From Clinton investigator to Trump impeachment defender: The life of controversial attorney Ken Starr

acollman@businessinsider.com (Ashley Collman)
ken starr october 2018
ken starr october 2018

Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

  • On Friday it was revealed that President Trump had hired controversial attorneys Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr for his impeachment defense team.

  • Starr became a household name in the 1990s when he led an investigation into President Clinton's alleged misconduct in office.

  • In the years since he was fired as Baylor University's president following a sexual assault scandal and wrote a memoir of his time as special counsel.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

One of the biggest names in President Bill Clinton's impeachment just joined President Donald Trump's defense: Former independent counsel Kenneth Starr.

Author of the infamous "Starr Report," which included the sordid details of Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky, the Republican lawyer had lately become one of Trump's biggest defenders in television appearances on Fox News.

While Starr is best known for his work on the Clinton investigation, his legal career spans decades. There was once talk of him getting a coveted nomination to the Supreme Court.

But Clinton's controversial impeachment ended all talk of that, and Starr's reputation was further tarnished in recent years when he presided over Baylor University during a sexual assault crisis.

Continue to read more about Starr's background.

Kenneth Winston Starr was born on July 21, 1946 in Vernon, Texas, a small town near the Oklahoma border. He was the son of a Christian minister and sold bibles door-to-door to pay for college.

vernon texas
vernon texas

Google Street View

Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica

Starr got his BA from George Washington University in 1968, his MA from Brown in 1969, and his law degree from Duke in 1973.

duke university
duke university

Chadarat Saibhut/Shutterstock

Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica

While initially identifying as a Kennedy Democrat, he changed parties after serving an internship on Capitol Hill, according to the Washington Post.

FILE - In this Jan. 2, 1960, file photo, Sen. John F. Kennedy, D-Mass., formally announces at a news conference in Washington that he is a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. A handwritten draft Kennedy's announcement speech is among hundreds of items associated with the late president to be auctioned in January 2020, by the Boston-based RR Auction. Online bidding for the collection put together by a California man opens Jan. 17. (AP Photo, File)
FILE - In this Jan. 2, 1960, file photo, Sen. John F. Kennedy, D-Mass., formally announces at a news conference in Washington that he is a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. A handwritten draft Kennedy's announcement speech is among hundreds of items associated with the late president to be auctioned in January 2020, by the Boston-based RR Auction. Online bidding for the collection put together by a California man opens Jan. 17. (AP Photo, File)

Associated Press

Source: Washington Post

In his early career, Starr clerked for both David W. Dyer, judge for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and Supreme Court Justice Warren E. Burger. He later made partner at two prestigious law firms and served as solicitor general under the first President Bush.

supreme court justice warren burger
supreme court justice warren burger

AP Photo

Source: USA Today

In 1994, Starr was pulled out of private practice to take over the independent counsel Whitewater investigation into President Bill Clinton's business dealings as an Arkansas politician. The investigation later expanded to include the president's affair with Monica Lewinsky.

starr report
starr report

AP Photo/Doug Mills

Source: USA Today

Starr's investigations into the affair caused some controversy. Republicans felt he was holding Clinton accountable. Democrats felt he was too influenced by his personal politics.

ken starr justice department
ken starr justice department

Arnie Sachs/CNP/Getty Images

The New York Times summed up opinions about Starr at the time in a recent story:
"To his admirers, Mr. Starr was an upright pursuer of a lying, philandering president who had dishonored the Oval Office. To his critics, Mr. Starr was a moralistic, sex-obsessed Inspector Javert persecuting a president out of ideological animus."

Starr's report on Clinton caused the House of Representatives to vote to impeach the president on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. But he was acquitted in a Senate trial in 1999.

monica lewinsky bill clinton
monica lewinsky bill clinton

P Photo/APTVWhile he was once considered a top candidate for the Supreme Court, that talk seemed to die down after Clinton's impeachment.

lewinsky dress
lewinsky dress

Hulton Archive/Getty

Source: The New York Times

After resigning from the Clinton investigation in 1999, Starr returned to private practice and launched an academic career as well. In 2004, he was appointed dean of the Pepperdine University School of Law.

ken starr pepperdine
ken starr pepperdine

Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica, New York Times

It was also around this time that he was hired, along with his Trump co-counsel Alan Dershowitz, to represent Jeffrey Epstein in a sex abuse case in Florida. Epstein's lawyers saved him from going to court, and he served just a few months in county jail.

jeffrey epstein
jeffrey epstein

Associated Press

Prosecutors believe Epstein went on to abuse more young women and girls. He was rearrested on new sex trafficking charges last year but died by suicide while awaiting trial in August. 

Source: USA Today

Starr became the president of Baylor University in 2010 but was fired six years later amid a campus scandal involving sexual assault. A report found that the school didn't do enough to address serious rape allegations concerning football players.

ken starr baylor
ken starr baylor

Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Starr later resigned as chancellor of the school as well. He has always maintained that he wasn't involved in the handling of the sexual assault cases, which involved at least 17 women.

He later told ESPN that he accepted responsibility for what happened "as a matter of conscience." 

"The captain goes down with the ship," he said in July 2016. 

According to the Washington Post, leaving his job at Baylor allowed Starr the time to write "Contempt," his memoir of his time working on the Whitewater investigation.

contempt ken starr
contempt ken starr

Penguin Random House

Source: Washington Post

In recent years, Starr returned to private practice, joining the Lanier Law Firm in 2018. He has also become one of President Trump's fiercest defenders in regular appearances on Fox News.

ken starr fox news
ken starr fox news

Fox News/YouTube

Source: Lanier Law Firm

This is despite the fact that President Trump called Starr a "lunatic" and a "wacko" during and after the Clinton investigation.

U.S. President Donald Trump  puts his hand to his head while speaking at the American Farm Bureau Federation Annual Convention and Trade Show in Austin, Texas, January 19, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump puts his hand to his head while speaking at the American Farm Bureau Federation Annual Convention and Trade Show in Austin, Texas, January 19, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Reuters

"Ken Starr's a lunatic. I really think that Ken Starr is a disaster," Trump told NBC at the time, according to USA Today. "I really think that Ken Starr was terrible."

And in another CNBC interview discussing Hillary Clinton's run for the Senate in 2001, Trump called Starr a "total wacko." 

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