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Ken Starr’s Former Law Professor Schools Him on His Impeachment Arguments


Regarded as one of the progenitors of the modern presidential impeachment for his unflagging dedication to removing former President Bill Clinton from office, former circuit judge and independent counsel Ken Starr on Monday defended President Donald Trump. He argued that the impeachment process was partisan-driven to an unprecedented degree and failed to allege any criminal wrongdoing. Starr’s legal arguments and attempt to place Trump’s impeachment in historical context drew bipartisan criticism, but most notably from his former Duke University law school professor.

“In this particular juncture in America’s history, the Senate is being called to sit as the high court of impeachment all too frequently. Indeed, we are living in what I think can aptly be described as the ‘age of impeachment,'” Starr said before the Senate.

“How did we get here, with presidential impeachment invoked frequently in its inherently destabilizing as well as acrimonious way?” Starr asked before accusing Democrats of violating the “Rodino Rule” by proceeding with impeachment without the support of any Republican lawmakers.

“My former student Judge Starr emphasizes that prior impeachments have been bipartisan,” Duke University Law School professor Walter Dellinger said of his former pupil. “He assumes that is a criticism of Democrats who have proceeded alone rather than [a criticism] of the GOP members who have refused to consider joining in a serious critique of the president’s actions.”

Dellinger continued to criticize Starr’s performance, particularly the “implausible argument” that a president cannot be impeached unless they commit a crime – a notion the vast majority of legal experts (as well as Lindsey Graham in 1999) have dismissed.

“A president who refused to defend the US against a foreign attack would not be violating any criminal law,” Dellinger noted, giving an extreme example of an impeachable offense that is not codified in a criminal statute (note: Alan Dershowitz doesn’t think it’s impeachable).

Starr’s former colleague and Associate Independent Counsel during the Whitewater investigation Kim Wehle also seemed unimpressed with his performance, highlighting an apparent error in his argument that the Trump administration’s assertions about testimonial immunity are well within the bounds of established law.

“Ken Starr just erred suggesting that testimonial immunity for White House aides is established in the law. The opposite is true,” she wrote, linking to a 2008 opinion of their former Whitewater colleague Judge John D. Bates. That opinion stated that then-President George W. Bush’s top advisers were not immune from congressional subpoenas.

Back in 1998, Starr called Clinton’s invocation of privileges an “abuse.”

[image via Win McNamee/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.