Sept. 19, 1998

Starr's Target: Clinton

By Robert Parry

Seeking grounds for impeaching President Clinton, special prosecutor Kenneth Starr has ignored evidence of more serious crimes by Monica Lewinsky and other witnesses.

In a reversal of prosecutorial norms, Starr has granted worse offenders immunity or leniency in exchange for implicating Clinton in lesser crimes.

This pattern, demonstrated throughout his four-year investigation, violates standard law-enforcement procedures. According to widely accepted practices, prosecutors target perpetrators of the more serious crimes and grant immunity to lesser offenders.

But Starr’s zeal in pursuing a twice-elected president raises other troubling questions. To punish any citizen because of his or her political position can violate the constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the law.

But none of Starr’s apparent excesses has drawn much attention in a Washington media that seems set on Clinton’s impeachment.

The latest example of Starr's single-minded approach was the full immunity to Lewinsky despite evidence that she coyly tried to blackmail Clinton into giving her a sinecure position with the federal government or arranging a high-paying job in the private sector.

Extortion is a more serious offense than trying to conceal an extramarital affair, the alleged crime at the core of Starr's 11-count impeachment referral.

Besides the evidence of an extortion scheme, Lewinsky appears to have committed other significant crimes.

For instance, she admitted writing the so-called "talking points," which coached Tripp on how to dodge questions about sex allegations against Clinton. Lewinsky gave the three pages to former White House aide Linda Tripp on Jan. 14 and they became a centerpiece of Starr's obstruction investigation.

When the "talking points" were disclosed in January, the media speculated that Clinton or his lawyer, Bruce Lindsey, had drafted them. Newsweek termed the papers a possible "smoking gun" proving the president's complicity in an obstruction of justice.

But Starr and the media were wrong, according to Lewinsky's testimony. "Ms. Lewinsky testified that she wrote the document herself, although some of the ideas may have been inspired by conversations with Ms. Tripp," Starr stated in his Sept. 9 report to Congress.

With the earlier speculation destroyed, the press barely mentioned the "talking points" again. Only Americans who studied the published report carefully would have known that a major pillar of the early Lewinsky case had crumbled.

Lewinsky also conspired with her mother to conceal the existence of the infamous semen-stained dress despite subpoenas from prosecutors demanding that she surrender such evidence.

But Lewinsky was not Starr’s only favored witness against Clinton. In September, the online magazine Salon published an investigative series by reporter Murray Waas who examined Starr's aggressive tactics in protecting Whitewater witness David Hale.

Citing law enforcement records and sources, Waas reported that Starr "intervened with state prosecutors on several occasions between 1994 and 1996 in an attempt to prevent them from bringing criminal charges against David Hale."

The pressure included a blunt warning from a top Starr aide on Sept. 21, 1995, that Starr might consider charging local prosecutors with "federal witness intimidation" if they charged Hale.

State prosecutors wanted to indict Hale on charges of looting a company that sold funeral-and-burial insurance to Arkansas residents, mostly poor blacks.

Starr's avid defense of Hale raised questions even among Starr’s own investigators, Waas reported. But Starr's spokesman insisted that the special prosecutor's office had "followed the letter and spirit of the law." [See Salon at]

The Hale protection on the funeral scam was only part of Starr’s double standard, codding witnesses who implicated Clinton while subjecting those who didn't to severe punishment.

Hale, a former Arkansas municipal judge, began the plea-bargain parade after he was caught in 1993 stealing Small Business Administration loans. To reduce his sentence, Hale began claiming that Clinton pressured him to make one bogus $300,000 loan in 1986 to Clinton's Whitewater partner, Susan McDougal.

Hale's charges were at the center of the early Whitewater "scandal." But Starr encountered difficulties corroborating Hale, who himself had little credibility.

In 1996, Starr succeeded in squeezing a partial corroboration out of Hale associate William Watt, who was not prosecuted after he had a timely recollection that Hale had mentioned Clinton's interest in the loan back in 1986.

When not under prosecutorial pressure, however, Watt had told a different story. "The problem I have with his [Hale's] scenario," Watt told Newsday in 1994, "is that he [Hale] never once implied to one of us that he was getting pressured." [Newsday, March 22, 1994. For more details on Watt, see iF Magazine, May-June 1998.]

Starr next moved on Susan McDougal offering her leniency if she implicated the president. But she refused to testify, claiming that Starr wanted her to lie and implicate Clinton. She said Starr planned to indict her for perjury if she told what she insisted was the truth: that Clinton was not involved in the loan.

Starr retaliated by imprisoning McDougal for 18 months on civil contempt charges and -- after her release -- indicted her for criminal contempt.

The special prosecutor played similar hard ball with Clinton friend Webster Hubbell, the former associate attorney general who was convicted for overcharging on his law firm's expense account. After finishing that sentence, Hubbell encountered a new round of indictments when he would not give Starr incriminating information about Clinton.

Hubbell declared that Starr's prosecutors "can indict my dog, they can indict my cat, but I'm not going to lie about the president." [WP, May 9, 1998]

To get the Lewinsky phase of the investigation going last January, Starr forgave another potential felony. He granted Linda Tripp immunity over her 20 hours of secretly recorded telephone calls with Lewinsky.

Making such surreptitious recordings can be illegal under Maryland law. Still, Starr handed Tripp federal immunity for her possible crime and then sought to delay any state inquiry.

Starr himself has stretched the law in regards to leaks to the news media, another potential felony. In an interview published in Brill's Content, Starr reversed his long-standing claim that he found "leaks utterly intolerable."

Starr admitted that he had divulged confidential investigative information to the news media on "background," that is, not for attribution. But Starr insisted that his leaks were legal. [Brill's Content, Aug. 1998. For more details, see iF Magazine, July-Aug. 1998.]

By summer, Starr wanted Lewinsky as a prosecution witness, even though he had evidence that she had made veiled blackmail threats against the president. Starr granted her full immunity.

According to Starr's impeachment report, Lewinsky started threatening Clinton in July 1997, when she grew furious that her demands for a transfer from the Pentagon back to the White House had not been met.

On July 3, she wrote Clinton a "dear sir" letter with a clear warning that she would start talking if he did not grant her wishes. Unless a White House job was arranged, she told the president she would "need to explain to my parents exactly why that wasn't happening."

In her testimony, Lewinsky added that she wanted to remind Clinton that she had "left the White House like a good girl in April of '96" while others might have used a disclosure threat then to avoid the transfer.

Clinton and Lewinsky both understood the suggestion of blackmail. Clinton met with her on July 4 and, according to Lewinsky, he scolded her with the admonition that "it's illegal to threaten the President of the United States."

Lewinsky said she began weeping and Clinton tried to comfort her. With her disclosure threat as the backdrop, Clinton suggested that his marriage might end after he left the White House. Lewinsky mentioned her hopes for "us sort of being together" after his presidency ended.

By then, Clinton knew Lewinsky's anger was a danger. In his grand jury testimony, he stated that "after I terminated the improper contact with her, she wanted to come in more than she did. She got angry when she didn't get in sometimes. I knew that that might make her more likely to speak, and I still did it because I had to limit the contact."

On July 14, Clinton learned how dangerous the Lewinsky affair might be. He started suspecting that Lewinsky was speaking with Linda Tripp, a Bush holdover at the White House who had been transferred to the Pentagon.

Clinton deduced that Lewinsky and Tripp were in contact because a comment he had made to Lewinsky about a White House call from Kathleen Willey, a woman claiming Clinton had groped her, had filtered back to Newsweek.

Lewinsky confirmed that she told Tripp about the phone call, with Tripp apparently then passing that information on to Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff.

Tripp, a bitter Clinton foe, entered the Clinton-Lewinsky saga again on Oct. 6, 1997. Tripp delivered an Iago-like message to Lewinsky: that the White House was full of negative rumors about her obsession with Clinton and that her reputation made a return there impossible. Lewinsky immediately renewed her aggressive job demands on the president.

Later that day, in a phone conversation recorded by Tripp, Lewinsky announced that she wanted two thing from Clinton. First, he had to "acknowledge ... that he helped fuck up my life," and secondly, he would have to deliver a job that she would not otherwise get.

"I don't want to have to work for this position," Lewinsky declared. "I just want it to be given to me."

Lewinsky said she would write to Clinton proposing a meeting to "work on some way that I can come out of this situation not feeling the way I do." After composing the letter, she added that "I want him to feel a little guilty, and I hope that this letter did that."

In the Oct. 7 letter, Lewinsky wrote that "I'd like to ask you to help me secure a position in NY beginning 1 December. I would be very grateful, and I am hoping this is a solution for both of us."

On Oct. 10, Clinton responded angrily. In a lengthy phone call, he alluded to her threatening behavior. Lewinsky quoted him as saying, "If I had known what kind of person you really were, I wouldn't have gotten involved with you."

But the president did refer her for possible jobs at the United Nations and, through lawyer-friend Vernon Jordan, to corporations in New York City.

Another Starr thesis -- that Jordan entered the scene in December after Lewinsky was subpoenaed in the Paula Jones lawsuit -- missed the mark, too. Clinton enlisted Jordan more than a month earlier, at Lewinsky's suggestion.

Starr also failed to find any evidence of criminal actions by Clinton in other areas. Starr's impeachment report contained no criminal references to the Whitewater case, the Travel Office firings flap or the delivery of FBI files to the White House.

Clinton's Lewinsky foolishness notwithstanding, Starr's referral represents the most determined effort in U.S. history by a prosecutor to oust the sitting president of the United States. Even more striking is the trivial nature of Clinton’s alleged offenses.

Factoring in Starr's conservative politics and his favortism toward Clinton’s criminal accusers, the impeachment drive takes on, more and more, the look of a bloodless coup.

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