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Ken Starr, the prosecutor on the Clinton Whitewater investigation, has died at 76

Independent counsel Ken Starr testifies before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee in April 1999.
Joyce Naltchayan
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AFP via Getty Images
Independent counsel Ken Starr testifies before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee in April 1999.

Updated September 13, 2022 at 8:37 PM ET

Kenneth Starr, the one-time federal prosecutor who led the Whitewater investigation into Bill and Hillary Clinton during the 1990s, died Tuesday at a Houston hospital due to complications from surgery, his family said. He was 76.

Born in small-town Texas in 1946, Starr entered the world of Beltway law soon after finishing law school at Duke University. He clerked for Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger in the 1970s, and was then appointed to a federal judgeship under the Reagan administration in 1983. He later served as solicitor general under President George H.W. Bush.

Starr became a fixture in national headlines in the 1990s, after a three-judge panel appointed him to lead an investigation into real estate investments made by the Clintons during the years that Bill Clinton was building his political career in Arkansas.

As independent counsel, Starr was granted expansive investigative powers. The scope of the investigation grew far beyond the original inquiry into the Whitewater real estate deal.

Although the Clintons themselves were never charged, Starr's inquiry loomed for years over the administration. Starr investigated the death of a White House attorney, the firing of White House travel agents and the potential mishandling of FBI files.

Eventually, Starr's investigation came to encompass Clinton's conduct as the defendant in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by an Arkansas government employee named Paula Jones, who accused Clinton of misconduct during his time as governor of Arkansas.

As part of that investigation, Starr's spotlight turned to Clinton's relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and the president's testimony in a sworn deposition about his conduct with her.

Starr's 445-page report about the case, delivered to Congress in 1998, laid out 11 possible grounds for impeachment, including perjury, obstruction of justice and abuse of power. The report ultimately led to Clinton's impeachment, though the president was acquitted by the Senate and served out the remainder of his term.

Later, Starr expressed that he regretted the turn his investigation took. "I deeply regret that I took on the Lewinsky phase of the investigation. But at the same time, as I still see it twenty years later, there was no practical alternative to my doing so," he wrote in his 2018 memoir Contempt: A Memoir of the Clinton Investigation.

Starr's stint at Baylor ended in scandal

In this Sept. 12, 2015, file photo, Ken Starr, then Baylor's president, waits to run onto the field before an NCAA college football game in Waco, Texas.
LM Otero / AP
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AP
In this Sept. 12, 2015, file photo, Ken Starr, then Baylor's president, waits to run onto the field before an NCAA college football game in Waco, Texas.

In 2010, Starr joined Baylor University in Waco, Texas as the school's president and chancellor. Under his guidance at the school, Starr oversaw the opening of the university's $250 million football stadium.

"Judge Starr was a dedicated public servant and ardent supporter of religious freedom that allows faith-based institutions such as Baylor to flourish," Baylor President Linda A. Livingstone said in a statement on Tuesday.

She added that Starr's impact on the school was "profound."

However, Starr departed from the university under a cloud of scandal. He resigned in 2016 after an investigation revealed that the school had mishandled allegations of sexual assault involving the football team.

A 2016 report from The Wall Street Journal uncovered that at least 17 women had reported sexual or domestic assault involving 19 football players since 2011. The reports also included four instances of alleged gang rapes, according to the Journal.

An internal examination of what went wrong at Baylor indicated that senior leadership at Baylor (Starr was not directly named) failed to implement Title IX, the federal law that polices sexual violence on campus, as well as the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act.

In a 2018 interview with NPR, Starr said this about the Baylor scandal: "Unfortunately — and this is going to sound like an apologia, but it is the absolute truth — never was it brought to my attention that there were these issues. And I focused on student safety from day one."

After Baylor, Starr joined the Lanier Law Firm in 2018, becoming a frequent commentator and defender of President Donald Trump on Fox News.

"Over four decades I have known Ken as 'Judge Starr,' 'Dean Starr,' 'President Starr,' 'Uncle Ken,' but most importantly 'dear friend,' to me, my family, our firm, our clients, American justice, and world justice," Mark Lanier, founder and CEO of the Lanier Law Firm said in a statement. "The world has lost a super Starr, and the world is rightly in mourning."

In 2020, Starr joined Trump's defense team for his Senate impeachment trial.

He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Alice Mendell Starr, his three children, and nine grandchildren.

"We are deeply saddened with the loss of our dear and loving Father and Grandfather, whom we admired for his prodigious work ethic, but who always put his family first," his son, Randall Starr, said in the statement.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.