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Ken Starr: Justice Department should evaluate claims by Stormy Daniels

Michael Isikoff
Chief Investigative Correspondent
Stormy Daniels and Ken Starr (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: AP)

Former Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr, who famously investigated Bill Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky, said he believes that Stormy Daniels’s allegations that she was paid $130,000 during the 2016 election to keep silent about an alleged affair with President Trump raise “difficult and serious” issues that need to be evaluated by the Justice Department to determine if another special counsel should be appointed.

Starr made his comments — his first on the Stormy Daniels controversy since the porn star went public with her latest claims last Sunday on “60 Minutes” — during an exclusive interview on the Yahoo News’ podcast “Skullduggery.”

“That’s a serious question,” Starr replied when asked if Daniels’s claims about a payoff should be investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller to determine if the money she received from Trump’s longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, constituted an illegal campaign contribution. “What did the president know? Did he authorize it? All those things have to be sorted out.”

But Starr said he believes that the issues at play are sufficiently far afield from the matters at the core of Mueller’s investigation that they should be handled by others in the Justice Department.

“This becomes an issue for Rod Rosenstein,” Starr said, referring to the deputy attorney general who is in charge of the Mueller probe and who served on Starr’s staff during the Whitewater probe. “But Rod may very well say [to Mueller], ‘You need to stick to the issue. Let’s  get through with this issue of collusion. You  stick to that and lets now appoint [somebody else] as special counsel.’”

Starr emphasized that he is not recommending a conclusion — only that the issues raised by Daniels’s allegations be reviewed. “As in law school, I’m issue-spotting and discussing the kind of things that Rod Rosenstein would probably sit down with the attorney general” and raise. “He’d take that elevator from the fourth floor [of the Justice Department] to the fifth floor and say, ‘Gen. Sessions, we need to talk and this is the issue of the day.’’

Daniels’s allegations have “to be considered and assessed,” he added. It would be “the equivalent of a preliminary investigation. That’s the way these things are done.”

Download or subscribe on iTunes: “Skullduggery” by Yahoo News

More broadly, however, Starr spoke of how dismayed he is about the multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against Trump. But he stressed what he clearly views as the more serious questions he faced as independent counsel, when he learned about Clinton’s relationship with Lewinsky, a subpoenaed witness in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit.

“I think questions of presidential character are always important,” Starr said when asked about the multiple women who have accused Trump of unsolicited sexual advances and other misconduct. “They are endurably important. To say this is disappointing behavior — if true — is an understatement. It’s very upsetting.”

“But that doesn’t trigger the law,” Starr said, drawing a distinction between the allegations against Trump and those against Clinton. “The reason we went to the attorney general with respect to the Monica Lewinsky phase of the investigation is because under  the information we had — I’m just going to go ahead and say it … the  concern we had was subordination of perjury in a civil case. Now we had four years of background. … I’ll just  say there were questions throughout the [Whitewater] investigation about the credibility of the president and the first lady [Hillary Clinton] all along the way. I’m just going to leave it at that.”

So once his office had authenticated tapes by Linda Tripp suggesting that Lewinsky was being encouraged to lie, Starr said, “we then made a beeline across Pennsylvania Avenue to the attorney general of the United States [Janet Reno]. And she then assessed the information and she made the determination — just read the charge — that these were serious felonies. So we’re talking about the rule of law, possible violations of federal criminal law — and not just about questions of character, presidential character.”

For all his criticism of Trump, Starr did not rule out entertaining a request to join the president’s depleted legal team in the unlikely event that such an offer was made.

“Hah, I’ve not been asked and I don’t expect to be asked given the various things I have said,” Starr said when asked if would help represent the president in the Mueller investigation. “I think you guys know me. I would listen respectfully and assess the situation. … All you’re going to get from me is that I have great respect for the presidency of the United States and I would certainly listen with respect to a telephone call that will not come.”

But as if to ensure that such a call never does come, Starr made no secret of his disapproval of Trump’s persistent attacks on the Mueller investigation and the Justice Department itself.

“I think it likely is unprecedented,” Starr said of Trump’s lack of respect for the independence of the Justice Department. “I certainly hope so, and I hope it’s never revived. I hope we don’t have the beginning of a new tradition. Because at the end of the day, we have to live by the rule of law. And these kinds of tweets and attacks and so forth are very corrosive of the rule of law. I’ve been very consistent in saying that. And yes, it’s troubling. As I said in the Washington Post, ‘Cut it out, Mr. President.’ But he’s not listening to me.”

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