Cover image for Contempt : a memoir of the Clinton investigation / Ken Starr.
Contempt : a memoir of the Clinton investigation / Ken Starr.
Publication Information:
New York, New York : Sentinel, [2018]
Physical Description:
xiv, 338 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
973.929 STA Book Adult General Collection

On Order



Twenty years after the Starr Report and the Clinton impeachment, former special prosecutor Ken Starr finally shares his definitive account of one of the most divisive periods in American history. Starr's narrative includes behind-the-scenes details that have never before emerged, as well as a new analysis from the perspective of history. With today's headlines filled with debates about presidential abuse of power, sexual harassment, and what actions actually justify impeachment, Starr's story and insights have become more relevant than ever.

Author Notes

Kenneth W. Starr served as independent counsel, investigating the Clinton Administration, from 1994 to 1999. He was Time's co-person of the year (with President Clinton) in 1998. His distinguished legal career also includes stints as solicitor general under George H.W. Bush, as a federal court of appeals judge, and as a clerk to former Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger. He served as president of Baylor University from 2010 to 2016.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

The investigation that set the pattern for grandiose inquisitions of small-time presidential misdeeds is revisited in this self-righteous memoir. Starr recalls his controversial 1995-1999 stint as independent counsel probing President Bill Clinton's involvement in the Whitewater real estate deal in Arkansas-he never found sufficient evidence to charge the president or First Lady Hillary Clinton-and affair with a White House intern. He portrays the investigation, which led to the president's impeachment for perjury and obstructing justice, as a crusade for judicial integrity, painting Bill as a charming dissembler and describing Hillary as "smug," "unlikable," and "vulgar." The title is drawn from "contempt" for the law; in Starr's telling, the Clintons lied, hid documents, offered hush money, smeared opponents, and stonewalled investigators with executive privilege claims. Rebutting accusations of partisan bias and persecutory zeal-filmmaker Michael Moore ambushed Starr with actors in Puritan costumes screaming "Witch hunt!"-Starr portrays himself as the victim of a "campaign of character assassination" and argues that the impeachment ordeal could have been avoided "if the president had simply told the truth." Starr's narrative and justifications are clearly expressed, but even in his defensive account, the investigation often feels like a punitive, disproportionate pursuit of people for lying about underlying "crimes" that seem trivial to nonexistent. Readers may be left with lingering questions about the investigation's wisdom. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.



CHAPTER NINETEEN Monica Early on the evening of Thursday, January 15, Jackie Bennett, accompanied by Stephen Bates, a Harvard- educated member of the brain trust, met with Eric Holder at his office on the fourth floor of Main Justice. Bennett presented the situation while Bates took copious notes. Bennett knew Holder well from their service together in the Public Integrity Section of the DOJ. He liked Eric, but thought he was a better politician than prosecutor. Holder assiduously cultivated an image of savvy- lawyer- about- town, often getting photographed for puff pieces that law firms loved to display in their waiting rooms and wave about to clients. Eric had enjoyed a meteoric rise in four years to become deputy AG. They explained we were happy to pass off the investigation to the DOJ, if that was what the Main Justice leadership deemed appropriate. In fact, on balance, that was what I preferred. Holder listened carefully, posed a few questions, and went up the private elevator to the fifth floor to talk to his boss. Bennett and Bates left. Later that evening, word came from Holder. The Attorney General agreed we should continue with the investigation, at least temporarily. She would seek an expansion of jurisdiction from the Special Division judges on an expedited basis. A senior DOJ prosecutor, Josh Hochberg, who I knew well, came to our offices to meet with our prosecutors and review the situation. He listened to the tape from the body wire. On the morning of Friday, January 16, the judges quickly gave their approval. "The Independent Counsel shall have jurisdiction and authority to investigate to the maximum extent authorized by the Independent Counsel Reauthorization Act of 1994 whether Monica Lewinsky or others suborned perjury, obstructed justice, intimidated witnesses, or otherwise violated federal law . . . in dealing with witnesses, potential witnesses, attorneys or others concerning the civil case Jones v. Clinton." Again, we had to move fast. Tripp was scheduled to meet Lewinsky that day for lunch at the Ritz- Carlton. Our team dubbed the operation "Prom Night." Fresh from the gym, wearing purple sweats, Monica arrived. After Monica and Linda had chatted for a short time in the lobby, by predesign Steve Irons and several other FBI agents swept in. Identifying themselves, they did not place Monica under arrest, but simply invited her and Tripp to accompany them. Our team of prosecutors awaited the women's arrival in two adjoining hotel rooms on the tenth floor. I was standing by in my office. When they arrived upstairs, Monica turned on Tripp in a fury. She realized she'd been set up. In one room, Binhak interviewed Tripp for several hours; she left the hotel at 4:00 p.m. In the other room, Mike Emmick led the charm offensive with Monica. With FBI agents taking notes, the prosecutors explained their mission. Monica had a choice: She was facing federal charges of perjury and subornation of perjury. She could cooperate and in return receive consideration regarding whether and how we would charge her. The negotiating team was authorized to offer her complete immunity if necessary to secure her cooperation. For an hour, Monica screamed, she cried, she pouted, and complained bitterly about her scheming, no‑good, so‑called friend. After a while, she calmed down and began asking questions. The meeting turned into a marathon. At one point, she wanted to call the lawyer who had drafted the false affidavit, Frank Carter. We made it clear she wasn't under arrest. She was free to leave, and she was free to call Carter. We gave her the number of the public defender's office. Our goal was to achieve her honest cooperation. At about four, Monica asked to consult with her mother, who was living in New York. We immediately agreed. Monica phoned her outside our presence. Before long, Monica announced that her distraught mother was coming to Washington. Since her mother refused to fly, she was taking the next train from Manhattan. She would then find her way as quickly as possible to the hotel. Wisely or not, we went along. We thought it was a good sign that her mother, Marcia Lewis, was rushing to be at her daughter's side. It was perfectly understandable, but we now faced a long delay. Monica refused to decide what to do without parental input and guidance. In the company of Binhak, who was the youngest on our team, Monica strolled through the mall, shopped at Crate & Barrel, had a leisurely coffee. The conversation was all small talk. They returned to the hotel to await her mother's arrival. Monica sat in a chair reading the Bible while Binhak tried to find something suitable on TV to watch. He clicked until he found an old movie with Ethel Merman singing "God Bless America." Jackie Bennett, the former tight end, came in to play the heavy. Monica again mentioned her desire to call her civil lawyer. He shrugged and said okay. They dialed the office number for Carter; he'd left for the day, so Monica left a message. Not long after that, Monica said she wanted to go out for a walk. Binhak went downstairs with her and told her she was free to roam around the mall. He made it clear she wasn't under arrest. Monica nodded and walked through the lobby. Tired of babysitting her, Binhak turned to go back upstairs. But seeing Monica headed to a bank of pay phones, he held back. He saw her dial, then talk into the phone. She spoke for a few moments, then hung up. Binhak learned she had called a White House number for Betty Currie and got an answering machine. She hissed "Hoover, Hoover" into the phone, as if she were speaking in code, which she later explained meant the FBI, as in J. Edgar. She was trying to warn the president before his deposition in Paula Jones's lawsuit the following day. Nobody got the message, apparently-- or if they did, they didn't understand it. From my office, I was on the phone with our on‑‑the- scene team throughout the day. But I ventured nowhere near the Ritz- Carlton. As the afternoon dragged on, the team grew frustrated. We were now at a standstill. Marcia Lewis arrived about 10:00 p.m. Mother and daughter went out into the hallway to talk. They did not keep their voices down. Binhak heard Mrs. Lewis urging Monica to cooperate. "You are in peril here," she said. "Give them what they need." "I will not be the one who brings down this f****** president!" Monica shouted. We had given Monica lots of time to think it over. She knew what she wanted to do, and who she was determined to protect. Monica overruled her mother. She would fall on her sword rather than implicate the president of the United States. It was becoming increasingly clear: in thinking she was a naive, starstruck young woman in love who would quickly cooperate, we underestimated her. In her determination to protect the president, Monica kept a team of experienced FBI agents and career prosecutors twiddling their thumbs for much of the day. She was searching for the perfect solution. Monica doubtless calculated that if she could maneuver the situation, she would skate from criminal prosecution and at the same time not turn on the president. Marcia and Monica called Monica's father, Bernard, a highly successful physician in Beverly Hills, who had remarried. Dr. Lewinsky said he would send his family lawyer to Washington right away. Our high hopes for a quick resolution had been cruelly dashed. Monica had now lawyered up. We could no longer communicate with her directly. Without the benefit of Monica's cooperation, we simply awaited the results of the following day. Who knew what Clinton might do? Perhaps he would come to his senses, and, at long last, settle the long- running Jones litigation "on the courthouse steps."   CHAPTER TWENTY Explosion On Saturday, January 17, not knowing about Monica and Prom Night, President Clinton sat down for his deposition in the Jones case accompanied by his personal lawyer, Bob Bennett. The president did not come to his senses. He did not enter into an eleventh- hour mediation to resolve the case. Clinton could have done so, because Chief Judge Susan Webber Wright had flown from Little Rock at the president's request to preside over the deposition. But he chose a foolhardy course. He believed he could lie his way out of it. After taking an oath to tell the truth, he read a definition of sexual relations provided by Judge Wright. The definition was thorough and explicit. Clinton denied he had any sort of sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. But he was alarmed by the specificity of some of the questions about whether he had ever been alone with Monica, if he had given her any gifts. Specifically, had he given her a book by Walt Whitman? It was obvious someone knew a lot about Monica and had suggested telltale questions for Jones's lawyers. Before the deposition was over, Bob Bennett read Monica's affidavit into the record. The president testified that it was accurate. Bennett then introduced the document as an exhibit. He said his client was fully aware of the contents, and "there is absolutely no sex of any kind, in any manner, shape or form with President Clinton." Of pivotal importance, the president flatly stated that he and Monica had never been alone together, other than for a possible pizza delivery. The deposition ended, with Judge Wright directing the parties not to reach out to any potential witnesses. Clinton wasted no time in disobeying the judge's order. He summoned Betty Currie to come to the White House the following day. We later learned that Clinton carefully rehearsed a false narrative with Betty. He also asked her to try to get in touch with Monica, but none of her many calls and pages were returned. Meanwhile, Tripp had delivered to our office the first batch of telephone conversations she had recorded with Monica. They buttressed Tripp's account of the women's friendship-- and Monica's relationship with the president. On Sunday, January 18, Monica's lawyer, Bill Ginsburg of Los Angeles, arrived at our offices for an initial background briefing with our prosecutors. He quickly became contentious. To our chagrin, we learned that he was a medical malpractice attorney and did not know the ropes. Our prosecutors were unsure that he and they were speaking the same language. Late that day, Matt Drudge broke the story on his internet platform. The Drudge Report said that Newsweek had killed a report by Michael Isikoff that Clinton had an affair with a former White House intern, and that recordings of "intimate phone conversations exist." Ginsburg returned to our office on Tuesday at 5:00 p.m., accompanied by Monica. Moderately heavyset, bespectacled, with a closely cropped salt- and- pepper beard, he went into the conference room with Jackie Bennett and Bittman, while Monica sat in our waiting room and thumbed through magazines. I was standing by in my office as the final arbiter, allowing the process to run its course. I emerged into the hall, caught a glimpse of her from a distance, and went into another prosecutor's office to carry on. I was naturally curious, but I wanted the career prosecutors to come to their own judgments and recommend a course of action. My colleagues emerged and told me that while the meeting had not gone well, it wasn't a disaster. The negotiation process would continue. I didn't worry. We were in a position of strength. We had the goods: Tripp's testimony, our own experience with Monica at the Ritz- Carlton, and the tapes. But at the same time, we wanted to secure Monica's cooperation in a professional way and ensure she would be truthful. Our negotiations with Ginsburg dragged on over the next week. Even with the frustrating delay, we remained willing to grant Monica immunity. But we first needed a face‑to‑face interview to assess her credibility. Ginsburg offered only a vague and amorphous written statement, and he was exceedingly reluctant for us to interview her. It became apparent that the brash Ginsburg was in over his head. Criminal law is a specialty, just like malpractice. Why had Dr. Lewinsky, a respected specialist, retained an utterly unqualified if otherwise capable lawyer to handle a case outside his area of expertise and jurisdiction? It made no sense. However, Ginsburg showed no sign of modesty. His cockeyed proposals for securing Monica's immunity in exchange for her cooperation were unrealistic in the extreme. No one on our team was buying what Ginsburg was peddling. Sam Dash was deeply involved in our deliberations. He got visibly agitated in the face of Ginsburg's incompetence. How, in the potentially biggest presidential scandal in an entire generation, could a "med mal" lawyer parachute in from Los Angeles and instantly become a high- powered criminal practice attorney in the nation's capital? It was baffling. As we reviewed his proposals, Ginsburg was in effect asking us to buy a pig in a poke. Monica would get an immunity bath, and we'd get an ambiguous story that was largely contradicted by the detailed revelations in the Linda Tripp tapes. As her lawyer, it was Bill Ginsburg's duty to keep a laserlike focus on her interests, to get a deal to deliver his client out of harm's way. He was balking at the necessary steps to accomplish that. We were left to wonder why. Immunity deals are a part of prosecutors'-- and defense attorneys'-- daily work. For whatever reason, Ginsburg was not conducting himself in the way criminal lawyers ordinarily do. To our veteran prosecutors, Ginsburg's unreasonable position suggested the possibility that Monica was dictating terms to her lawyer. The story of "the President and the Intern" erupted into the mainstream press, with a headline that hit the Washington Post on January 21: Clinton accused of urging aide to lie; Starr probes whether president told woman to deny alleged affair to Jones's lawyers. Excerpted from Contempt: A Memoir of the Clinton Investigation by Ken Starr All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.