Anticipating the imminent release of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible presidential wrongdoing, Donald Trump and his surrogates are stepping up their relentless campaign to discredit Mueller’s investigation. Their tactics – denial, obfuscation and character assassination — are not original, but come straight out of the playbook of a former president and one of Trump’s own favorite targets, Bill Clinton.

Despite Mueller’s reputation for integrity and professionalism, Trump has repeatedly attacked his investigation as a “hoax” and a “witch hunt” and excoriated his investigative team as “thugs,” a “disgrace,” and highly conflicted.” Trump has also savaged other targets of the investigation who’ve opted to cooperate with Mueller, most notably using the term “rat” to describe his convicted personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen.

The inside story of the investigation which led to Clinton’s impeachment in 1998 has finally been told two decades later by the man in charge of it, Independent Counsel Ken Starr. Starr’s recently published “Contempt: A Memoir of the Clinton Investigation” is a cautionary tale about the dangers to democracy inherent in the abuse of political power and the lengths to which a political leader will go to cover up his involvement in illegal activity. It’s eerily reminiscent of today’s headlines.

Clinton likely committed a number of unlawful acts during his political career in order to grasp and hold onto power and wealth, subsequently going to great lengths to conceal evidence of these misdeeds. In the process, he showed contempt for the rule of law he was sworn to “preserve, protect and defend.” Thus the title of Starr’s book, “Contempt.”

Thanks largely to a media-savvy campaign by President Clinton, his wife Hillary, and their allies to disparage Starr, he unfairly became the caricature of a right-wing Republican hit-man — an ideological warrior supposedly hell bent on savaging the reputation and career of a popular, talented and highly successful young Democratic chief executive.

Starr’s long post-impeachment media silence about the investigation, his perpetually cherubic facial expression (which some of his detractors have portrayed as creepy), and his established credentials as a judicial conservative and devout Christian have played into the anti-Starr trope and prevented him from receiving the credit he rightly deserves – as the man who fought courageously to uphold the rule of law in the midst of a raging national political firestorm.

Consider the following descriptions by Starr of the Clintons’ personal attacks on him and how they presage the tactics employed by Trump against Mueller:

“Early in 1968, we had heard that people were poking about for dirt on individual OIC (Office of Independent Counsel) members. Laughably someone circulated the rumor that ‘Ken Starr had a honey’ in Little Rock.”

“Not content with going after just me, the White House’s allies decided to make the so-called cowboy prosecutors the enemy, dredging up personal history and old DOJ investigations to paint them as rogues out to get the president.”

“The barrage of charges was unremitting. A common theme was that Starr found nothing in all his years poking around Arkansas, looking for something, anything, to pin on the Clintons. Now, in desperation, he is probing into the most private of human relationships. Someone should rein in this prosecutor gone rogue.”

Like Mueller, Starr was highly regarded in legal circles by the time he was sworn in as Independent Counsel for the Clinton investigation on August 9, 1994, at age of 48 (the same age as Clinton). He had already amassed an impressive resume as a law clerk for Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger, U.S. Solicitor General, and judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Far from leaping at the opportunity, he accepted the Independent Counsel appointment with considerable reluctance, sensing that it was not likely to be “a career enhancing move.”

Clinton’s legal troubles began during his Arkansas governorship, when he chased women with the same libidinous zest as he pursued political office and when he and Hillary sought to start building a “nest egg” through speculative ventures to supplement his meager gubernatorial salary.

Speculative investments are not illegal, but improperly obtaining bank loans to finance them is. Skirt chasing is not unlawful. However, lying under oath about sexual encounters is. Though, Clinton’s sins, in hindsight, appear mere peccadillos compared to Trump’s, they were part of a pattern of reckless and cynical disregard of the law that persuaded Starr to recommend Clinton’s impeachment.

The initial thrust of Starr’s investigation related to the Clintons’ involvement with Jim and Susan McDougal, friends, political cronies, and business partners, in a failed real estate deal in 1978 known as “Whitewater.” Jim McDougal, who controlled two Arkansas banks, Madison Bank & Trust and Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan, used these institutions to bankroll their own real estate ventures and those of associates, including the Clintons. Madison Guaranty failed in 1989, the result of overleveraging and bad loans, costing the taxpayers about $60 million in government bailout funds.

In 1996 in a case prosecuted by Starr’s legal team, the McDougals, along with former Arkansas governor, Jim Guy Tucker, were convicted of fraud and conspiracy in connection with an illegal scheme to divert $825,000 of federally insured bank loans for personal purposes. The Clintons were never charged, but testimony during the trial, cast suspicion on them. Thanks to the stubborn refusal of Susan McDougal to turn government witness against the Clintons and the disappearance of many key documents, Starr concluded that there was not enough “substantial and credible information” to impeach Clinton with regard to Whitewater.

A civil lawsuit against Clinton, initially unrelated to Starr’s investigation, however, caused the Independent Counsel to widen his inquiry to encompass perjury, obstruction of justice and abuse of power in connection with sexual misconduct.

In 1994, Paula Jones, an Arkansas state employee, brought suit against Clinton, alleging that he had try to make her perform oral sex on him during a convention in Little Rock in 1991. After her story was first publicized in the media, along with other claims of sexual advances by the governor towards women allegedly procured for him by an Arkansas state trooper, Clinton described the Jones’ account as a “cheap political trick.” James Carville, Clinton’s presidential campaign manager, publicly mocked Jones, stating, “If you drag a hundred-dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you’ll find.” Humiliated, Jones filed the lawsuit, claiming violation of her civil rights, retaliation and defamation.

When Clinton later had an affair with a young White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, Jones’ attorneys learned of it and deposed Clinton in connection with their suit. Clinton denied under oath having sexual relations with Lewinsky or even having ever been alone with her, a lie compounded by his subsequent tortured rationalizations in testimony before a grand jury convened by Starr. There was also evidence that Clinton had encouraged witnesses, including Monica, to conceal the truth about the affair.

Based on Clinton’s perjured testimony about Lewinsky and his apparent efforts to tamper with witnesses, Starr recommended impeachment, and the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach (charge) Clinton for perjury and obstruction of justice in December 1998. But the Senate failed to muster the 2/3 majority necessary for removal from office and acquitted him in February 1999.

Despite the strength of the evidence against him, Clinton’s personal popularity, the strength of the economy, and his adroitness at turning public opinion against his accusers made it politically inopportune for the Senate to eject him from office.

No doubt, Trump, a far less likeable and popular president than Clinton, hopes he can achieve the same result if Mueller recommends that he be impeached.

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