Political Consultant Crafts Campaign to Discredit Starr

By Peter Baker 1996, The Washington Post | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), December 5, 1996 | Go to article overview

Political Consultant Crafts Campaign to Discredit Starr


Peter Baker 1996, The Washington Post, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


JAMES CARVILLE, an occasional political consultant to President Bill Clinton, has begun a campaign to discredit Kenneth Starr, the Whitewater special counsel.

But Carville is not doing so on the orders of the president. Nor is Clinton secretly encouraging him. And the president could not stop Carville even if he tried.

That, at least, is the official White House line. White House officials do not seem all that unhappy about Carville's plans to set up a grass-roots, anti-Starr organization. Clinton made perfectly clear Tuesday that he has no intention of calling off Carville. When asked whether he would talk to Carville about it, he answered, "No." That and other public remarks by top aides in recent days have been taken as nothing short of tacit approval of Carville's counterattack, which will include campaign-style newspaper advertisements, fund-raising appeals and opposition research. But Carville was vague on organizational details. Such an "all-out" assault is unprecedented in the history of special prosecutors, say specialists in the field. Special prosecutors have been fired (Archibald Cox during Watergate) and come under withering partisan fire (Lawrence Walsh during the Iran-Contra investigations), but they have never endured an organized public relations attack of the likes that Carville describes. Various Republican leaders, legal scholars and even some Democrats have denounced Carville's effort as everything from improper to bad political strategy. "This is a very, very incendiary device, and it may have incendiary consequences as yet unseen," said Joseph E. diGenova, a former GOP federal prosecutor who also has served as a special prosecutor. DiGenova said it appeared to be an attempt to shape public perceptions to influence potential jurors. "That would be the O.J. Simpson-ing of Whitewater." Ronald D. Rotunda, a University of Illinois law professor who was an assistant counsel for Democrats on the Senate Watergate Committee, said attacks on Starr's integrity were baseless and belied by the fact that Clinton's own attorney general, Janet Reno, has continued to assign him new matters to investigate and has the power to fire Starr if he had acted unethically. …

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