr’s stellar reputation as a lawyer seemed to place him on a path to the Supreme Court, the AP reports. At age 37, he became the youngest person ever to serve on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Clarence Thomas, and Antonin Scalia also had served.

From 1989 to 1993, Starr was the solicitor general in the administration of President George HW Bush, arguing 25 cases before the Supreme Court. Despite his impressive legal credentials, nothing could have prepared him for the task of investigating a sitting president. In a probe that lasted five years, Starr looked into fraudulent real estate deals involving a long-time Clinton associate, delved into the removal of documents from the office of deputy White House counsel Vincent Foster after his suicide, and assembled evidence of Clinton’s sexual encounters with Monica Lewinsky, a former White House intern. Each of the controversies held the potential to do serious, perhaps fatal, damage to Clinton’s presidency.

As Clinton’s legal problems worsened, the White House pilloried Starr as a right-wing fanatic doing the bidding of Republicans bent on destroying the president. "The assaults took a toll" on the investigation, Starr told a Senate committee in 1999. "A duly authorized federal law enforcement investigation came to be characterized as yet another political game. Law became politics by other means." In a bitter finish to his investigation of the Lewinsky affair that engendered still more criticism, Starr filed a report, as the law required, with the House of Representatives. He concluded that Clinton lied under oath, engaged in obstruction of justice, and followed a pattern of conduct that was inconsistent with the president’s constitutional duty to faithfully execute the laws.

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House Republicans used Starr’s report as a roadmap in the impeachment of the president, who was acquitted in a Senate trial. Putting the investigation behind him, Starr embarked on a career in academia, first as dean of the law school at Pepperdine University, where he taught constitutional issues and civil procedures, then as president of Baylor University in his home state of Texas. He also became an author, writing First Among Equals: The Supreme Court in American Life. In a memorable statement to Congress during the 2020 Trump impeachment trial, Starr said "we are living in what I think can aptly be described as the 'age of impeachment.'" He said that "like war, impeachment is hell, or at least presidential impeachment is hell."

(More obituary stories.)

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