Going after 'Truth at Any Cost'
Geoff Metcalf interviews author of Ken Starr tell-all

By Geoff Metcalf
After years of exhaustive reporting, the level of public knowledge about Bill Clinton has reached what many consider a saturation point. But even after all the media uproar surrounding the Monica Lewinsky investigation, still relatively little is known about one of the president's greatest adversaries, former Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr.

In to fill the breach step Susan Schmidt and Michael Weisskopf, both award-winning investigative reporters who have recently co-authored "Truth at Any Cost: Ken Starr and the Unmaking of Bill Clinton," a book which sheds light on Starr's motivations, his personal battles and his anguish after coming under the fire of Clinton partisans.

In this in-depth interview with WorldNetDaily reporter Geoff Metcalf, Schmidt provides a warts-and-all glimpse behind the curtain of Starr's investigation, including its tactics, divided interests, political naivete, public-relations foibles and dogged determination in spite of it all to see justice done in the end.

By Geoff Metcalf

Question: I thought I knew everything there was to know about what went on with the Ken Starr investigation -- what went on, what didn't happen. But you have some surprises for us.

Answer: We thought we knew everything there was to know, although we sort of suspected maybe we didn't; that's why we decided to do this book. Michael and I each covered the Lewinsky investigation for our news organizations -- the Washington Post and Time -- and, when it was over, we thought we would just love to find out what went on inside the engine of the investigation: Ken Starr's office. We also wanted to find out what went on inside the Justice Department and what went on inside the White House. That's why we wrote this book -- to get inside all those places and talk with the people who did it.

Q: What happened on April 27, 1998? Because we kept saying in the media, "Any day now. ... Any day now there are going to be indictments. ... There are going to be indictments. ... Hillary is going to get indicted. ..." It didn't happen. Why?

A: April 27 was the day the Starr staff decided it wouldn't happen. The grand jury down in Little Rock, which had been investigating Whitewater, was set to expire. Starr had to decide what to do -- whether to get a new grand jury, extend it or pull the plug. They had a day-long meeting; all the prosecutors, 25 of them in a big room, examined a three-inch thick prosecution memo put together by the Little Rock staff and concluded at the end of the day that the first lady had lied to government investigators.

But, they decided the evidence was not strong enough to convict her. And they took a pass, unanimously; they said, "Let's not do it."

Q: You provide some interesting insights into Ken Starr, the man -- the good things, the bad things, the warts and blemishes, etc. A lot of us were asking, "What is he waiting for?" I found interesting some of the strategic mistakes he made and you say in the book that some of the moves that seem dumb to us, as observers, are consistent with the way Ken Starr operates.

A: He is a very thorough guy. That is the hallmark of the way he does business. Things take a while with him. But everything is done perfectly and to the letter. That cost him some points during the early phases of his work with Whitewater and Travelgate, Filegate -- all those things took a very long time. It probably could have been wrapped up sooner.

When it got to the Lewinsky investigation, he felt, and I think he was probably right on this, that he had to be as thorough as possible. But, more than anybody on his staff, he wanted to move that referral to Congress as soon as possible. He was afraid he would be accused of influencing the upcoming election. So he was pushing hardest to send it to Congress -- let them finish the investigation. He said, "We have enough evidence to send up. We have substantial and credible information that might warrant impeachment. Let's send it."

His prosecutors, the people that worked for him -- they don't like to work that way. They like to build an airtight case. They were arguing to hang-on to it and to get all the evidence they possibly could. They finally had a meeting of the minds when it came right down to getting Monica Lewinsky and Clinton's testimony. And that's when they all finally agreed: now is the time to send it.

Q: I have to ask you, why in the world would Ken Starr tip-off Clinton and throw him a lifeline about that semen-stained blue dress?

A: That is very interesting -- and it really goes to the heart of what kind of person Starr really is. Contrary to public image, he was not out to get Clinton. We didn't find that. He did that because he wanted to give Clinton every chance to tell the truth and to urge him in the strongest way possible to tell the truth when he testified before the grand jury.

Q: But isn't that the antithesis of what prosecutors normally do?

A: It is. And he didn't tell his staff for that very reason, because they would have objected. But he felt that he didn't want to be accused of sandbagging Clinton or trapping him in any way; so, basically, he told him the evidence he had in hand. He got the results back from the FBI lab and told nobody -- just one or two people on his staff. He sent a letter to the president's lawyer and said, "I need your blood. I need a blood test, and I have a legal predicate to ask for it." In other words, DNA has been found on the dress; I need to see if it is yours. That told Clinton that he would have to adjust his testimony and he did.

We found that Starr proceeded much more fairly than people seem to think. Another example of that is he sent five invitations to Clinton asking him to testify voluntarily, before finally sending him a subpoena. Publicly, Starr never made those invitations known. So, for months and months, Clinton was saying, "I'm doing everything I can to cooperate," when in actuality he was saying, "No. I'm not going to testify."

Q: There is such an abundance of anecdotes. Probably the best way for me to handle this from an interview perspective is to just throw some names at you: Eric Holder?

A: Very interesting guy. Deputy attorney general --

Q: Dirt bag.

A: Well, he is a "finesser"; he is a guy that was put in there as Reno's replacement. He was going to move up if Reno left the job. What we found was, he, with Reno, initially commissioned the Lewinsky investigation and assigned Starr to it but immediately started moving away from Starr and started commissioning investigations of Starr's own office -- in ways that undermined Starr publicly.

Q: Holder was stroking Judge Norma Holloway Johnson, telling her stuff that flat-out wasn't true about Starr.

A: One of the incidents that we learned about was when Starr went to Holder after all the allegations surfaced about his office leaking to the press. Starr went to Holder and said, "I need some FBI agents to do a leak investigation. I don't think there is anything there but I want to do an investigation and put it to rest." Holder said, "Don't worry about it." Then Holder called Judge Johnson and said, "You know there are all these allegations; the Justice Department is perfectly willing to help you out, judge, if you want us to do anything to investigate this stuff."

What Holder was doing was making Starr think he didn't want to do an investigation, but then offering to do one with the judge if he could be in control of it. After Starr learned about that from the judge, he began treating and thinking of Holder as an enemy.

Q: Smart move. But, now, four days before Ken Starr was supposed to testify before the House impeachment committee, what happened?

A: He went to see Janet Reno; it was a Sunday afternoon.

Q: That will ruin a day.

A: There were some things he wanted to tell her about his testimony, but when he got there, Reno said to him, "There is something I want to tell you." And she began to read from a piece of paper informing him that the Justice Department was going to do an investigation of alleged prosecutorial misconduct -- of his office. Now this is just as the House committee is about to take up articles of impeachment. She tells the prosecutor she is investigating the prosecutor's office.

Starr was livid. He didn't even think that she had standing to investigate him since he was supposed to be an independent counsel. He said he would do everything in his power to protect this investigation and she assured him that this would not leak out. He felt he would go to Congress with a black cloud over his head.

Well, sure enough, even before he got back to his office, it had leaked to Newsweek, and they were calling his office. So this was the level of suspicion and warfare -- secret warfare -- going on between Starr and Reno and Holder throughout the year of which we, the public, did not even glimpse. We peeled that back a little bit and it is very interesting.

Q: What about the allegation that Clinton was pressuring Louis Merletti, his Secret Service director?

A: That is something Starr heard from a source that was connected to the high command of the Secret Service -- that Clinton had called Merletti in early on and said, "I want you to invent a privilege so your officers don't have to testify about me and women." And Starr was pretty convinced this had happened. So he began to try to get the Secret Service testimony and get the Secret Service brass to testify. Whereupon he got into a big tangle with the Justice Department and they fought him tooth-and-nail on this. That is why Starr seemed so determined to get the Secret Service testimony -- because he thought that this had happened. As it turned out, he could not substantiate the charge. The source would not come forward and the issue just basically hung in the air.

Q: What about this confession to a presidential spiritual advisor? What was that?

A: Early in the investigation Clinton came out and told his cabinet, told the American people he did not have an affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Q: His cabinet came out and stood behind and said, "Hey, his word is good enough for us."

A: That's right. Well, at the same time that was happening, he had a minister by the name of Tony Campolo spend the night at the White House in the Queen's bedroom. And Clinton confessed to him. The next morning Tony Campolo went to the national prayer breakfast and told two of his buddies who were attending -- he was very upset -- and he said, "The president has confessed everything to me and it is terrible. I've tried to get him to make a clean break of it but I only end up consoling him instead of confronting him." We thought that was quite remarkable, that publicly he was in denial and privately confessing.

Q: You note in the book how Linda Tripp's lawyers and Paula Jones' lawyers got together -- actually before Clinton gave his deposition. What happened?

A: Yeah, there was a much higher level of collusion between the Jones camp and Linda Tripp than we knew. The night before Clinton gave his deposition in January 1998, that very day Starr was confronting Monica Lewinsky for the very first time. Starr's prosecutors had her at the Ritz Carlton; they were trying to gain her cooperation. Well, that evening Linda Tripp and her lawyer met with the Jones lawyer and told him Starr was investigating this whole matter and that Starr was trying to get Monica Lewinsky's cooperation.

The next day the Jones' lawyers spent a huge part of the deposition on Monica Lewinsky questions. They knew there was a criminal investigation of the president already underway. So, they keyed-up a lot of questions based on their knowledge from Linda Tripp and her lawyer.

Q: That infamous Brill's Content interview, it was more than a mere speed bump for Ken Starr.

A: It sure was; it almost took him out entirely -- much more so than we knew at the time. It was a real blunder to have spoken to Steven Brill. He should have known better.

Brill was launching a new magazine and wanted a big splash. Brill misrepresented Starr's views on grand jury secrecy rules -- what was permitted and what was not for the prosecutors to say. The judge in the case was horrified to read this article. She was furious. She had been with Starr up until then, pooh-poohing all the leak allegations. After the article, she agreed with the president's lawyers that they should inquisition Starr and Starr's staff. The target of the investigation would be inquisitioning the prosecutor --and she ordered that to happen.

Q: I didn't know that Starr was planning to defy the judge's order and actually try to get himself fired.

A: He just felt he could not submit to it because his whole authority would be shot. David Kendall, the president's lawyer, could find out everything that had gone on in the grand jury that way. So, he drafted a memo ordering his staff not to do it. At the 11th hour, the court of appeals intervened and blocked it. But he was prepared to defy the judge, be held in contempt, and then Janet Reno would have had grounds to fire him on the spot. That could have easily happened. We didn't know it at the time, but that was what was going on behind the scenes. It was almost a fatal encounter.

Q: What really happened in the Ritz Carlton with Monica Lewinsky was news to me.

A: Yeah, the public and reporters thought that Starr's team had held her for 11 hours, kept her there against her will. Basically what we found was that she did to prosecutors what she did to Bill Clinton -- threw histrionics and got leverage over them the way she did over Clinton.

Pretty soon they were eating out of her hand. She was saying, "I'm going to kill myself. ... Who's going to marry me?" She was screaming and crying and these hard-bitten guys who were trying to get her to cooperate were running around getting her tissues and coffee and being solicitous of her.

Q: She handled them; she played them.

A: Absolutely. They didn't ask her a single question. Eleven hours later she was overheard in the hallway yelling to her mother, who was urging her to cooperate, "I'm not going to be the one to bring down this f---ing presidency." She walked out of the hotel that night a free woman and she didn't give-up anything.

Q: I'm going to throw three names at you real quick. Take them in whatever order you choose: James Carville, Betty Currie and Vernon Jordan.

A: Betty Currie -- early in the investigation, unknown to the public, her lawyers came to Starr. They were so worried about what Clinton was urging her to say. If you remember Clinton had called Betty Currie in and said, "Monica and I were never alone, right?" and sort of rehearsed this set of answers. Her lawyers -- who were hired by the White House by the way -- were very concerned when they heard that; they went to Ken Starr. They said, "We represent Betty Currie and you need to know this has happened. And by the way, here are some gifts she had stored under her bed that Clinton gave Monica Lewinsky."

After that, Starr's team debriefed Currie. She had to be heavily prodded by her lawyers to tell what she knew. They spent a weekend in a hotel with her debriefing her. By the time they got her before the grand jury she developed amnesia. Meanwhile, her lawyers who are very sophisticated lawyers -- and this is perfectly proper -- they went back to the White House and told the White House everything she had told Ken Starr. So they were playing both sides of the fence. Perfectly ethical and proper.

Q: Kind of "lawyerly."

A: Yeah, very lawyerly -- and that is how the lawyering went on in this case.

Q: Speaking of lawyers, Vernon Jordan?

A: He's an interesting guy. When you look at all his grand jury testimony over a period of months, you see that he did a 180 in the grand jury -- once the prosecutors got a hold of his telephone records. He had to admit much more involvement in handling Monica than he had early on. It turned out he had made 31 phone calls about Monica the day before the story broke, trying to suppress the thing. And he had represented that he was sort of in the dark and just trying to help her get a job -- bright young girl and you know all that. He is a fascinating guy and he implicated Clinton to a degree, but only to the extent he had to.

Q: Jordan didn't tell Bob Bennett some stuff that Bennett got ticked-off about.

A: Absolutely. The first day Monica Lewinsky came to see Vernon Jordan in November of 1997, that afternoon he called David Kendall and said, "Settle the Jones case." And he went over to Bennett's house and said, "We have to settle the Jones case. I'll raise up to a million dollars to settle it." He never did tell Bennett anything about Monica Lewinsky.

When the story broke, Bennett went to Jordan's office and confronted him -- the scene is in the book.

Q: It's a great scene: "Vernon, I want to know what the hell is going on?"

A: "What the hell is going on?" And just as they are in there having this confrontation, Clinton calls and they put him on the speaker phone and they all start acting chipper and affable and, you know, "We're all in good hands with good lawyers," but this was real deception of Bob Bennett by Vernon Jordan.

Q: Final question, Susan: the Clinton indictment -- why did Starr want to wait until after the president was out of office? That's a question that keeps coming up over and over and over again.

A: He decided, in theory, he was capable of indicting a sitting president, but it would be disruptive. He would have to fight it all the way to the Supreme Court and, for all kinds of reasons, he decided it was not a good idea. He commissioned a prosecution memo and a sample indictment of the president for when the president leaves office. That is something that is still being kicked around by Starr's successor, Rob Ray.