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Just days before the impeachment trial of United States President Donald Trump was set to begin, former special counsel Ken Starr was added to the president’s defense team.
The New York Times reported that Starr’s role will be to argue that the impeachment of Trump was done without sufficient legal grounds. It is a reversal of roles for Starr, whose previous role in the impeachment of a president was prosecutorial.
It was the Starr Report, investigated and compiled by Starr as independent counsel, that led to the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton.
Ken Starr’s career as a lawyer
The Texas-born Starr studied at George Washington University and Brown University before receiving his doctorate from Duke University School of Law. Following his graduation, he was a law clerk for Chief Justice Warren Burger.
His legal career involved a private practice before he was nominated by then-president Ronald Reagan to be a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He served in that capacity from 1983 to 1989, at which time he was nominated by President George H.W. Bush to be the solicitor general of the United States.
After Bill Clinton became president in 1993, he replaced Starr as Solicitor General with Drew Days III.
The Whitewater scandal
The Ethics in Government Act of 1978 established the US Office of Independent Counsel in the wake of the Watergate scandal that resulted in President Richard Nixon resigning.
The job of the independent counsel, which was appointed by an independent body of judges, was to investigate employees of the federal government, including the president.
(In 1999, the provisions for the independent counsel expired. (The role has since been filled by a special counsel appointed and overseen by the Department of Justice.)
In August 1994, Starr was appointed as the independent counsel to investigate the real estate ventures of the Whitewater Development Corporation, a firm created by Bill and Hillary Clinton and their associates in 1979. The investigation was to determine if the Clintons had done anything illegal in their dealings through Whitewater.
That investigation, which came to be known as the Whitewater scandal, was ultimately concluded by a different independent counsel, Robert Ray.
Ray determined that there was insufficient evidence to charge either Clinton with a crime.
However, Starr’s wide-ranging investigation would uncover other misdeeds by President Clinton that would lead to his impeachment.
The Starr Report and Clinton’s impeachment
On September 9, 1998, Starr presented the findings of his investigation into Clinton to Congress in what came to be known as the Starr Report. Though initially brought on to investigate the Whitewater scandal, Starr had expanded his search to include other legal questions surrounding Bill Clinton.
Of particular importance was a lawsuit by a woman named Paula Jones who claimed Clinton had sexually harassed her while he was Governor of Arkansas. During discovery for the lawsuit, Clinton was asked under oath if he had “sexual relations” with any state or federal employees.
Clinton denied any such relations. That included claiming he did not have an affair with former White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. It was later found Clinton had had a sexual relationship with Lewinsky.
In his report, Starr listed eleven separate grounds for Clinton’s impeachment, including lying under oath on multiple occasions and obstructing justice.
As a result of his report, four articles of impeachment were drawn up against Clinton, though only two were approved by the House and sent to the Senate. Clinton was charged with perjury (in this case, lying to a grand jury) and obstruction of justice.
The two articles that didn’t pass were for lying in the Jones civil case and abuse of power. On Feb. 12, 1999, after a trial in the Senate that began in January, Clinton was found not guilty of both charges.
Starr’s defense of Trump
In the months leading up to Trump’s impeachment for abuse of power and obstruction of justice, Starr has publicly defended the president on multiple occasions.
In a Fox Business interview on Oct. 7, Starr said Trump’s actions did not rise to the level of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors,” quoting from the portion of the US Constitution that outlines reasons for a president to be removed from office.
Starr has been a regular contributor to Fox News, appearing over 100 times in 2019. However, after it was announced Starr would be joining Trump’s defense team in the impeachment trial, Fox announced he would no longer be a contributor.
Starr’s tenure at Baylor
After the Clinton impeachment, Starr continued his legal career until becoming president of Baylor University in 2010. His time there was marred by a sexual assault scandal that resulted in him being removed as president.
From 2009 to 2012, multiple female students at Baylor went to university authorities to report being sexually assaulted. As reported by ESPN, it was found the school officials did not thoroughly investigate the assaults, sometimes ignoring them altogether.
The sexual assault cases often involved members of the university’s football team, with a lawsuit filed in January 2017 alleging that 31 players were responsible for 52 rapes. In addition to Starr, the head football coach, Art Briles, was also fired from his position.