Kenneth Starr Is Appointed to the Whitewater Investigation Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

A three-judge panel appointed Kenneth Starr as independent counsel to investigate whether U.S. president Bill Clinton broke any laws in a real estate project in Whitewater, Arkansas. For the next five years, Starr aggressively directed an investigation that moved well beyond Whitewater and into allegations that the president lied under oath about his sexual relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Summary of Event

From 1979 to 1989, Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton were business associates with Jim and Susan McDougal in the Whitewater Development Corporation, a failed real estate venture in Arkansas that resulted in the 1989 bankruptcy of the McDougal’s financial firm Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan and a federal government bailout of sixty million dollars. The Clintons claimed to have done nothing improper in the matter, suffering personal losses of more than forty thousand dollars. [kw]Starr Is Appointed to the Whitewater Investigation, Kenneth (Aug. 5, 1994) [kw]Whitewater Investigation, Kenneth Starr Is Appointed to the (Aug. 5, 1994) Lewinsky, Monica Starr, Kenneth Clinton, Hillary Rodham [p]Clinton, Hillary Rodham;and Whitewater investigation[Whitewater investigation] Whitewater investigation Clinton, Bill [p]Clinton, Bill;and Whitewater investigation[Whitewater investigation] Lewinsky, Monica Starr, Kenneth Clinton, Hillary Rodham [p]Clinton, Hillary Rodham;and Whitewater investigation[Whitewater investigation] Whitewater investigation Clinton, Bill [p]Clinton, Bill;and Whitewater investigation[Whitewater investigation] [g]United States;Aug. 5, 1994: Kenneth Starr Is Appointed to the Whitewater Investigation[02690] [c]Law and the courts;Aug. 5, 1994: Kenneth Starr Is Appointed to the Whitewater Investigation[02690] [c]Politics;Aug. 5, 1994: Kenneth Starr Is Appointed to the Whitewater Investigation[02690] [c]Government;Aug. 5, 1994: Kenneth Starr Is Appointed to the Whitewater Investigation[02690] [c]Sex;Aug. 5, 1994: Kenneth Starr Is Appointed to the Whitewater Investigation[02690] [c]Corruption;Aug. 5, 1994: Kenneth Starr Is Appointed to the Whitewater Investigation[02690] Fiske, Robert B. Sentelle, David B. McDougal, Jim McDougal, Susan

Kenneth Starr at a news conference in 1997 in Washington, D.C., announcing that he will remain lead counsel with the Whitewater investigation.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

In late 1993, David Hale, a banker who was under indictment for fraud, claimed that U.S. president Bill Clinton, while governor of Arkansas, pressured him into making an illegal $300,000 loan to Susan McDougal. Hearing of Hale’s claim, Washington Post;and Whitewater investigation[Whitewater investigation] The Washington Post called for an investigation, but one without the U.S. Department of Justice, to establish whether Clinton had been a part of the Whitewater venture.

In January, 1994, Clinton’s advisers convinced him to ask U.S. attorney general Janet Reno to appoint a special prosecutor. For the task, Reno appointed Robert B. Fiske, a moderate Republican lawyer. On the last day in June, Fiske issued two reports: The first report concluded that the 1993 suicide of White House counsel Vincent Foster, a former law partner of Hillary Clinton, was not related to Whitewater, and the second report concluded that the evidence for Hale’s allegations was insufficient to bring criminal charges against anyone in the White House. Some Republicans criticized Fiske for not being sufficiently aggressive in the investigations.

As the Fiske reports were being issued, the U.S. Congress passed a bill reestablishing the Office of Independent Counsel (OIC). President Clinton reluctantly signed the bill into law. (Hillary Clinton had recommended that he veto the legislation.) Like the earlier law that had been in effect from 1978 to 1992, the new statute conferred the OIC with almost unlimited powers to investigate, subpoena, and prosecute persons having a relationship to any matter under investigation. The statute further provided that the independent counsel would be appointed by a panel of three U.S. Court of Appeals judges, and the panel was to be selected by the chief justice of the United States, at this time William H. Rehnquist. To lead the three-judge panel, Rehnquist selected Judge David B. Sentelle, who had close connections to U.S. senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina and other conservative politicians highly critical of the president.

The panel dismissed Fiske and replaced him with Kenneth Starr on August 5. Sentelle explained that a change was desirable because Fiske’s appointment by the attorney general gave the appearance of a conflict of interest. Starr, the new appointee, was a former U.S. Court of Appeals judge who had left the bench to serve as the solicitor general. His appointment initially received favorable comment from most journalists and informed observers. The Clintons, who were familiar with his past work, were suspicious that Starr would be extremely assertive and probably motivated by partisan zeal. Hillary Clinton and Democratic adviser James Carville even recommended a campaign against the appointment. White House Counsel Lloyd Cutler, however, argued that Starr was highly professional and would conduct a fair investigation.

Starr assembled a large OIC staff of aggressive, experienced lawyers. The OIC expanded the Whitewater investigation to target any person having had any direct or indirect relationship to the venture. Upon finding evidence of illegal acts, Starr offered the person in question a reduced penalty in exchange for testimony against one of the Clintons. In December, Hubbell, Webster Webster Hubbell, a former Arkansas associate attorney general who had worked with Hillary Clinton on Whitewater matters, pleaded guilty to tax Tax evasion;Webster Hubbell[Hubbell] evasion and mail Mail fraud;Webster Hubbell[Hubbell] fraud in connection with his billing practices. In 1996, Starr obtained convictions of Jim McDougal and Arkansas governor Jim Guy Tucker for fraud. Susan McDougal, claiming that Starr was pressuring her to lie about the president, refused to answer questions before a federal grand jury and was sentenced to eighteen months in prison for contempt of court.

Despite their best efforts, Starr and his OIC team were unable to obtain sufficient proof to indict the Clintons. However, the OIC did discover items that turned out to be embarrassing to the Clintons. Hillary Clinton’s lost billing records were finally located, revealing that she had done sixty hours of legal work on Whitewater-related business, even though she had earlier told investigators she could not recall working on the project. Furthermore, Starr requested and received approval to investigate allegations that she had given false testimony to a U.S. Senate committee about her role in the firing of employees at the White House Travel Office. After 125 subpoenas, the OIC concluded that there was insufficient evidence to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that she Perjury;Hillary Clinton[Clinton] perjured herself before the committee.

By January, 1998, the OIC had been investigating claims of improprieties well beyond its initial Whitewater mandate. It also discovered credible allegations that President Clinton, in a lawsuit filed by Paula Jones against Clinton for Sexual harassment;and Bill Clinton[Clinton] sexual harassment, had lied under oath when he denied having had a sexual encounter with former White House intern Monica Clinton, Bill [p]Clinton, Bill;and Monica Lewinsky[Lewinsky] Lewinsky. Starr also found evidence that Clinton had encouraged Lewinsky to lie under oath. After the three-judge panel granted Starr permission to pursue the matter, Starr discovered that the allegations against Clinton were true. Starr’s report of September, 1998, which dealt primarily with the Lewinsky scandal, resulted in Clinton’s Impeachment;of Bill Clinton[Clinton] impeachment by the U.S. House of Representatives. The majority of the Senate, however, voted to acquit him on February 12, 1999, and he continued his term in office. Starr officially resigned from the OIC in October and was replaced by Robert W. Ray.


By the time of Starr’s resignation, the majority of Democratic and Republican leaders had serious questions about the fairness and efficacy of the OIC. With the June, 1999, demise of the bill that created the office came a reluctance by many members of Congress to okay its reauthorization. Although five in-process investigations continued, the OIC, without reauthorization, would not get a new independent counsel. Acting under statutory authority, Attorney General Reno drew up new regulations for conducting independent investigations of misconduct by public officials under the supervision of the Justice Department.

Many Americans, especially Democratic supporters of the president, have been highly critical of Starr for his zeal in pursuing the Lewinsky scandal. His detractors tend to describe him as a scandal-obsessed fanatic with a disdain for liberal politicians. Many argue that the president’s sexual behavior, as detailed in the Starr Report, is a matter of private morality, not public policy. Other critics point to the large amount of money—more than fifty million dollars—spent during the five years that Starr directed OIC investigations. Only one other independent counsel—Lawrence E. Welsh—had spent more money on an investigation. His mandate had been to look into the Iran-Contra Iran-Contra weapons scandal[Iran Contra weapons scandal] scandal of the 1980’s.

Others, however, defended Starr’s direction of OIC investigations. His supporters argued that he was a serious prosecutor seeking truth according to the law, and that he successfully prosecuted several individuals who had committed criminal acts in the Whitewater project. They also emphasized that the Starr Report proved that President Clinton had given false testimony, a crime, in a civil suit. In January, 2000, Starr’s successor, Ray, reached an agreement with the president. To avoid prosecution, Clinton had to acknowledge that he lied under oath, agree to a suspension of his law license for five years, and pay a fine of $25,000. Lewinsky, Monica Starr, Kenneth Clinton, Hillary Rodham [p]Clinton, Hillary Rodham;and Whitewater investigation[Whitewater investigation] Whitewater investigation Clinton, Bill [p]Clinton, Bill;and Whitewater investigation[Whitewater investigation]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Carville, James. And the Horse He Rode in On: The People v. Kenneth Starr. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998. A partisan, one-sided polemic against Starr as well as those who accused the president of wrongdoing.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Clinton, William Jefferson. My Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004. The former president denounces Starr and accuses his opponents of falsehoods, but he also neglects to mention certain historical facts.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Johnson, Charles, and Danette Brickman. Independent Counsel: The Law and the Investigations. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2001. A well-written summary of the twenty investigations by independent counsels starting with Watergate during the early 1970’s through Whitewater and Kenneth Starr in 1999.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schmidt, Susan, and Michael Weisskopf. Truth at Any Cost: Ken Starr and the Unmaking of Bill Clinton. New York: HarperCollins, 2000. A detailed account by two journalists who sympathize with Starr and are critical of Clinton.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Starr, Kenneth W. The Starr Report: The Findings of Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr on President Clinton and the Lewinsky Affair. New York: PublicAffairs, 1998. The controversial document by Starr that was the basis for Clinton’s impeachment.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Toobin, Jeffrey. A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000. A lively account of the Lewinsky scandal that is highly critical of Starr’s investigation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wittes, Benjamin. Starr: A Reassessment. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2002. Argues that Clinton is a pathological liar and Starr is a person of integrity who, nonetheless, was the “wrong man” for the investigation into Whitewater because of his moralistic theories of prosecution.

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Categories: History