On April 5, the Republican National Lawyers Association (RNLA) held its 19th annual National Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. This event was widely attended by members and attorneys from across the country to hear from policy and legal experts. The morning sessions were broadcasted live on C-SPAN.
One of the most popular sessions was a discussion by former Independent Counsel, Judge Kenneth Starr. He spoke about his recently released book, Contempt: A Memoir of the Clinton Investigation which recounts the investigation he led some twenty years prior and how its impact continues to ripple through today.
Judge Starr’s timely speech to attendees offered the lens of his experience as Independent Counsel in a current political world consumed by the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his investigation.
Judge Starr praised the efforts of Attorney General William Barr given the constraints of a special counsel and his report under today’s laws [starting around 22:20 mark]:
"The experience under the special prosecutor provisions of the independent counsel caused—and I wish we knew more about the internal the [legislative] deliberations, but—we are no longer going to have reports to Congress. The special counsel is not to report to Congress at all.... These are regulations that bind the Attorney General of the United States until they are rescinded [by Congress]. Bill Barr, our able attorney general, is bound to follow these regulations.
So, under the regulations, the special counsel is to provide the Attorney General with a confidential report, summarizing the special counsel's work…The Attorney General is not to send the [full, unredacted] report to Congress. The Attorney General is to notify Congress and to provide an explanation certain in subcategories of what the special counsel has done.
As I see it—and I have had no conversations with the Attorney General—looking from the outside, what I am seeing is thus far the Attorney General following the letter of the regulations."
Judge Starr continued by noting the role of grand jury information and how it is protected under the law today since the Independence Counsel statute was rescinded following the Clinton investigation [starting around 24:48 mark]:
"Grand jury secrecy is sacrosanct. In an age of transparency, Congress hasn't changed the law, with regards to its secrecy. It could. They [Congress] could say, 'We live in a new age of the Internet. Let's have the grand jury testimony simply produced by a court reporter and have it out on the Internet just as we did with a certain report in 1998. Let's not even look at it.'
Which, [this] is what happened in 1998.
[Congress could say,] “Let's not review it for privacy concerns. Let's not review it with respect to other kinds of issues and concerns….[like] the dignity of the Presidency. Let's just put it out there….”
Is this sounding somewhat familiar?
For Bill Barr to do that would be and I think this is being recognized certainly in the legal community—but sometimes law is swamped by politics—would be a pretty flagrant violation of the criminal laws, with potential criminal penalties.
As I see it, the Attorney General is following the law…."
The full speech can be viewed here. Judge Starr offered an insightful look into the role and changes made to special prosecutor's laws and regulations over the decades. Perhaps most importantly, he explains how we arrived at the current special counsel provisions that Attorney General Barr is bound to today.