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Starr Mocked Over ‘Ridiculous’ Impeachment Argument

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Bringing Ken Starr on to President Donald Trump’s impeachment defense team seemed like a terrible idea from the start, and on Monday afternoon, the former independent counsel showed why.

As the former independent counsel who pushed for a slew of impeachment charges against former President Bill Clinton, Starr is in the odd position of having vigorously and publicly advocated for removing a chief executive under much less serious accusations that Trump now faces. So inevitably, his defense was going to draw accusations of hypocrisy.

Yet somehow, he didn’t seem to foresee this and try to mitigate the damage.

“The Senate is being called to sit as the high court of impeachment all too frequently,” he said. “Indeed, we are living in what can aptly be described as the Age of Impeachment.”

If it’s true that we live in the “Age of Impeachment,” then it’s clear that Starr is a big part of the reason why. As independent counsel, he lobbied ferociously for Clinton’s impeachment. And though there’s plenty of reason to believe that Clinton acted wrongly — he lied under oath and he had an affair with a young White House intern — his actions were far less relevant to his performance as president. The articles of impeachment Trump is faced with on abusing his power and obstructing Congress, on the other hand, go to the heart of presidential authority and the balance of constitutional powers.

And in fact, the Democratic Party was reluctant to impeach Trump and appeared prepared to let his conduct as described by former Special Counsel Robert Mueller report go unaddressed. Its reluctance was probably due, in part, to the fact that Starr’s own overly aggressive push for impeachment was seen as a political failure for Republicans.

But Starr didn’t stop there with his hypocrisy.

“A presidential impeachment is tantamount to domestic war,” he said. “It’s filled with acrimony and it divides the country like nothing else.”

He said he understood that by living through the Clinton impeachment “in a deep and personal way,” but he didn’t acknowledge his own central role in stoking that acrimony.

“I’m sorry, this is just too much to be smacked in the face with such chutzpah,” said Fordham Law Professor Jef Shugerman of Starr’s comments. “He’s 3 minutes into it with zero self-awareness. He is blaming the Independent Counsel Statute for it. What a pathetic man.”

“Straight faced #KenStarr requests Congress to practice ‘oversight’ of the president by a president who’s declared himself above the law and thumbed his nose at checks & balances is rich,” tweeted MSNBC contributor Maria Teresa Kumar.

Some even decided to add a laugh track to Starr’s speech:

“First of all, impeachment has not even remotely been normalized,” said former federal prosecutor Elizabeth de la Vega. “Second, could the Republicans not find ANYONE ELSE to give this ridiculous history lecture?”

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

How Did Jeffrey Epstein Escape Justice?

The case of super-rich sex offender Jeffrey Epstein is so disturbing, not only because dozens of women say he victimized them as young girls, and not only because he went almost unpunished, but because his wealth appears to have enabled his criminality for years. While the sources of Epstein’s enormous fortune remain mysterious and may never be fully revealed, it is vital that we learn how he eluded justice until now.

The answer may not lie among the prominent politicians, businessmen, scientists and entertainment figures once cultivated by Epstein. Names like Donald Trump and Bill Clinton always make titillating copy, especially in this sordid tale, and it isn’t surprising that coverage has focused on the two presidents. Perhaps seeking to deflect attention from Trump, Trump’s henchmen, such as political consultant Roger Stone (now under indictment) and former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker (who narrowly escaped indictment), have long tried to use Epstein to smear Clinton. And they have succeeded in spreading urban legends about Clinton and Epstein that bear little resemblance to the known facts.

Epstein loaned his airplane for several Clinton Foundation trips abroad, including at least one to Africa that he joined. He also gave financial assistance to the foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative. Clinton’s spokesman says that whenever they met, Clinton’s staff and Secret Service detail accompanied him. There is no evidence that Clinton knew of Epstein’s crimes or maintained the connection after those offenses were revealed.

As for Trump, he never needed Epstein to exercise his own troubling predilections and fantasies. He owned a modeling agency and a beauty pageant, often bragging how those enterprises gave him access to young girls without clothes. Indeed, he became infamous for intruding on the dressing rooms of the Miss Teen USA pageant. “You know, they’re standing there with no clothes,” he told radio personality Howard Stern in 2005. “And you see these incredible-looking women. And so I sort of get away with things like that.”

Getting away with things like that and much worse is what Trump has done all his life. The question of the moment is how Jeffrey Epstein could have gotten away with raping and trafficking minors — even after the authorities collared him.

At the center of that scandal is neither Clinton nor Trump but a trio of right-wing lawyers from Kirkland & Ellis, one of the nation’s most powerful law and lobbying firms. One of those lawyers is Kenneth W. Starr, who achieved a kind of fame as the independent counsel who pursued Clinton and sought his impeachment. Another was Starr’s partner Jay Lefkowitz, who joined Starr to defend Epstein against the charges he faced in Florida. And then there is Alexander Acosta, their old friend, hired to work at Kirkland & Ellis by Starr before winning appointment as U.S. attorney in Florida — and brokering the plea deal that saved Epstein from life in prison.

Although there is nothing unusual about lawyers negotiating with former colleagues who go on to work for the Justice Department, the circumstances surrounding Epstein’s deal deserve the most searching scrutiny. Undoubtedly, Epstein hired Starr and Lefkowitz to take advantage of their friendship with Acosta — but what remains to be determined is whether they violated ethical boundaries in securing his undeserved freedom.

According to the Miami Herald, Acosta met with Lefkowitz in October 2007 to negotiate a way out of his office’s 53-page draft sex trafficking indictment of Epstein. “Instead of meeting at the prosecutor’s Miami headquarters, the two men … convened at the Marriott in West Palm Beach, about 70 miles away,” where “a deal was struck,” the Herald reported. Epstein would plead guilty to state prostitution charges that freed him after only 13 months and allowed him to leave jail for his office six days a week. Moreover, according to a letter Lefkowitz wrote to Acosta, Acosta agreed not to inform “any of the identified individuals, potential witnesses or potential civil claimants” against Epstein about the sweetheart deal.

Legal ethics experts told The American Lawyer that the circumstances of the breakfast between Lefkowitz and Acosta were “troubling.” New York University law professor Stephen Gillers, a top legal ethicist, said that their meeting outside work hours at a “remote location … will inevitably suggest special treatment in the public’s mind and the appearance that Acosta was trying to hide his conduct.”

As Epstein’s prosecution finally moves forward in New York, the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility will investigate why justice was delayed and almost denied. The career attorneys there must stand firm against any interference by Attorney General William Barr, another Kirkland & Ellis partner who has already proved himself untrustworthy. Both he and Trump must back off — and let the truth emerge at last.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

IMAGE: Financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

 

 

Mueller Report: What Was Good For Clinton Is Good For Trump

This column first appeared on Creators.com.

When the Office of Special Counsel completes its assigned tasks and sends its findings to Attorney General William Barr, Americans will expect to learn what is in that document. Despite recurrent warnings that Barr can legally withhold some or even all of the “Mueller Report,” those expectations of transparency must be fulfilled.

The matters investigated by former FBI director Robert Mueller are so fundamental to the national interest that there is no alternative to full disclosure. It is a need that outweighs Justice Department policy designed to safeguard the reputation of individuals who are investigated but not charged with any crime.

Republicans seeking to protect Donald Trump from Mueller’s most damaging findings may cite that traditional policy to argue that Barr should refuse to release the final report that the Office of Special Counsel must send to him. But it is worth remembering how little attention was paid to such concerns when the partisan roles were reversed.

Almost exactly 17 years ago, on March 21, 2002, the Office of Independent Counsel released a five-volume, two-thousand-page-plus report under the anodyne title In re: Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan Association, the name of the tiny thrift institution that had financed Bill and Hillary Clinton’s ill-fated rural real estate investment — more popularly known as “Whitewater.” Given the failure to find any actual evidence that the Clintons had done anything wrong in that financial fiasco — except to trust their deranged partner Jim McDougal and lose about $40,000 — the final Whitewater report had to acknowledge their legal innocence.

But Robert Ray, the Republican prosecutor who had taken over preparation of the report from Kenneth W. Starr, deliberately sought to cast suspicion on the Clintons despite the fact that neither of them was ever charged in that investigation. (Ray may have believed that denigrating then-Senator Clinton would enhance his popularity among his fellow Republicans in New Jersey, where he was simultaneously seeking a U.S. Senate nomination, an ambition he abandoned within a few weeks.)

Throughout the final report’s tidal wave of turgid prose — at $73 million, or more than $33,000 per page, certainly among the costliest publications in human history — Ray tried to concede failure without exonerating the investigation’s main targets. To read the report was to see how stubbornly he and his fellow OIC prosecutors had evaded any obligation to simply admit that those targets were in fact innocent. Instead, the report repeatedly complained of “insufficient available evidence to establish [guilt] beyond a reasonable doubt” — and reviewed at great length all the evidence that supposedly indicated wrongdoing.

By March 2002, most Americans had long since forgotten what exactly Kenneth Starr, his persistent associates, and the Republicans who sponsored his inquest had ever hoped to prove. The Whitewater allegations were always vague and constantly shifting, as every headlined accusation quietly evaporated. The few clear and pertinent questions about the development deal and its financing were answered with finality by December 1995, a little more than a year after Starr took over the probe.

As the Whitewater final report showed, Starr’s prosecutors had spent years trying to prove that Hillary had once lied or concealed something — and to them the actual substance of the supposed lie didn’t really matter. They tried to prove that she had testified falsely about minor matters at her law firm, or whether McDougal had paid his legal bills on time. Taking up hundreds of pages of small print, Ray’s account of that phase of the investigation seemed numbingly pointless.

The notion that anyone might face criminal charges over such minutiae would have been hilarious, if it weren’t so sinister. Somehow the authoritarian style of prosecution didn’t seem to bother official Washington or the national press corps, which had swooned over every leak from Starr’s office.

In every respect, the matters currently under investigation by the Office of Special Counsel differ from the Whitewater fantasy. That “scandal” was inconsequential and essentially non-existent — while this scandal could hardly be more serious and pressing. The law is different now too, because the Independent Counsel Act was allowed to expire in 1999 after Starr’s embarrassing performance. Unlike the independent counsels of yore, mostly Republicans who ran rampant during Clinton’s administration, the special counsel is under direct Justice Department supervision and is expected to observe the department’s rules.

But if Attorney General Barr — or any other Republican official — argues that the president’s privacy must prevail over public interest in the Mueller final report, remember this. Their zealous prosecutors seized that last opportunity to tarnish Hillary Clinton in the Whitewater final report, although no charge could be sustained against her. And nobody in official Washington spoke a word of protest.

Epstein, Starr, Acosta And Male Privilege In The Age Of Trump

In the Age of Trump, it often seems that powerful, entitled men have taken to imitating the behavior of the great man himself: forcing themselves upon reluctant women (and sometimes girls), relying upon their power and money to protect them from the consequences. So go ahead and grab them, boys, because “when you’re a star, they let you do it.”

Maybe you could even let them touch your Super Bowl trophy — assuming that illegal Asian immigrants working 15-hour shifts in West Palm Beach “massage” parlors would have any idea what it represented. Apart from “big, strong me,” compared to “little, insignificant you,” that is.

Not a subtle message, actually.

“It’s unbelievable but apparently true,” comments feminist author Amanda Marcotte. “America’s intensifying wealth inequality has created a class of hyper-rich men who act like cartoon villains.”

She’ll get no argument from me. Trump hardly invented such practices, although he surely embodies them.

See, if women threaten to tell, there’s always a Michael Cohen around to bribe them into silence. And if things go seriously wrong, a randy billionaire can avail himself of the services of an Alan Dershowitz or Kenneth Starr — the brilliant advocates revealed last week as the brains behind convicted sex-trafficker Jeffrey Epstein’s secret sweetheart deal with federal prosecutors in the Southern District of Florida.

Think about it: the eponymous puritan scold behind the Starr Report (largely written by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh), humiliating Bill Clinton for his sweaty sexual sins. Then in 2008, Starr helped to arrange what a federal judge called a “calculated plan by the prosecutor” to allow billionaire financier Epstein to serve a mere 13 months in a private Palm Beach jail he left daily to visit his office, while keeping the arrangement secret from the teenaged girls who’d been his victims. (Not notifying them was the illegal part.)

Miami-based U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta, it’s reliably reported, “did not want bad publicity for Epstein, they did not want other perpetrators exposed and/or they did not want the victims to object.”

Acosta currently serves as President Trump’s secretary of labor.

Kenneth Starr, of course, subsequently went on to greater glory as president of Baylor University, where he distinguished himself by running on the football field in cheerleader garb before being removed in 2016 for helping cover up sexual assaults by football players.

Anyway, what a cast of characters: Kenneth Bleeping Starr, the perpetually indignant Alan Dershowitz, a Trump Cabinet secretary, and Epstein himself: a sleek, billionaire sex offender jetting about in his private airplane (which cynics dubbed the “Lolita Express”) with pals like Trump, Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew.

I ask you: If we can’t have televised congressional hearings about a scam like that, what’s the point of paying taxes?

But enough raillery. Back to the Super Bowl trophy and its humiliated owner, Robert Kraft: business tycoon, philanthropist, owner of the New England Patriots and longtime Trump crony. His company donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration; he’s a frequent guest at Mar-a-Lago, the very fattest of cats.

Humiliated, because until he asked his chauffeur to drive him from his $29.5 million Palm Beach mansion for a couple of furtive visits to the Orchids of Asia Day Spa, a strip mall “massage” joint in nearby Jupiter, Florida, Kraft was a well-respected (if not universally beloved) man.

Now, at age 77, he’s the punchline of a national joke. His seemingly inevitable election to the NFL Hall of Fame has been delayed indefinitely; he may never live to see it. I know: boo hoo-hoo.

The legal penalties are derisory for somebody of Kraft’s wealth. He and a couple of hundred other men (less prominent billionaires among them) are charged with misdemeanors. Fines of up to $1,000 and no jail time are the likely outcome — not much worse than a speeding ticket.

Indeed, the mystery is why a person of his means would frequent a sad-sack joint like Orchids of Asia. At $79 for an hour’s entertainment, if you’ve got the price of a modest lunch at a Palm Beach restaurant, they’ve got to let you do it — whatever it is you want these powerless victims of human trafficking to do.

And smile while they’re doing it.

Local cops have persuasively depicted the women as victims of a cynical, corrupt industry. “These girls are there all day long, into the evening. They can’t leave, and they’re performing sex acts,” a Vero Beach officer told The New Yorker. “Some of them may tell us they’re OK, but they’re not.”

Marcotte thinks it’s about the sadistic exercise of power. “At a certain point,” she writes, “it’s about being able to inflict cruelty.”

Absolutely. But it’s also about the many powerful men who are emotional cripples: incapable of experiencing the love of mature women they know first as the dearest of friends — the only form of sexual intimacy worth having.

IMAGE: Attorney Kenneth Starr speaks during arguments before the California Supreme Court in San Francisco, March 5, 2009. REUTERS/Paul Sakuma.