|THE PRESIDENT'S COUNSEL|
November 19, 1998
After facing a day of questions from minority counsel and members of the committee, Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr was questioned by President Clinton's private lawyer, David Kendall. Jim Lehrer talks about David Kendall's strategy and his relationship with Starr with Margaret Warner, journalist/author Elizabeth Drew and National Journal columnist Stuart Taylor about the House Judiciary Committee's questioning of Kenneth Starr.
JIM LEHRER: And good evening once again. I'm Jim Lehrer. We're back with our special PBS NewsHour coverage of Kenneth Starr's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. Stuart Taylor of the National Journal and Newsweek Magazines and author/journalist Elizabeth Drew are back to offer their commentary. The NewsHour's chief Washington Correspondent, Margaret Warner, is also here to assist me in keeping the story line going, among other things.
David Kendall, President Clinton's attorney.
JIM LEHRER: And speaking of that, Margaret, when we come back, David Kendall, the moment that a lot of people have been waiting for, will finally have arrived. David Kendall is the President's personal lawyer and he was a classmate of the President, was he not, in law school?
MARGARET WARNER: Yes. He has a very similar résumé. He was a Rhodes Scholar. Then he went to Yale Law School. He's 54 years old, just a little older than the President. And he has been handling both the Whitewater case and now the Lewinsky case for five years. And as someone pointed out today, he hadn't been seen much in public -
JIM LEHRER: There he is now looking through his -
MARGARET WARNER: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: -- notes.
MARGARET WARNER: He - inside the White House there was the same wrap on him that there has been on Ken Starr, that he was too focused on the legal jeopardy the President might be in and had a deaf ear to the politics. But when all these letters came out between him and Kenneth Starr, you saw that a lot of bad blood has developed between the two of them and so it'll be very interesting to see when he finally gets to confront Ken Starr.
JIM LEHRER: And for a long time, Stuart, David Kendall had a very low profile. It's only been in the last few - I guess last couple of months -- has it not? -- that he's finally come out in public and first he wouldn't say anything, he never had anything to say.
STUART TAYLOR: For a lawyer whose main client for a long time - one of them has been National Inquirer - he's been remarkably press-averse for a long time. He represents a lot of media clients. I know him slightly. I know a lot of his partners and friends well. He is very highly regarded by almost everyone who knows him well. He's a very smart lawyer, a very decent man. Criminal defense representation has not been his main field, but he's certainly gotten a trial by fire in this case at that kind of work, and his law firm, Williams & Connolly, is both one of the most elite in Washington and one that, I may say, symbolizes as well as any firm in the country what I would call the hired gun - my client, right or wrong - beat them into the ground philosophy of legal representation. It's the adversarial system taken to its most adversarial point.
JIM LEHRER: Founded by Edward Bennett Williams.
STUART TAYLOR: Founded by Edward Bennett Williams, who represented John Connolly in various - a lot of criminal defenses.
JIM LEHRER: Jimmy Hoffa.
STUART TAYLOR: And various mobsters. One thing David Kendall did in rebutting Starr before that I think is a little emblematic of the technique is the President and the grand jury gave testimony that contradicted Monica Lewinsky on what they did together. Kendall was asked after Starr's referral, well, doesn't that mean he's saying she lied, and the answer was, oh, no, people's recollections differ. Well, if you can believe that, about that sort of thing -
JIM LEHRER: What's your take on David Kendall, Elizabeth?
ELIZABETH DREW: Well, this law firm, Williams & Connolly, as you said, the name Williams, Edward Bennett Williams is one of the famed lawyers probably in American history. It's now headed by Brendan Sullivan.
JIM LEHRER: Right. Right.
ELIZABETH DREW: Who was an associate in the old days. And he is -was the attorney, of course, who defended Oliver North in the Iran-Contra hearings. And sitting behind him will be the same woman you're going to see sitting behind David Kendall, Nicole Seligman. She is also - she's a partner in the firm, and she's been one of the people dealing with this case and dealing with the Clintons but has really stayed out of the limelight. But the - Brendan Sullivan tells his partners and associates your job is to defend your client, it is not to talk to the press, and they really are a "no-holds barred" kind of approach to basically defense law, but also a certain amount of First Amendment law they have publications like - as you say - the National Journal.
MARGARET WARNER: You know, one detail I'd just add to what to both my colleagues said about the take no prisoners school. You know, he did not - all reports are he did not want the President to go before that grand jury, and it was the President who decided he finally just had to do it. But, I mean, Kendall's fear that was just putting in jeopardy the kind of jeopardy - you never let your client go into.
JIM LEHRER: And hasn't there been conflict, or wasn't there conflict all the way through on this between what was called the political wing of the White House and the legal wing of the White House as to what the President should or should not do and say and all of that and Kendall was the one who was the minimalist, was he not?
MARGARET WARNER: Absolutely, minimalist in terms of being forthcoming with Starr and also minimalist in terms of letting the political people in the White House even know what was going on, which was tell them nothing, so that there was a small little group, and it was basically Kendall and then sometimes Bob Bennett, the President's lawyer in the Paula Jones case, and the political people felt very, very shut out and this - felt that the President's political image was suffering as a result.
JIM LEHRER: What kind of - how would you characterize Kendall's style? You know, you talked about he comes from this tradition in the Williams & Connolly law firm. Is he - has he got a particular style that you lawyers talk about?
|Animosity between Starr and Kendall.|
STUART TAYLOR: Well, I think he'll be very gentlemanly, I don't think he'll yell and scream and wave his arms. He's very restrained. He's not flamboyant. He didn't play well - remember, after the President's grand jury testimony and statement - he went on television and people all panned in for quibbling - oh, no, he didn't lie, he didn't perjure himself, et cetera. But I think he'll do a good, careful, thorough cross-examination. There is bad blood between him and Starr.
JIM LEHRER: Is that real bad blood, or is that show bad blood? Do we know it's real?
STUART TAYLOR: I think it gets real after a while.
JIM LEHRER: Sometimes I'd love to know when that happens. All right.
STUART TAYLOR: When the Paula Jones lawsuit was filed, interestingly, Lloyd Cutler, who had been White House counsel, I'm told, he was on the record that we weren't sure David Kendall was the right style for that because you need somebody who can argue it in the press, in essence, and so they went to Bob Bennett from another huge law firm, who is famously adept at going on all the talk shows and arguing his case. David Kendall doesn't like to do that, and I frankly think he probably went on those TV shows that he got panned for once or twice against his will.
JIM LEHRER: Elizabeth, why would David Kendall, the private lawyer, be doing this, rather than say Ruff or Greg Craig, one of the others who are part of the official team over there?
ELIZABETH DREW: Well, Greg Craig, who was also from Williams & Connolly, originally, and then he went to the State Department and was brought into the White House to kind of help smooth these waters between the political people and the legal people, and by the way, it's not just Kendall that the political people get upset with; there's a bad relationship generally with the counsel's office, headed by Charles Ruff. I was told that Ruff, for whatever reason, decided he didn't want to do this, and I think that Craig just has not been on the case all that long. He has been - he's been more the outspoken person or the person that - you know, you can reach on the phone and will say things, but he's not really steeped in the case yet.
JIM LEHRER: And Ruff, of course, and I guess Craig too, they're both employees of the United States Government, are they not?
ELIZABETH DREW: Right, right.
STUART TAYLOR: Yes. JIM LEHRER: And of course that would be - wouldn't that be a factor too?
STUART TAYLOR: Yes, I would think that just appearance-wise that might give it a little more gravitasse, especially since -
JIM LEHRER: All right. And here we go.