His steady climb through the ranks of the conservative legal world was upended by Ken Starr’s unexpected journey into and through the intricate labyrinth of a presidential saga rife with sex, lies, and audiotape.

Before that, Starr served as a widely respected appeals court judge and solicitor general, projected as a future Supreme Court justice.

Didn’t work out that way.

Ken Starr died on September 13 at a hospital in Houston, after having spent the past 17 weeks at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center fighting an undisclosed illness and finally, succumbing to complications from surgery.

He was 76.

Starr–the independent counsel whose investigation unearthed a White House sex scandal that riveted the nation and led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment for lying under oath and obstructing justice–became a household name.

Laying bare Clinton’s affair with a former White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, was like molten lava erupting from a volcano, propelling issues of sex, morality, accountability and ideology into the atmosphere, making a beeline to the fulcrum of American life for more than a year.

Starr’s admirers hailed him as a hero–taking on Clinton–whom they considered an indecent president who defiled the Oval Office.

His detractors saw him as a sex-obsessed reproduction of Victor Hugo’s Inspector Javert, driven by blatant partisanship.

His investigation pushed the limits of the Constitution when it paved the way for the first impeachment of a president in 130 years and besmirched and ultimately scarred Clinton’s legacy, as well as his own.

For such a capable guy, it seemed that Starr, at times, couldn’t get out of his own way.

With the public stage beckoning, (ego?), he returned in 2020 as a lawyer for President Donald Trump during his first Senate trial, this time taking the opposite side and denouncing what he called “the Age of Impeachment” as a weapon in partisan wars.

“Like war, impeachment is hell,” he told the Senate during the proceeding that–as Clinton’s did 21 years earlier–ended in acquittal.

“Or at least presidential impeachment is hell.”

Other landmines somehow never failed to rear their ugly heads, snapping at Starr’s ankles.

A lightning rod during the “Slick Willie” investigation, he went on to serve as dean of Pepperdine University’s law school.

From there, it was on to Baylor University as president.

More kerfuffle, to put it mildly.

Starr was demoted and later resigned from Baylor, after an investigation found that the university had badly mishandled accusations of sexual assault against members of the football team.

[See repost of a related story written by Mr. Kaplan in July 2016.]

The investigators sternly rebuked the university leadership, saying it had “created a perception that football was above the rules.”

The episode that came to define Starr’s career began as an examination into a poorly conceived Arkansas real estate venture involving Clinton and his wife Hillary, called Whitewater.

Somehow it morphed into a much different investigation.

Discovery revealed that the president had carried on an affair with Lewinsky and then sought to cover it up during an unrelated sexual harassment lawsuit brought against him.

Starr’s investigation backed “Bubba” into a corner.

Clinton was forced to confess that he had lied.

Ultimately, this led to a contempt-of-court citation against the president and the surrender of his law license.

The House impeached Clinton in December 1998, largely along party lines, but the Senate acquitted him in February 1999, concluding that the president’s wrongdoing did not justify his removal from office.

Starr became “the most criticized man in America,” as he put it.

“Half the country loved him. The other half loathed him,” mused author Ken Gormley.

Too bad.

Kind of like a waste.


[Editor’s Note: This piece was written by Mr. Kaplan in September 2022.]


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