Hillsdale students will be studying the case law that emerges from the aftermath of the Mueller investigation, Ken Starr said in a lecture hosted by The Federalist Society on Thursday.
The former Solicitor General gave a lecture titled “Investigating the President: From Ulysses S. Grant to Robert Mueller,” where he drew from his own experience to give context to the Mueller investigation. The talk was hosted by the Federalist Society on Feb. 28.
Starr is best known as the head lawyer of the independent counsel that directed the investigation that led to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. He was most recently the president of Baylor University in Texas.
After recounting the story of the Saturday Night Massacre, which occurred during the throes of the Watergate scandal in the 1970s, Starr brought up the Ethics and Government Act, which was passed by Congress in 1978 in reaction to the Nixon administration’s conduct.
“Part of the Ethics and Government Act was the creation of what became known as the independent counsel provision, and I stand before you as someone who was a veteran of having served under that statute,” Starr said.
Part of the act requires the attorney general of the U.S. to investigate allegations against the executive branch by appointing a special prosecutor.
“The appointment of an officer to carry out very important functions: That’s the job of the president of the United States and those who report to him,” Starr said. “And so, not surprisingly, there was a constitutional challenge to the special prosecutor/independent counsel statute.”
The statute was upheld in a 7 – 1 decision, with Justice Anthony Kennedy recusing himself. Justice Antonin Scalia was the only dissenting vote.
Starr mentioned that one of the things Scalia had issue with was the part of the statute that required the independent counsel to report to Congress.
“One of the things that he said in his opinion that directly relates to what we are experiencing right now in eager anticipation of the Mueller Report is that this statute is ‘acrid with the smell of impeachment,’” Starr said. “Let that sink in. What this tool is, this independent counsel statute, supposedly an instrument of reform, is actually a mighty weapon that Congress is wielding against the presidency.”
That very statute that Scalia condemned made Starr’s name synonymous with the Lewinsky scandal.
“You know there was this thing called the Starr Report — that was the report sent out to the House of Representatives — because there was a specific statutory command to all independent counsels,” Starr said. “So it fell to our lot in the office to prepare this much-criticized report, not for its factual inaccuracies — its factual accuracy has stood the test of time. It was just ugly and unpleasant and salacious. People didn’t like that, and I didn’t like that either. You think it’s unpleasant to read; imagine what it was like to have to write the nonsense, but it was truthful.”
Fast-forwarding to 1999, Starr mentioned a set of new regulations made under former Attorney General Janet Reno that curtailed the power of the independent counsel. Under these regulations, the special counsel had to seek and accept the Justice Department’s guidance on any investigation.
“These regulations are still in place. And it’s under them that Rod Rosenstein appointed Bob Mueller to the special counsel,” Starr said. “When you read the regulations, the regulations say Bob Mueller is to provide a confidential report to the attorney general of the United States. Then the attorney general, under the regulations, is not to send that report to Congress. He’s supposed to notify Congress, but it is not provided in the regulations that he send a fulsome report to Congress.”
Starr then mentioned that Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, in direct violation of the Reno regulations, said just two weeks ago that if Congress is not granted information from the Attorney General regarding the Mueller Investigation, they will use their subpoena power and litigate if need be.
“I guess you can say, ‘Well, Congress has that power,’ but there are privileges enjoyed by the executive branch in dealing with the Congress,” Starr said. “My dear friends, by the time you’re in law school, you’ll be studying the litigation and the case law that emerges out of this.”
Starr finished his talk by saying he wanted students to think of these events not in terms of news breaking, but in how they will be handled under our constitutional structure, which was created to prevent the aggregation of too much power in a single branch.
“Stay tuned. We’re told that the Mueller report may be available next week, so fasten your seatbelts,” Starr said.
Students who attended the talk responded favorably to Starr and his message.
“You hear a lot of people talking about the investigation, and they all have their own opinion, but you don’t often have someone as qualified as him, having been the actual person who’s done it before — he’s got a unique perspective,” said freshman Joseph Hoppe.
Sophomore Emma Eisenman said she liked that Starr implied that corruption in government is fueled by the exploitation and perversion of constitutional principles.
“I thought it was very important not just how he outlined the corruption within so many presidential terms, but how he linked it back to our constitutional structure, and how our government has fought that constitutional structure throughout history.” Eisenman said. “The constitution lays out the fundamental principles of our country, and we haven’t always followed the rules. These are things we should think about especially moving forward because they will determine where this country is going.”