Myth: Starr’s crooked investigation doesn’t invalidate his findings.
Fact: Cases are frequently dismissed for improperly gained evidence.
Although Starr's investigation seemingly produced accurate evidence, it didn't, for several reasons. First, improperly gained evidence is inadmissible in court. Second, if the rule of law applies to Clinton, it must apply to Starr's investigation as well. Third, there is indeed conflicting testimony between Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, and Starr's history of threatening witnesses until they give the kind of testimony he wants invalidates the testimony he received from Lewinsky.
Many on the right argue that even if Ken Starr’s investigation was corrupt or unethical, that is irrelevant. After all, he delivered the evidence, whose factualness wasn’t challenged by Clinton.
However, there are several things wrong with this argument. First, if evidence is improperly gained, then it is inadmissible in court. That is why courts release suspects who were not read their Miranda rights, or prohibit evidence that was obtained without a proper search warrant, or exclude confessions that were beaten out of the suspect. The legal precedent here is overwhelming, approved by the Supreme Court itself: the criminal justice system must be clean, fair and ethical before it can start prosecuting suspects.
Some might complain that this policy often lets a guilty suspect go. But there is a good reason behind this principle – indeed, a cherished American tradition. And that is that a crooked criminal justice system actually releases more crooks and punishes more innocent people than otherwise. For example, an innocent suspect may confess to guilt to avoid a beating. Or a crooked cop can plant evidence on an innocent party. Or he may let a serial thief go, as long as the thief pays him a percentage. True, sometimes the corruption might be in the "right" direction, like a policeman beating a confession out of a guilty suspect. But in that case, for any given suspect, innocent or guilty, justice becomes random. You don’t have to look far to see the results of such an arbitrary police state: Nazi Germany.
Second, conservatives who charge that Clinton broke the rule of law are hypocritical when they defend Starr breaking the rule of law to secure his evidence. If "the end justifies the means" is good enough for Starr, then it should be good enough for Clinton.
Third, in Starr’s specific case, we have good reason to distrust his evidence. Although President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky now agree that they had an affair, they still disagree on other points of their testimony, like when their affair began and how physically reciprocal Clinton was. Starr presented these differences as evidence of perjury on Clinton’s part. But how are we to trust Ms. Lewinsky’s testimony, if Starr used such heavy-handed threats and intimidation to make her "cooperate" with his investigation? William Ginsburg, Lewinksy’s former attorney, reported: "Repeatedly during discussions with [Starr] we have been squeezed… The Office of Independent Counsel [conducted an] orchestrated campaign to pressure Ms. Lewinsky into statements that are not true." (1)
We know that Starr tried to get Sarah Hawkins to confess to a felony that she didn’t commit, threatening her with indictment if she didn’t. (Later she found out they didn’t have one shred of evidence.) We know Starr repeatedly tried to get Steve Smith to sign a document claiming knowledge of Clinton's actions that Smith knew was completely untrue; Starr threatened to subpoena and browbeat his 70-year old mother if he didn’t. We know Starr kept trying to make Susan McDougal admit to an affair with Clinton that she never had, and jailed her for 18 months for refusing to say she did. And Starr’s prosecutors were known to be on the vicious side, wearing guns, shouting, bullying and threatening their victims with 27-year prison sentences if they didn’t "cooperate." But once he received the kind of testimony he liked, Starr tried to use the differences with Clinton’s testimony to prove perjury. This is an illegitimate method of investigation.
In response, conservatives point out that Clinton could correct any coerced testimony by calling the witnesses and cross-examining them. But the problem in Ms. Lewinsky’s case is that she reached an agreement with Ken Starr, trading her sworn testimony for immunity from prosecution. One of the stipulations of the agreement is that if Starr ever discovers she lied during her original sworn testimony, the immunity agreement is off. So Ms. Lewinsky now has an incentive to stick to her original testimony, coerced as it was, making any attempt at cross examination fruitless.
The bottom line: Ken Starr’s method of investigation deeply affected its results.Return to Overview
1. CNN, January 23, 1998.