The first Starr I see tonight;
I wish I may, I wish I might,
Have the wish I wish tonight — Old English rhyme (amended)
By the time you read this our nation will have been put through the first week of only the third impeachment trial in our history. Our first impeached president, Andrew Johnson, was impeached because he fired his war secretary without notifying Congress. That move angered Congress to the degree where they reinstated the secretary. Johnson immediately fired him again. Congress reacted by voting to impeach Johnson. Johnson was acquitted by the Senate with only one vote to spare.
Most of us old-timers will remember the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton. That "high crimes and misdemeanors" involved illicit sex between Clinton and his intern and an attempt to cover it up. Clinton lied under oath about his sexual indiscretions and was impeached. He, too, was acquitted by the Senate (presumably because most of the male Senators could relate to lying about an affair). Perhaps the most significant result of this trial was that the prosecuting attorney, Ken Starr, made a name for himself.
Starr vigorously attacked Clinton for invoking executive privilege to block witnesses from coming forward. Starr demanded that witnesses be allowed to testify. The Democratically controlled Senate was not wild about the idea of more witnesses talking about Clinton's sordid behavior. Depending on which side you were on you either liked Starr or hated him. Some saw him as the champion for truth. Others saw him as a right-winger obsessed with sex.
What will be the impact of Ken Starr returning from the shadows of time to re-enter the world stage and represent Donald J. Trump in our third impeachment trial? That's hard to say. He's going to be in the awkward position of arguing against his positions he fought for in the Clinton case. This time Starr won't want witnesses testifying on the acts and deeds of our current president. He, and his fellow Republicans in the Senate, won't want to hear from John Bolton, Lev Parnas, Rick Perry, Mick Mulvaney, Mike Pence, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Pompeo, all of whom would very likely provide damaging testimony that might serve to solidify the case against the president's corrupt behavior.
"I do not see how this benefits President Trump," said Paul Rosenzweig, who served as a lawyer in Mr. Starr's investigation. "Throughout the Clinton impeachment, Ken Starr consistently opposed the invocation of executive privilege and called for all the witnesses to come forward. Trump will have a hard time squaring that historical record with his current conduct."
Like any good lawyer, Starr will attempt to draw a distinction between the two cases. He will likely argue that this case is different from the Clinton case and that invoking executive privilege and not calling witnesses this time around is perfectly fine. It's not fine, but that's what he'll argue for.
He'll be correct when he argues that this case is very different from the Clinton case. Clinton did what he did to hide an illicit affair. Clinton knew he had done wrong and was trying to save himself (and perhaps his family) from personal embarrassment. The only potential harm to the country was that Clinton might have put himself in a position where he could compromised and/or blackmailed.
In the current case we have a president accused of using his position to extort a "favor" from an allied president for his own personal and political gain; not for the benefit of America. Our president wanted dirt on a political opponent who the president believes could beat him in November. The clear difference between the two cases is that today's case is not just about the actions of one man covering up an affair (although this president has done that as well). This case involves many other people who are caught up in this scandal, a scandal that has put our nation and our democracy at great risk. Lying about an affair is not only a bad idea, it is a crime. Lying about compromising our national security, undermining our diplomats, coercing our ally, and possibly destroying our democracy seems as though would be a lot more serious.
Ken Starr, the man who once cried foul when President Clinton was obstructing Congress, invoking executive privilege and denying witnesses the opportunity to come forward, will now be defending these same actions. Does this strike you as hypocritical? It's no more hypocritical than the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Lindsey Graham, who 21 years ago said, "In every trial that there has ever been in the Senate regarding impeachment, witnesses were called. When you have a witness telling you about what they were doing and why, it's the difference between getting the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth." Yet today this same man is refusing to call any witnesses or read any documents.
I think all Americans wish the day would come when members of both parties will choose to put the interests of our nation ahead of their party's interest and their own personal interest, and seek to find the truth. Will this wish come true?
Probably not by wishing on this Starr.
Bob Stannard writes a regular column for the Banner.