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Starr: A Reassessment Hardcover – May 1, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Many Americans and members of the press think that Ken Starr, motivated by conservative political ideology and seeking partisan advantage, was obsessed with bringing down the Clinton presidency. Few doubt that the Starr-Clinton confrontation was personal as well, a clash of cultures between Starr, a deeply religious man with a puritanical bent, and Clinton, a political animal of protean ethics and unabashed cupidity. Wittes, an editorial writer for the Washington Post, refuses to accept this view. Instead, based on hours of interviews with the independent counsel, he suggests that Starr's errors and egregious misjudgments were the result of a fundamental misreading of the special prosecutor statute. In Wittes's analysis, Starr's adamant belief that the statute required him to act, not as a normal prosecutor might when searching for a provable crime, but as the chief investigator of a Truth Commission with an unlimited mandate, led him to repeatedly engage in excesses and abuses that left his reputation tattered and his investigation in disrepute. Wittes's depiction of how Starr's misconceived notion caused him to mishandle the investigation is both coherent and plausible. Nonetheless, so extreme do Starr's misjudgments seem that even the most open-minded readers may remain skeptical of Wittes's contention that Starr's intentions were honorable. A happy side benefit of the book is that Wittes's thumbnail sketches of a wide range of events the original Whitewater charges, the issues surrounding the Vince Foster suicide, the details of the elusive Travelgate and the equally elusive FBI file scandal, Webster Hubbell's role in the investigation and the famously boggled negotiations between Monica Lewinsky's lawyer and Starr's staff make these obscure elements of the scandal intelligible for many, perhaps for the first time.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

An editorial writer for the Washington Post who has written extensively on the federal court system, law, and criminal justice, Wittes reevaluates Kenneth Starr's role in the independent counsel investigation of President Bill Clinton. He effectively argues that Starr should not be characterized as an "unethical lawyer or sex-obsessed Puritan" who set out to destroy Bill Clinton's presidency. Rather, Starr should be seen as an independent counsel who interpreted the independent counsel law as a "truth commission" bound to uncover anything and everything occurring in the Whitewater, Vince Foster, travel office, FBI files, and Lewinsky scandals and their relationships to President Clinton. Each of Starr's investigations is succinctly summarized, and Wittes explains how each case failed because of Starr's interpretation of the law. Interviews with Starr, as well as magazine and journal articles, newspaper reports, and final reports from the independent counsel's office are skillfully used to support his evaluation. Wittes's book is recommended for public and academic libraries, which should also consider Susan Schmidt's Truth at Any Cost: Ken Starr and the Unmaking of Bill Clinton and Richard Posner's An Affair of State: The Investigation, Impeachment, and Trial of President Clinton. Joyce M. Cox, Nevada State Lib. & Archives, Reno
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First Edition edition (May 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300092520
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300092523
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,012,621 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 24, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Starr: A Reassessment" is an extraordinary illumination of a complex personality. Wittes' thesis that Starr saw his investigation as a "truth commission" rather than as pursuit of prosecutorial justice paints a portrait of the man which is far more consistent with his pre-appointment reputation than the caricatures, both pro and con, which emerged during the course of his investigation. While Wittes' account may redeem Starr, the person, Wittes leaves little doubt that Starr was "simply the wrong man for the job" and that his management of the Independent Counsel's office was deficient and detrimental to the country.
Despite the superb analysis and sourcing, however, Wittes' conclusions ultimately rest on his judgement of Starr's credibility during his extensive interviews with Starr. As much as I respect, and would like to accept, Wittes' judgment, I have trouble doing so for many of the same reasons I had trouble accepting Clinton's original denials. They are logical on the surface and you want to believe them, but they do not seem plausible. Starr's rationale, like Clinton's, suggests either fabrication, extreme spinning or incompetence.
The key to Wittes' thesis is in the first chapter where he analyzes the Independent Counsel statue and Starr's interpretation of it. Wittes convincingly demonstrates that the statute on its face, even without reference to the legislative history, does not support Starr's interpretation. The legislative history strips any and all doubt. Finally, no other independent prosecutor or student of the act shared anything close to Starr's interpretation.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 31, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The fundamental flaw of this book is verdict first, facts later approach of Benjamin Wittes. He starts with conclusions and then tries to fit the facts to support his conclusions.
Wittes conclusion #1) Starr was a non partisan prosecutor. Wittes disregards a mountain of evidence showing blatant partisanship on the part of Starr and his prosecutors. He omits any/all evidence of partisanship in order to advance his favored narrative.
Wittes conclusion #2) Starr cared about the truth. Again Benjamin Wittes ignores evidence that contradicts his thesis. Starr lied under oath to the House Judiciary Committee about the leaks. Starr's office lied to the Justice Department when they said they had no prior contacts with the Jones lawyers even though they had met with them and other 3rd party figures to set up an entrapment. Starr lied to the American people when he issued a statement saying Monica Lewinsky had gone on a "sojourn" at the Ritz Carlton. The list of lies is endless and Wittes chooses to ignore them.
Wittes conclusion #3) Starr misinterpreted the Independent Counsel statute. Benjamin Wittes wants us to believe that Starr would have used the same tactics against a conservative republican president.
Someday, someone will write a good, honest book about the Starr investigation. This is not that book. ...
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 5, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Like so much writing about Washington these days, this book dwells far too much on individual personalities and exhibits little understanding of the larger political currents that drive the personalities' actions. It is naive to argue that Starr's investigations were anything other than yet another chapter in the 30-year-old trend of abuse of official investigation as a weapon of political combat. Starr did not operate in vacuum. He was encouraged, politically supported, and funded (directly and indirectly) by Republicans who wanted to depress the approval rating and therefore power of a popular president. No wonder this book has garnered most of its favorable reviews from conservatives.
I also disagree with Wittes's contention that Congressional hearings would not have delved into the lurid details that Starr's investigation probed. During the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, Sen. Orrin Hatch filled the air with his questions about a Coke can allegedly seasoned with public hair. Would the Senate Public Hair Police have really overlooked that cigar?
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 8, 2003
Format: Hardcover
All you need to know about this book is that the dust jacket has a plug from Stuart Taylor Jr. The title is pretty misleading since it offers exactly the same assessment of Starr that Wittes and the Post editorial page cranked out regularly during the impeachment mess. To find Wittes' argument plausible you would have to believe that Starr is a complete idiot. This book can takes its place alongside Schmidt and Weisskopf's "Truth at Any Cost" as a disgrace to the once proud Washington Post.
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