Kenneth Starr, independent counsel behind Bill Clinton’s impeachment, dies at 76

Kenneth Starr, whose investigation as independent counsel led to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, has died, his former employer, Baylor University, said Tuesday. He was 76.

Starr died at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center in Houston of complications from surgery, the school said in its announcement.

Starr ended his legal and scholarly career as president and chancellor of the private university in 2016 after serving in that role for six years.

An investigation of a sexual assault scandal at the institution concluded that its football team existed “above the rules,” and said the school under Starr’s leadership discouraged students from reporting sexual assaults.

The university fired the head coach and demoted Starr to chancellor and professor. He resigned, but said he would still teach.

Starr sounded humbled at the time, saying he accepted responsibility and that the school needed to do better. “We need to be honest,” he said.

Before his time at the school in Waco, Texas, Starr held a number of teaching positions while working as a law firm partner.

He spent six years as a law professor and dean at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California; he also had held positions at New York University School of Law, George Mason University School of Law in Virginia, and Chapman Law School in Orange, California.

But Starr was best known for his work in the 1990s as an independent counsel assigned to investigate the investments of Bill and Hillary Clinton in a land deal that became known as the Whitewater scandal.

The Clintons invested thousands in the failed land deal that undermined the foundation of a savings and loan operated by their friend Jim McDougal, Madison Guaranty, which failed in 1989 and cost taxpayers an estimated $73 million.

The couple’s investment in Whitewater Development Corp. predated their years in the White House, and any possible wrongdoing would have been hard to prove. Starr shut down the Whitewater portion of his duties in 1997.

As was his purview, Starr expanded his investigation and began to unearth the president’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, which Clinton steadfastly denied.

That denial — under oath — is what ultimately landed Clinton in hot water with Congress, which impeached him in 1998 but did not remove him from office. The U.S. Senate acquitted him.

In 2018, Clinton said he was sorry for the episode. But he remained defiant, saying he more than paid the price for his mistakes.

“Nobody believes that I got out of that for free,” he said on NBC’s “TODAY” show that year. “I left the White House $16 million in debt.”

His job investigating the president wasn’t Starr’s only role in the federal government. He was a judicial appointee of President Ronald Reagan and solicitor general under President George H.W. Bush.

In 2020, Starr joined the legal team of President Donald Trump as he mounted a defense for his own impeachment trial. He was impeached by the House, the first of two such sanctions for Trump, for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. But the Senate, as it did for Clinton, did not vote to remove Trump from office.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday, “I am very sorry to learn of the passing of my friend Judge Ken Starr. He was a brilliant litigator, an impressive leader, and a devoted patriot.”

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