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Originally dealing with the failed land deal years earlier known as Whitewater, Starr, with the approval of Attorney General of the United States Janet Reno, conducted a wide ranging investigation of alleged abuses including the firing of White House travel agents, the alleged misuse of FBI files, and Clinton's conduct during the sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former Arkansas government employee, Paula Jones. In the course of the investigation, Linda Tripp provided Starr with taped phone conversations in which Monica Lewinsky, a former White House Intern, discussed having oral sex with Clinton. At the deposition, the judge ordered a precise legal definition of the term "sexual relations" that Clinton claims to have construed to mean only vaginal intercourse. A much-quoted statement from Clinton's grand jury testimony showed him questioning the precise use of the word "is." Clinton said, "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is. If the—if he—if 'is' means is and never has been, that is not—that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement".
At the time it was released, the report was criticized for making controversial accusations about exactly what Clinton did. The report claimed "the details are crucial to an informed evaluation of the testimony, the credibility of witnesses, and the reliability of other evidence. Many of the details reveal highly personal information; many are sexually explicit. This is unfortunate, but it is essential." This accusation was proven to be false. Because Starr regularly leaked tidbits to press about the lurid, lengthy sexual details that were mentioned in his report, he was criticized for using the scandal as a political maneuver and was charged for violating legal ethics by presenting information irrelevant to an investigation as evidence of legal wrongdoing. Also, it is unclear whether Starr had the legal authority to ask Clinton questions about his sexual relationship with Lewinsky, as the OIC was convened solely to investigate Whitewater and Paula Jones' claim that Clinton sexually assaulted her. Questioning about a sexual relationship void of assault appears to be both irrelevant under the Federal Rules of Evidence (FRE) as a whole and under Rule 413, which allows questioning about separate allegations of sexual assault (which was never asserted about Lewinsky's relationship with Clinton).
The report was also criticized for exaggerating what the legal definition of perjury is, accusing Clinton of committing perjury after only one witness claimed he did so and saying that Clinton lied when he said he did not have sexual relations with Lewinsky in terms described by Paula Jones' attorneys. Two of the three parts of the definition of "sexual relations" described by Jones' attorneys during her lawsuit had been ruled out by presiding Judge Susan Webber Wright as "too broad" and legally unacceptable.
The report alleged that Clinton considered oral sex to be a form of sexual relations and that the relationship between him and Lewinsky lasted longer than the date he described, but presented nothing relevant to back its claims. The report also claimed that Clinton falsely denied under oath ever meeting with Lewinsky alone at times, despite the fact that Clinton did admit to this when he testified, and that Clinton obstructed justice by concealing gifts he gave to Lewinsky and destroying an intimate note that was left in a book he claimed Lewinsky gave him when she visited the White House on January 4, 1998. Lewinsky's testimony that Clinton concealed gifts was contradicted by both Clinton's testimony and that of his personal secretary Betty Currie, who each said that it was Lewinsky who asked him for some gifts and that he tended to give a number of his staff gifts as an act of courtesy. Betty Currie also produced some the gifts Clinton gave to Lewinsky before the grand jury. Clinton also denied ever seeing such an intimate note and the Secret Service WAVES records showed Lewinsky did not visit the White House on any given date in 1998. Starr also presented nothing credible to back his claim that Clinton obstructed justice by asking Lewinsky to file an affidavit denying there was ever a relationship between the two or that both Lewinsky and Clinton denied what had truly happened during the relationship under oath. The report also alleged Clinton's job offer to Lewinsky was an attempt to keep her from admitting the relationship to the public and thus obstruct justice, but had nothing relevant to back this claim either.
Starr also accused Clinton of denying under oath that he ever had a conversation with Vernon Jordan about Lewinsky's involvement in the Paula Jones lawsuit. Clinton, however, was never asked this when he testified during the Jones case. Starr also accused Clinton of witness tampering by influencing Currie to testify in favor of him. Currie, however, was not called as a witness when stated what she saw had happened during the relationship between Clinton and Lewinsky and it was demonstrated that Lewinsky was a friend of Currie's who had exchanged some of the gifts Clinton gave Lewinsky during a visit. While Starr did acknowledge that Currie did visit Lewinsky's apartment and exchanged the gifts with her, he also claimed that the fact that Currie drove to Lewinsky's apartment proved Lewinsky's testimony that Clinton concealed the gifts was correct and Currie's and Clinton's were both false. This claim about was denounced as without any basis or logic.
Starr also claimed that Clinton simultaneously delayed testimony for seven months and lied to potential grand jury witnesses by publicly denying the relationship, and thus committed a criminal felony by refusing to testify. When Clinton made his claim about his relationship with Lewinsky to the public, however, he was not under oath and thus it legally was not a felony. There was also no evidence that Clinton committed witness tampering by privately denying the relationship to these witnesses and asking them to testify in his favor.
Starr also argued that Clinton abused power by: denying the relationship with Lewinsky ever occurred; using executive privilege to both pursue an appeal against the case without Starr's knowledge; using executive privilege to cover up the relationship; delaying his grand jury testimony until August, and by getting the Secret Service to agree to assist in covering up the relationship in an acquiescing matter. However, a letter was discovered that showed Clinton's legal team had informed Starr before the appeals took place. The report was also misleading when it reflected the Supreme Court's ruling that the President could not use the Secret Service to assist in whatever they wanted help with. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who wrote the majority opinion, had also stated that any case with merit, the prospect of an appeal would be granted. When Clinton pursued the appeal before the DC District Court, the court's Chief Justice Norma Holloway Johnson acknowledged that Clinton was cooperating with Starr and did not use executive privilege to cover up the relationship. Abuse of power had also been defined in The Federalist Papers as "corrupt use of the office for personal gain or some other improper purpose," which was not demonstrated in this case.
- Perjury about sexual relations from the Paula Jones deposition
- "Starr Report: Narrative". Nature of President Clinton's Relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. 19 May 2004. Retrieved 2009-05-09.
- "White House Second Response to Starr". The Washington Post (The Washington Post Company). 1998-09-12. Retrieved 2011-09-09.
- "News leaks prompt lawyer to seek sanctions against Starr's Office". Thefreelibrary.com. Retrieved May 23, 2011.
- "The Starr Report: How To Impeach A President (Repeat)". Huffington Post. March 13, 2012. Retrieved May 13, 2008.
- "President Clinton's Deposition". Washington Post. Retrieved 2014-08-08.