And the Horse He Rode in On: The People v. Kenneth Starr

And the Horse He Rode in On: The People v. Kenneth Starr

by James Carville

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...And the Horse He Rode In On gives the first full accounting of what's really behind the longest-running, most expensive dirty trick in politics: Ken Starr's investigation.



...And the Horse He Rode In On gives the first full accounting of what's really behind the longest-running, most expensive dirty trick in politics: Ken Starr's investigation.

Editorial Reviews

Francine Prose
An oddly entertaining cross between a vitriolic rant and a legal brief. . . —People
Jonathan Lear
. . . [D]oesn't pretend to be anything other than it is: a full-throttle partisan critique, a loud cry of 'foul play!'. . . .this is what it would be like to read The New York Post if it were owned by a billionaire Friend, rather than Enemy, of Bill. —The New York Times Book Review
Will Lee
Dependin upon your political proclivities, you'll find yourself either nodding along approvingly or just nodding off.
Entertertainment Weekly
Chris Lehmann
Let's be clear: Kenneth Starr is an unpalatable goon. His stem-winding investigation, his extracurricular partisan political interests, his eager way with the titillating, his mind-bending conflicts of interest -- all have lowered the ever-diminishing standards of American political discourse.

Acknowledging this, however, does nothing to alleviate the sad condition of our republic. And using it to shore up the reputation of a mendacious, reckless, unprincipled and narcissistic chief executive is an exercise in political denial. Indeed, in the grand tradition of all conspiratorial political reasoning, it makes the demonized Starr even more powerful than he is imagined to be, by bullying citizens into the game of interminable cabal-spotting.

To prove this obvious point, we now have James Carville's ... And the Horse He Rode in On, a hastily assembled compendium of Starr sins, Starr gaffes and Starr-centered webs of guilt-by-association. Indeed, in its attention to lurid detail, its insinuative style of argument and its rock-solid assurance that the Truth resides in the most furtive corners of public life, Carville's book resembles nothing so much as the Starr Report itself, though it is mercifully far briefer and far less assiduously footnoted.

Carville, a former Salon columnist, had declared war on the independent counsel investigation long before Monica Lewinsky was even a gleam in Lucianne Goldberg's eye. In 1994, when Robert Fiske was dismissed from the Whitewater inquiry and Starr named his successor, Carville set about putting the pieces together. He read in the following day's paper that the appointment of Starr was engineered by federal judge David Sentelle, who was seen having lunch with Sens. Lauch Faircloth and Jesse Helms, both North Carolina Republicans. Five months later, Sentelle's wife was hired to work in Faircloth's office.

Carville admits he has no idea what was discussed at this lunch, and he neglects to inform readers that this was duly investigated back in 1994 for the appearance of a conflict, and that charges were summarily dropped by the presiding judge (a Carter-appointed Democrat). But even viewing things in the most sinister possible cast, are we really to believe that a federal judge brokered a deal to overhaul the most high-profile olitical investigation of our day so that his wife could get an office job? This claim is every bit as wacky as the loopy Arkansas Project efforts to tar Clinton as a drug-running, murderous, ex-crazed Caligula. And yet it is, in Carville's telling, the font from which Starr's runaway investigation springs. The details Carville goes on to cobble together will be familiar to readers of this Web zine: There is Richard Mellon Scaife, the dollar-spigot of the Clinton-hating right. There is David Hale, in all his truth-challenged glory. There is a bait shop. But, not surprisingly, the unlovely nub of truth in the Starr investigation gets cursory treatment. As is always the case with conspiracy-mongering, citizens are left to ponder stubborn, public truths that defy the logic of the cabal: Monica Lewinsky did lie under oath about her affair with the president. Her swain followed suit. Betty Currie, the president's secretary, did fetch items from Lewinsky's apartment that were evidence of the affair. And of course, for eight months the president egged on members of his administration in dishonest denial and conspiracy-spotting, knowing all the time that he was lying, and hanging loyal supporters out to dry.

What are readers of ... And the Horse He Rode in On to make of these conspicuously omitted facts? Asked on the 'Today Show' if lying about an affair was grounds for pressing for the president's resignation, Hillary Clinton replied, 'Well, I think if all that were proven true, I think that would be a very serious offense. That is not going to be proven true.'

Now, alas, the American public has before it the messy business of sorting out the value of truth in the age of Clinton. James Carville's conspiracy-addled speculations will help that project not one whit. -- Salon

Ft. Worth Star Telegram
Carville may not speak softly, but he carries a big swatter.

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He Crawled from the Deep: Ken Starr and Whitewater

As with mosquitoes, horseflies, and most bloodsucking parasites, Kenneth Starr was spawned in stagnant water.

The independent counsel first emerged on the national scene in 1994 to investigate Whitewater, a failed Arkansas land deal that dated from 1978 in which the President and the First Lady had the misfortune to lose an investment of $42,000. With the craven aid of a tightly knit gang of right-wing operatives, Ken Starr came forth like the Creature from the Black Lagoon, hell-bent on terrorizing the inhabitants of Little Rock in a single-minded quest to defame the President of the United States.

And so before we look at Starr's more recent deceptions, intimidations, and screwups, it's important to revisit this old Arkansas haunt for a spell. Like me, most of you have heard so much mind-numbing blather about Whitewater, the last thing in the world you want to do is take a trip back there. But bear with me here, because the origins of the Whitewater scam shed light not only on the early stages of the anti-Clinton media madness, but also on the independent counsel's countless conflicts of interest since the first days of his appointment. Over four years and $40 million after he first started peeking under stones in Little Rock, the only thing Ken Starr ever exposed was himself: the fact that his investigation was an absolutely baseless, politically contrived, right-wing-backed, taxpayer-subsidized smear campaign from the get-go.

According to the original article that let the monkey out of the cage (written by Jeff Gerth for the New York Times in 1992 and widely promulgated since by the Times, the Washington Post, and other purported bastions of national journalism), the Whitewater story goes a little something like this: In 1978, the Clintons, along with old friends Jim and Susan McDougal, invested some money in a real estate deal in the Ozark Mountains. When it turned out that the McDougals had no capital, then Governor Clinton may or may not have helped to secure a $300,000 loan for his business associates so they could attract more investors to the land deal, which, along with that original loan, eventually tanked.

Some have speculated -- wrongly -- that $50,000 of this bad loan went toward covering the Clintons' interests in Whitewater. Further baseless speculation claimed that Hillary Clinton, then an attorney for the Rose Law Firm, may have cooked the books on the Whitewater deal in order to cover up any evidence of Clintonian wrongdoing regarding that loan. Of course, there never was, nor has there ever been, any evidence of malfeasance by either the President or the First Lady. But that didn't stop the scandal-hungry media and Clinton-hating Republicans from crazy-legging for the end zone with the fable.

Sometime after Gerth's confused and confusing 1992 newspaper piece, the national press went into full-froth mode. While the Sunday morning pundits professed their shock and indignation for the television cameras, every major newspaper, magazine, and news program in the country sent its crack journalists to Little Rock to uncover the "truth" about a busted twenty-year-old land deal. It wasn't too long before publications across the country were jam-packed with badly reasoned, badly written stories by Bob Woodward wannabes, each one trying desperately to inject some life into an absurd heap of baseless, nonsensical allegations.

Woodward on Whitewater

While most of the media community has tried every which way to make a Watergate out of Whitewater, journalistic legend Bob Woodward sees the Whitewater investigation in a completely different light. When Woodward was asked to compare the two investigations on Larry King Live, the man who brought down Nixon had this to say about the allegations against President Clinton:

"No, [Whitewater is not like Watergate], because there are no tapes. There are no witnesses that are really credible, who are contemporaneous, to say 'I was there, and Clinton said, let's do this that's illegal, or let's do this that's corrupt.' And we have years of inquiries, and you have to think as a reporter on all of these things, you know, maybe he didn't do any of them.

"There are kinds of allegations that shoot all over the place all of the time, and no one is a greater repository of allegations than Bill Clinton. And no doubt some of them, or maybe lots of them, are false -- or maybe even all of them are false.

"But the things linger. There's no closure. All of the Clinton scandals, if you look at them, they've piled up. They're like airplanes circling National Airport, and none have landed."

For example, check out this howler penned by columnist Michael Kramer for Time magazine (and later dissected by Gene Lyons in his book Fools for Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater):

"[Whitewater is] different -- or could be -- because the wrongdoing (if there was any) may have involved abuses of power while Clinton was serving as Governor of Arkansas. On the other hand, Whitewater too is from the past. So even if the worst were proved -- and no one yet knows what that is -- the offense might not warrant impeachment [italics Lyons's]."

Hmmm...With all that crazy logic, all those ifs, mights, maybes, and could bes, it sounds like something that might've been written by Seinfeld's Kramer instead of Time's Kramer. Back when I was a student at LSU Law School, we had a saying: If "ifs" and "buts" were beer and nuts, we'd have ourselves a heck of a party. Nevertheless, wrongheaded reporters like Michael Kramer weren't the only ones to lose their minds over Arkansas real estate. Still nursing their wounds from the 1992 presidential election, the fringe right was champing at the bit to find anything, real or imaginary, that could take down America's new President.

When conservatives caught wind of Whitewater, they flocked to the rumors like Newt Gingrich to a plate of hot pork chops. Faster than you can say "media hype," the GOP was hollering louder than a stuck pig. Rush Limbaugh, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson spun the yarn endlessly to their sycophantic audiences, while Senator Alfonse D'Amato, never one to miss a chance for free publicity at someone else's expense, initiated congressional hearings in order to have his face plastered all over C-SPAN.

With the knee-jerk help of the editorial departments of the scandal-hungry national press, the GOP soon raised such a racket that the able, conscientious, and long-suffering U.S. attorney general, Janet Reno, was politically compelled to appoint an independent counsel.

When Reno settled on Republican attorney Robert Fiske to look into Whitewater, there was a lot of rejoicing among conservatives. Senator Bob Dole remarked that "People who know him think he is extremely well-qualified [and] independent." Self-styled Whitewater conspiracy theorist Al D'Amato gushed that Fiske was "one of the most honorable and skilled lawyers." (It should be noted that D'Amato received $3,000 in campaign donations from Mr. Fiske.) "He is a man of enormous integrity," remarked the Republican senator from New York. "He's fine, he's talented, he is a man of great loyalty."

Unfortunately for the country at large, the fringe right was not so pleased with the credentials of Mr. Fiske. These folks, having gone to the considerable trouble of contriving and publicizing bogus criminal acts related to the Whitewater deal, hated seeing any independent counsel appointed (no matter that he was a good GOP member) who might discover how insignificant the whole episode truly was. Although Mr. Fiske had contributed several thousand dollars to Republican candidates and committees over the years, he still wasn't partisan enough to satisfy the wacko right. What the anti-Clinton crazies wanted was a real old-school hatchet man. And there was no one more qualified to dig one up than Jesse Helms.

Take Your Toys and Go Home

Although the cries for Robert Fiske's removal came most loudly and hysterically from the far right, a few national newspapers also joined in this caterwauling chorus. The Wall Street Journal, in particular, painted Fiske as Public Enemy No. 1. The Journal's editorial page attacked Fiske's decision to quit his private practice and called his investigation a "cover-up" and an attempt at "political damage control."

Why such a bloodthirsty attack from such a respected broadsheet? Well, in his report to Congress on the suicide of White House counsel Vincent Foster, Fiske had numbered among the reasons for Foster's tragic death the many "mean-spirited and factually baseless" editorials of The Wall Street Journal. Apparently for the obstinate, conspiracy-minded editorial department of the Journal two wrongs, no matter how downright shabby or horrific their consequences, still make a right.

Helms and Lauch Faircloth, the unofficial spokesmen for the raving ultraright, paid a visit to a fellow Tarheel, Judge David Sentelle. But they weren't just paying a call on a neighbor for some iced tea. Helms and Faircloth don't go anywhere without a program, and they had one to share with Judge Sentelle. Judge Sentelle, by fortuitous coincidence, was head of a three-judge panel that oversees the independent counsel. And by an equally happy coincidence, Sentelle happened to have a cozy history with Senator Helms.

Not only is the good judge a member of Helms's conservative National Congressional Club and a longtime Helms supporter, but his very appointment to the federal bench was sponsored by none other than that esteemed senior senator from North Carolina. Heck, he even served on the appeals panel that overturned the conviction of that old renegade colonel and Iran-contra operative Oliver North.

How Helms Is He?

Make no mistake about it: When I say David Sentelle is an ultraconservative Helmsman, I ain't just whistling Dixie. For one thing, he served as the chair of the Mecklenburg County (Charlotte, North Carolina) Republican Party. Moreover, according to Rolling Stone magazine, not only did Sentelle refuse to resign his membership at some white-only private clubs during his confirmation hearing, he also penned the following words about country music for a 1981 book entitled Why the South Will Survive: "The main appeal of the music of the South is found among...the long-historied, little-loved descendants of the people who built half the civilized world -- the Anglo-Saxons."

And as if Kenneth Starr weren't enough of an attack on the President, David Sentelle and his cronies have appointed at least three other independent counsels in their apparent attempt to stymie the progress of the Clinton administration.

Now to this day nobody really knows what those three men discussed at their table. Sentelle declared that they spoke about cowboy gear and their prostates (a great lunchtime topic if you don't feel like eating much). But you've got to ask yourself, as I did, if it's possible that maybe, just maybe, North Carolina's dynamic Clinton-bashing duo put in a request for a more aggressive partisan prosecutor, one who would work harder to make a Niagara Falls out of Whitewater.

Well, all I know is what happened after that lunch: Less than a month later -- just eight months after Robert Fiske had been appointed as independent counsel -- Judge Sentelle suddenly fired Mr. Fiske for "perceptions of conflict" mainly arising from his having been appointed by Janet Reno. And then his wife got a nice job working for Senator Faircloth not too long after.

And by now, you know who Judge Sentelle's panel appointed in Fiske's place.

That Old Airport Clinton-Basher, Kenneth Starr.

Good people, I'll give it to you short and sweet. In the history of the independent counsel statute, there has never been a prosecutor appointed who's as fiercely partisan as Kenneth Starr.

That bears some repeating: Never In History.

It'd be one thing if the guy had gone to a few Republican rallies in his time, or had once argued a case adverse to the Clinton administration. But this was ridiculous. Between his private practice, his prior casework, and his ties to the GOP right wing, Ken Starr had more conflicts than a John Grisham novel.

In a recent, well-publicized interview, the now infamous independent counsel compared himself to Jack Webb of Dragnet, claiming he was interested in "Just the facts, ma'am." Well, Ken Starr ain't the only Dragnet fan in these parts. So, with a tip of the hat to Joe Friday, I reassembled the old Carville Rapid Response Team to see what they could find in the public record about Ken Starr.

Let me tell you, it didn't take very long before they uncovered quite a few unappealing facts about the appointment and tenure of our inglorious independent persecutor:

Copyright © 1998 by James Carville

Meet the Author

James Carville is the best-known and most-loved political consultant in American history. He is also a speaker, talk-show host, actor, and author with six New York Times bestsellers to his credit. Part of a large Southern family, he grew up without a television and loved to listen to the stories his mama told. Mr. Carville lives with his wife, Mary Matalin, and their two daughters in New Orleans.

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