Gone fishin’? Not re­ally

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - John Brum­mett John Brum­mett, whose col­umn ap­pears reg­u­larly in the Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette, was in­ducted into the Arkansas Writ­ers’ Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at jbrum­mett@arkansason­line.com. Read his @john­brum­mett Twit­ter feed.

Did you hear what the ever-sanc­ti­mo­nious Ken­neth Starr said the other day on CNN? Could you sense Bill Clin­ton’s rage when he said it?

You re­mem­ber Starr, surely. Smarmy and prud­ish by na­ture, the vet­eran Repub­li­can lawyer was the in­de­pen­dent coun­sel in the 1990s in­ves­ti­gat­ing any­thing he pleased about Clin­ton and the then-pres­i­dent’s vast and jam-packed or­bit.

Starr ven­tured from in­ves­ti­gat­ing a pre-pres­i­den­tial real es­tate deal that amounted to noth­ing to in­ves­ti­gat­ing pres­i­den­tial oral sex that put Clin­ton in a per­jury pickle and got him im­peached. Then Starr wound up chan­cel­lor and pres­i­dent at Bay­lor Univer­sity, which, in what some might call irony, he left af­ter a foot­ball pro­gram sex­ual-as­sault scan­dal.

Last week, Starr did a lit­tle talk­ing­head ap­pear­ance on CNN. Re­gard­ing the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion by spe­cial coun­sel Bob Mueller into pos­si­ble ties be­tween the Don­ald Trump cam­paign and the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment, Starr said: “The man­date that Bob Mueller re­ceived has some broad lan­guage, in­clud­ing ‘re­lated-to’ type lan­guage, which tends to open the door, but there are some checks and bal­ances. … We don’t want in­ves­ti­ga­tors and pros­e­cu­tors out on a fish­ing ex­pe­di­tion.”

The eye rolls, groans, guf­faws and screams—they reg­is­tered seis­mi­cally from Lit­tle Rock to Chap­paqua.

There is a tricky but im­por­tant dis­tinc­tion to be made about Starr’s mostly ig­no­min­ious ten­ure as in­de­pen­dent coun­sel be­dev­il­ing Clin­ton. He could ar­gue—and I could find my way to agree—that it was his metic­u­lous, plod­ding at­ten­tion to his as­sign­ment to do a thor­ough and full in­ves­ti­ga­tion, not fish­ing, that had him still pok­ing around in sev­eral di­rec­tions as dra­matic fate in­ter­vened.

He’d tried to exit early for an aca­demic job, but his deputies had pleaded with him to see the mat­ter to the end.

First the Paula Jones sex­ual-ha­rass­ment law­suit arose. Then Linda Tripp came to Starr’s peo­ple with tales and au­dio­tapes about a Clin­ton af­fair with a young girl on the White House staff who had lied about the af­fair in an af­fi­davit given to Jones’ lawyers. Tripp had also told her story to a con­ser­va­tive ac­tivist who shared it with Jones’ lawyers.

Then Starr went to Clin­ton’s at­tor­ney gen­eral, Janet Reno, and got au­thor­ity to look into those al­le­ga­tions. Starr de­cided to sit back and see if the pres­i­dent in­deed lied about this White House af­fair in his forth­com­ing de­po­si­tion in the Jones’ case. Clin­ton, nat­u­rally, did.

Some called that a per­jury trap, though I don’t know that it was Starr’s job to call Clin­ton’s lawyers and tell them what he knew and en­cour­age them to ad­vise their client not to lie un­der oath in his up­com­ing de­po­si­tion.

The real fish­ing ex­pe­di­tion had been un­der­taken ear­lier by Repub­li­cans in Congress when, in 1994, they re­in­stated an in­de­pen­dent coun­sel law to re­place a less-pow­er­ful spe­cial coun­sel. They did so be­cause the Reno-ap­pointed spe­cial coun­sel, Robert Fiske, had al­ready cleared Clin­ton on two matters and so nar­rowed his scope that he wasn’t likely to come to any con­clu­sion of crim­i­nal­ity by Clin­ton in an old failed land deal.

Then, un­der the new law, a three­judge ap­peals court panel in Washington, with two of the judges Repub­li­can-nom­i­nated, re­moved Fiske and put in Starr with in­struc­tions to do a thor­ough job lib­er­ated from the ap­pear­ances of Fiske’s ap­point­ment by Clin­ton’s at­tor­ney gen­eral.

Here’s what should have hap­pened: Fiske should have been al­lowed to fin­ish the job quickly and nar­rowly and ap­pro­pri­ately, per­haps with an in­dict­ment of Jim McDou­gal; Clin­ton should not have be­haved in what­ever way he be­haved to­ward Paula Jones in the ’80s in the then-Excelsior Ho­tel; the pres­i­dent and Mon­ica Lewin­sky should not have ca­vorted as they so ca­vorted; the young girl should not have filed a false af­fi­davit; and the pres­i­dent of the United States should not have lied in his de­po­si­tion in the Jones’ case and in sub­se­quent grand jury tes­ti­mony.

The real story, though, is that none of that has the re­motest rel­e­vance to Mueller’s as­sign­ment from the deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral who ap­pointed him to in­ves­ti­gate “any links and/or co­or­di­na­tion be­tween the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment and in­di­vid­u­als associated with the cam­paign of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump” as well as “any matters that arose or may arise di­rectly from the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Trump is seem­ingly scared out of what’s left of his mind by that lit­tle phrase: “any matters that arose or may arise.”

Let’s say—just for pur­poses of dis­cus­sion—that, to as­sess “links” be­tween the Trump cam­paign and the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment, Mueller be­lieved it ap­pro­pri­ate to seek in­for­ma­tion on Trump’s pre-pres­i­dency busi­ness deal­ings with Rus­sians. And let’s say he found some­thing wor­thy of fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Would he be en­gag­ing abu­sively in a fish­ing ex­pe­di­tion or would he be in­ves­ti­gat­ing, per his as­sign­ment, a mat­ter that had arisen from his cen­tral in­ves­ti­ga­tion?

Here’s one way to look at that: A cu­ri­ous old busi­ness deal be­tween Trump and Rus­sians with gov­ern­ment ties—should there be one—would have more to do with “links” than oral sex in the White House had to do with a failed land-de­vel­op­ment scheme in north­ern Arkansas.

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