Truth at Any Cost: Ken Starr and the Unmaking of Bill Clinton

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What drove the man who nearly toppled a presidency and forced the most serious constitutional crisis in twenty-five years? Conventional wisdom portrays Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr as a right-wing religious zealot out to destroy the president, and Bill Clinton as a victim whose only "crime" was a private indiscretion.

In Truth at Any Cost, two of America's preeminent investigative reporters, Susan Schmidt and Michael Weisskopf, reveal for the first time what really went on ...

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Overview

What drove the man who nearly toppled a presidency and forced the most serious constitutional crisis in twenty-five years? Conventional wisdom portrays Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr as a right-wing religious zealot out to destroy the president, and Bill Clinton as a victim whose only "crime" was a private indiscretion.

In Truth at Any Cost, two of America's preeminent investigative reporters, Susan Schmidt and Michael Weisskopf, reveal for the first time what really went on inside the Office of the Independent Counsel. The book details Ken Starr's motivations, his inner struggles, and his anguish as he comes under attack by Clinton's ferocious partisans. It goes behind the locked doors of Starr's office as prosecutors make the fateful decision to pursue the case against Clinton for lying to conceal his embarrassing affair with an intern half his age. Schmidt and Weisskopf lay bare what happened on the night when FBI agents first confronted Monica Lewinsky, how the White House launched a political jihad to survive, and how Starr's team agonized over Clinton's fate.

For four years, the bland, smiling man behind the investigation of President Clinton remained a mystery, both to many who supported him and to those who feared him. Until now. Truth at Any Cost shows Ken Starr in a new light: as an upright but politically naive prosecutor who withstood public vilification to pursue the truth—including what he and his deputies saw as the president's attempts to use the power of his office to thwart a legitimate inquiry. Here is an unblinking look at the battle between Starr's legal absolutism and Clinton's chronic evasions. It examines Starr's impassioned quest to bring the president to justice, and explains how Starr eventually became a casualty of his own mission, leaving the arena as bloodied as the man he had pursued.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Washington Post reporter Schmidt broke the Monica Lewinsky story; Weisskopf worked with her until joining Time. Their account of Clinton's impeachment will not be available for review prior to publication. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Forbes Magazine
Highly readable, well-researched, eye-popping account of how Independent Counsel Ken Starr and his colleagues pursued the case of President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060194857
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/26/2000
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.58 (h) x 1.14 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Schmidt and Michael Weisskopf, both award-winning investigative reporters, worked togethr at the Washington Post for several years until Weisskopf's move to Time in 1997. Schmidt broke the Lewinsky story in the Post in January 1998 and piled up scoops o every front. Weisskopf cowrot Time's 1998 Man of the Year story on Starr and is the coauthor(with David Maraniss) of Tell Newt to Shut Up.

Susan Schmidt and Michael Weisskopf, both award-winning investigative reporters, worked togethr at the Washington Post for several years until Weisskopf's move to Time in 1997. Schmidt broke the Lewinsky story in the Post in January 1998 and piled up scoops o every front. Weisskopf cowrot Time's 1998 Man of the Year story on Starr and is the coauthor(with David Maraniss) of Tell Newt to Shut Up.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Tortoise amd The Hare

Thursday, November 19, 1998, was the day Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr was scheduled to testify before the House Committee on the judiciary. It would be the first time most Americans got a hard look at the man who had been investigating William Jefferson Clinton for four long years, and the first time anyone heard him publicly make his case that the president had obstructed justice and lied under oath in attempting to foil Paula Jones's sexual harassment suitand hide his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. But Starr knew full well that much of the public had come to view him as a moralisticzealot, consumed by partisan disdain for his quarry and determined to bring him down no matter how problematic the evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors. Starr's motives and methods had been widely reviled, his work and character — and those of his aides — savagely attacked. Although he realized that his House testimony was an opportunity to put a human face on his office's work, Starr was a reluctant witness. He had hoped that his 453-page impeachment referral, the so-called Starr Report, would speak for itself and that he might avoid the political spectacle of testifying. He knew his appearance was risky: Everything — the fate of his entire case, his own reputation-depended on it. He hoped against hope that he would do no harm.

The pressure had been building for weeks, although, typically, he revealed little of the growing strain. Then, in early November, Starr was at a Washington dinner party with a group of old friends who began poking fun at his public image as a BibletotingPuritan. Starr exploded with anger, his eyes growing cold in a rare display of a temper the source of childhood tantrums-usually under firm control. Theodore Olson, one of Starr's friends from Ronald Reagan's justice Department, went home worried about Starr's frame of mind for the upcoming testimony. The next morning, he dialed 911 for public relations: a Dallas image—maker named Merrie Spaeth who had coached Starr during the Reagan years. "It's absolutely mandatory that Ken sit down and work with you, and the rest of us are going to conduct an intervention if he won't do it," said Olson.

The emphasis of style over substance was anathema to Starr. His idea of a good performance was scoring legal points with nine justices on the Supreme Court, as he had as George Bush's solicitor general, not seducing a television audience of millions into liking him. He tended toward pedantry in a world of sound bites, toward poorly timed smiles in a medium that rewarded control and grace. But this time — with a public relations insight that had eluded him far too often in recent months—Starr knew he needed all the help he could get. He agreed to meet Spaeth on November 16, three days before his date with the House.

Spaeth showed up at the Office of the Independent Counsel at 8 A.M. with a mission, she said, to teach Starr to present a "limited, modified version of substance," echoing the "limited, modified hangout" of Watergate fame. She sat him before a video camera as her assistant, Judy Nardella, subjected him to the sort of badgering he was likely to encounter at the hands of House Democrats: "Isn't it true that this is a personal vendetta against the president of the United States and this is about your own personal beliefs of how people should lead their lives like you're the sex police?" She would ask several questions, one after another, cutting Starr off before he had a chance to answer.

Spaeth put the tape on a monitor and asked Starr to watch it. He saw himself getting angrier and angrier. "Ken, I want you to tell me whether you like this person," said Spaeth. He understood, and began to listen carefully. Remember, she told him, the viewers will hear your replies as if they are directed at them, not at the prickly inquisitors a few feet away. If you look irritated in a close-up, they will take it personally.

She worked with him on how to maintain a pleasant facial expression. She advised him to speak in headlines incorporating a fact or two, something easily digested, then to back up a point with an anecdote or a quote. She stressed the power of repetition. "Keep reminding people that what you were doing was thorough, proper, fair, and appropriate," she said. After fourteen hours, Spaeth left, believing she had made progress.

But Starr still sought more coaching. He wanted to be ready for anything. His staff compiled four three-ring binders containing every conceivable question, on subjects ranging from the investigation of the president's relationship with Monica Lewinsky to alleged conflicts of interest involving Starr's private law practice. They played the roles of key Democrats to give practice sessions a real-life flavor. And they harshly criticized Starr's performance. "You're too programmed," complained Brett Kavanaugh, author of Starr's prepared remarks, at a final rehearsal the night before his testimony.

On November 19, Starr rose early. He put on a red tie chosen by his wife, Alice, and tucked three talismans — good luck notes from each of his children — into his breast pocket. At the office, he practiced his testimony one last time. Deputy W Hickman Ewing Jr. came in just before Starr left for Capitol Hill. He placed his right arm over the independent counsel's shoulder and prayed for him in the sunstreaked corner office overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue. "Lord, help me to guard my tongue, be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath", intoned Ewing, an evangelical lay minister. Then Starr left for his debut before the American people.

Ken Starr had come a long way since he first laid eyes on Bill Clinton. It was 1979, and Starr had checked into the Hyatt Regency Hotel on...

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 12, 2003

    Interesting account of a presidency

    I have read many Poli Sci books and accounts of various historical events; but, I found this book to be truly interesting. The book presents information in a concise manner and takes into account both sides of the story.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2000

    Unbelievable

    Susan Schmidt and Michael Weisskopf show their ability to write fiction; their ability to write factually is beyond their capacity.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2000

    Warning: May Cause Extreme Cynicism

    If you were like me, your perception of the whole Lewinsky scandal was shaped from CNN, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal or the riveting Congressional proceedings. This book takes you behind the scenes and into the minds and dark hearts of the people who were caught up in this scandal. At the end, the book doesn't seem to have any real heros. However, unlike the popular picture presented to us by the major media outlets we get different views of the two men who faced off--Clinton and Starr. Clinton and his staff are seen as much more vindictive, manipulative, and downright ruthless than anything that has been explained in to us in the mainstream media. This book will harden your heart to the cut throat business of politics practiced by the White House. And in the end it appear there were no winners or heros. Everyone seemed to have an agenda. The White House was determined to hide the truth at any cost. Starr appears as a lightweight rookie so far out of this league in this case that Clinton must have prayed for an independent counsel like him. The book is as chilling and frightening as any thriller I've read in years. It paints a picture of a government, media, and the judicial system spinning slowly out of control. God help us.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2000

    A true page turner!

    'In the March 2 New York Times an obviously confident White House aide casually describes 'our continuing campaign to destroy Ken Starr.''Wall Street Journal<P> Fast paced, dramatic and very well written, this extensively researched and responsibly sourced book places the reader in the middle of one of the most riveting historical incidents since Watergate. 'Truth at Any Cost' takes you inside the Office of the Independent Counsel, presenting the impeachment ordeal and the investigation that lead to it from the perspective of Kenneth Starr and his beleaguered staff. You will gain insight into what it was it like to make monumental decisions in middle of a political firestorm. You will learn how Kenneth Starr and his staff dealt with the personal and professional attacks by the White House that one Senator called, 'smash mouth lawerying' and Thomas Sowell described as similar to 'the two-minute hate in 1984.'<P> If you have the courage to examine your own assumptions and think beyond the one-dimensional, stereotypical and often biased portrayals of Ken Starr and his team that have been presented in other books on this topic, 'Truth at Any Cost' will not disappoint you. Better yet, the authors do not tell you what to think or what they think. They tell you what happened. No editorial embellishments are necessary because the true story is already replete with roller coaster emotions, reversals of fortune, victories and set backs, and many extraordinary and moving moments not previously reported. This is straight reporting at its finest. It all comes together into a real page turner that will give the discerning, open-minded reader a lot to think about.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2000

    Perfectly juxatposes a man who cannot lie with a man who cannot tell the truth!

    I have been riveted to the tapes I just puchased from BN. This book is incredible! I thought I knew a lot about this sad, sad affair. This is a fair, balanced treatment by reporters from one of the nations top newspapers, the Washington Post. You get the feeling these hard-bitten reporters wrote this book precisely because they thought they had seen it all, but discovered they really had not plumbed the depths of hubris until this Clinton/Lewinsky affair. Many poignant details emerge providing a human aspect to Starr and his lawyers. This human aspect has long been obscured by the White House soldiers and the 'war room' bent on destroying each lawyer professionaly and personally. Looks like the 'war room' is still at it. The first review could easily have been written by Carville or Blumenthal. There are also small, telling details about Clinton's character: He also cheats at golf. Who would have thought...? A good read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2000

    The plain facts - presented in a logical sequence

    The plain facts of the matter are presented very methodically and separate from perceptions of the authors. The best commentary covering the infamous scandal, surpasses even the Wall Street Journal editorial pages for its brilliance.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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