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Thursday, January 22, 1998 Published at 16:40 GMT

Kenneth Starr: On the trail of the President

The centre of attention: Kenneth Starr

He's finally got their attention.

After years of sorting through a sea of complex paperwork relating to the Whitewater real estate scandal, the US Independent Counsel, Kenneth Starr, has been delving into a Clinton scandal in which the American public is interested: his alleged affair with 21-year-old Monica Lewinsky.

Kenneth Starr speaks to reporters: We treat this like any other investigation (1'01")
Mr Starr is not a new face in Washington. In fact, he should be quite well known. It is he who is responsible for investigating the vast range of allegations against President Bill Clinton.

Yet despite hundreds of headlines, interviews and statements, few people can say who Kenneth Starr really is.

Mr Starr goes to Washington

[ image: President Bill Clinton has survived other Starr investigations]
President Bill Clinton has survived other Starr investigations
At first glance, Mr Starr seems an unlikely candidate for such a high-profile and controversial job.

Friends say that he is a sensitive, deeply religious man, who likes to read the Bible every morning. His manner is genteel and distinguished. He rarely gives interviews to the press.

Even his critics do not doubt his integrity. They do, however, say he is not qualified for the job.

"Though he has outstanding political credentials and is admired as a legal intellect, Starr lacks the two main qualifications of an independent prosecutor - he is not independent and he has never prosecuted a case," accused an editorial in Newsday, alluding to Mr Starr's past work for Republican administrations.

Former BBC US Chief Correspondent Gavin Esler: This could be the most serious investigation yet (48")
But on one count, there is no dispute: Mr Starr is a persistent and thorough investigator. For more than four years, he has doggedly sifted through vast piles of information on an ever-growing number of allegations against Bill Clinton - from Whitewater to Travelgate to the suicide of White House aide, Vince Foster.

Son of a preacher man

[ image: Kenneth Starr]
Kenneth Starr
Kenneth Starr was born in Vernon, Texas in 1947, the son of a Church of Christ minister. He graduated from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., in 1968, and then went on to Brown University for a master's degree in political science and Duke University Law School.

He clerked at the Supreme Court and later moved to Washington to work with President Ronald Reagan's Attorney General, his mentor William French Smith.

There, ironically, he helped draft the Reagan administration's opposition to the Independent Counsel statute, which allows for a special prosecutor to investigate the improprieties inside the Executive branch. (It failed.) He was later named President George Bush's Solicitor General.

According to one report, Mr Starr was restless after leaving the Solicitor General's office, when the Bush administration ended. He considered running for a Virginia Senate seat but later accepted the job of Independent Counsel after Attorney General Janet Reno's choice was deemed too partisan.

In his four years in the job, Mr Starr has weathered accusations of partisanship and desperate manoeuvres to bring down President Clinton.

But this time, all eyes are on Mr Starr. If he succeeds in proving the allegations, his long-running investigation could bring about the biggest crisis of the Clinton presidency and threaten its hold on power.

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