Ken Starr, the former independent counsel who investigated President Bill Clinton, said the American constitution is a “magnificent” document that provides checks and balances to hold the president and government accountable to its citizens.
The comments came in an interview with the Journal on Wednesday prior to delivering a lecture at the University of New Mexico School of Law to students, the public and Albuquerque’s legal community titled “Investigating the President, Now and Then: Living in a Constitutional Quagmire.”
“It’s great to have a constitutional theme that our constitutional system is such a magnificent system,” said Starr, who was appointed to serve as independent counsel for five investigations, including Whitewater, from 1994 to 1999. “It has all matter of checks and balances and the more I reflect on those the more I admire the genius of the founding fathers.”
Starr said there are parallels between the investigation of former President Clinton in the 1990s and the current Robert Mueller special counsel investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
“You have someone from the outside appointed to conduct an investigation,” he said. “Bob Mueller has the advantage of reporting to the attorney general. I did not report to the attorney general – I was an independent counsel, which is what the statute called for.”
Starr’s investigation led to Clinton’s impeachment by the House. Clinton was acquitted by the Senate.
Starr said he believed it was better for the system that the Mueller probe is accountable to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, whose office manages the Russia investigation and who is planning to leave the Justice Department shortly.
“Before a major initiative is undertaken, Bob Mueller can’t just start something,” he said. “He must check with the attorney general. There’s much more accountability.”
There are also huge contrasts between the two investigations, he said.
“President Trump has – I don’t think he’s done this in the last few days – challenged the investigation, condemning it as a ‘witch hunt,'” he said. “President Clinton was much more restrained in his criticism of the investigation, but criticism of the investigation was unrelenting, which came from surrogates.”
Another contrast – the Mueller probe is “all about politics, foreign policy and potential issues of national security.”
He said, “the reason that Bob Mueller was asked to investigate was because of the potential that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian interests. I was asked to look into traditional federal crimes in Arkansas.”
Asked whether the Mueller probe is a “witch hunt” as alleged by Trump, Starr gave a definitive no.
“I’m glad to see Attorney General-nominee Bill Barr say it’s not a ‘witch hunt,'” he said, referring to Barr’s comments earlier this week during a Senate confirmation hearing.
Starr served as president and chancellor of Baylor University and dean of the Pepperdine School of Law. He currently serves as Of Counsel to The Lanier Law Firm in Houston.
The UNM lecture was postponed in October. University administrators at the time said timing was the reason for the postponement.