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The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr Hardcover – February 16, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This book's readers will quickly think of water. Facts overwhelm you like Niagara. And when you've finished reading about President Clinton and special prosecutor Ken Starr, you may want to take a long shower. Gormley, a professor of law at Duquesne (Archibald Cox), reviews the entire sordid business of Clinton's foolishness and his enemies' efforts to bring down his presidency. It's not an edifying tale. Very few of the book's cast come off well, except for Secret Service officials and a judge or two. If there's a sympathetic character, it's Susan McDougal, who refused to rat on her friends. Starr makes error after error and confuses vindictiveness with duty. While not altering the basic story in any way, Gormley gains much from effective interviews 10 years after with participants and his use of newly available documents. While his book is too long, Gormley remains in control of the details, and this riveting first look at events that only future history will put into full relief shows how affairs of sex and enmity can become affairs of state. 24 pages of b&w photos. (Feb.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* In 1999, the shocking revelation of President Clinton’s affair with a White House intern captivated the nation and nearly sank his career as well as that of prosecutor Ken Starr. Legal scholar Gormley offers new revelations: Starr drafted an impeachment referral long before the Monica Lewinsky scandal emerged, and investigators considered indicting First Lady Hillary Clinton for Whitewater irregularities. Gormley draws on newly released documents, including transcripts of depositions and grand jury testimony, and interviews with major figures, including Clinton and Starr, to offer a deliciously detailed account of the investigation that nearly led to the impeachment of the president and continues to reverberate in American politics. Starr’s initial charge to investigate the Clintons’ involvement in Arkansas real-estate deals morphed into an investigation of the suicide of Vince Foster and Paula Jones’ allegations of sexual harassment and the ostensible connection of an affair with Lewinsky. Gormley chronicles the behind-the-scenes political machinations of Republican “elves” out to get the Clintons and White House efforts to save his presidency, playing out in a titanic political clash as Americans were repulsed by Clinton’s actions and Starr’s excessive zeal. Gormley recalls the missteps and irregularities on both sides as partisan politics poisoned efforts to get at the truth. Gormley is masterful at building the high drama of stranger-than-fiction political skulduggery and nuttiness with a cast of fascinating characters. --Vanessa Bush

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 800 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; First edition (February 16, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307409449
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307409447
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,031,597 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ken Gormley is a law professor at Duquesne University, specializing in constitutional law, as well as a nationally renowned expert on Watergate and special prosecutors. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Archibald Cox: Conscience of a Nation.

Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

73 of 84 people found the following review helpful By rbnn on February 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book, nearly 800 pages, analyzes in exhaustive detail Ken Starr's investigation as independent prosecutor of President Clinton.

Two things stand out about this book.

First, the colossal amount of research that went into it. Gormley interviewed not only all the major players in the events, including Starr, Clinton, and Monica Lewinsky, but also hosts of minor characters, relatives, attorneys, and the like. I have rarely read any book on any subject that interviewed so many different people in so much depth, many of them ordinarily difficult to find.

Gormley's extreme diligence pays off as he uncovers tragic but mesmerizing details that are not widely known. For example, he has a detailed account of Jim McDougal's death in solitary confinement including information based on his interviews with McDougal's prison psychologist. He also uncovered a report highly critical of the prosecutors' interrogation of Monica Lewinsky, which criticizes the prosecutors for continuing to question her after she had requested an attorney. What was particularly interesting is that the report was never released because, allegedly, its release would have violated the privacy, not of Lewinsky - but of her prosecutors! One of the most interesting features of this book is that while the FBI was devoting enormous investigative resources to the question of whether the president committed perjury in his Jones deposition, Clinton was sending missiles against al-Qaeda threats in Afghanistan. Some of the participants expressed exasperation that law enforcement did not consider anti-terrorism investigation a higher priority than the Jones deposition issues.

The second great thing about this book is that it's so clear and easy to read.
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84 of 98 people found the following review helpful By K. Kennemer on February 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've not finished this book yet, and bought it because of fine reviews I read elsewhere. It's good thing I took the time to read all the Amazon reviews; otherwise I wouldn't have known that the bad reviews were due to Kindle pricing, not book content. Why does Amazon allow this? Pricing complaints should be lodged elsewhere.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By John Cork on April 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book does much to illuminate the bizarre scandal that turned into a pathetic circus and sickened the nation. Strong partisans of either stripe will learn something from the wonderful research presented here. Ken Gormley interviewed the vast majority of the key players, often getting great raw material that sheds important light on the happenstance and malicious motives at play during the drama.

But there are omissions. Important omissions. Gormley does not mention, much less investigate James Carville's story that he met Ken Starr in October of 1993, where Starr launched into an attack on Clinton and announced, "You're boy's getting rolled."

He allows Starr and his prosecutors to go on for pages, repeatedly stating that they had no vendetta against Clinton, but saves for the final pages startling news of a non-partisan government investigation of Starr's office that seriously attacked their ethics, particularly in the way they tried to dissuade Monica Lewinsky from calling her attorney when cornered just before Clinton's deposition in the Paula Jones case.

Gormley also gets some interpretive facts wrong. He chastises the President for his anger in his August, 1998 television appearance after testifying to the Starr grand jury. Many commentators felt the same way. Gormley mentions, in passing, that Clinton's numbers did not fall after that appearance. Why? Because his mia culpa worked. It was honest. He was angry and he was sorry. Had he simply said anything that sounded like, "well, Ken Starr was justified in all his over-reaching," then he would have been forced out. He needed to be clear that he felt this was a private sin and that he and America should resent this kind of investigation.

The largest missing piece of the puzzle is the meta-analysis.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Hallauthor on July 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I'm a bit torn after reading Gormley's work. ( And apparently, I'm in the minority of reviewers. How can someone not appreciate the irony of reviewing a book they haven't read, or complaining about price to a forum that has nothing to do with pricing? ) I loved the read, had a hard time putting it down. But I had issues with a few aspects of the book that made it fall short of what it could have been:

1. As with another reviewer, I think the title is erroneously constructed. American virtue ( and I assume the writer is referring to the abject partisanship of the wars between right and left here, not Clinton's fleshly transgressions ) as such, was long dead. The days of the mentality of a "loyal opposition" began vanishing decades ago, and even if the author intended a reference to the lack of moral virtue displayed by Clinton, the record is established and vast about the peccadilloes of JFK, FDR, etc.

2. Gormley implies the objectivity of Ken Starr a little too easily. I found far too many quotes from Mrs. Starr, far too many testaments from Starr committee members to back up that observation. The facts of Starr's pre-appointment activities that Gormley freely documents should have given him more pause in this regard than they did. While Gormley documents the Starr committee's horrific treatment of the Secret Service during this time period, he does not hold Starr's feet to the fire enough for that course of action. This, more than anything, speaks to Gormley's ( albeit slight ) predisposition to accept Starr for what Starr represented himself to be.

3. Gormley takes Henry Hyde's words with near-gospel reverence, and Hyde unquestionably was as partisan as partisan can be.
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