Ken Starr Returns to the Impeachment Fray, This Time for the Defense

Mr. Clinton’s circle remains as critical as ever. “Whether it was representing Big Tobacco, obsessing about President Clinton’s sex life or disgracing himself in the Baylor rape scandal, Ken Starr has always been on the wrong side of history, ethics, and common decency,” said Paul Begala, a former White House counselor to Mr. Clinton. “He is therefore the perfect lawyer for Donald Trump.”

In the past 18 months, Mr. Starr has sought to reshape his legacy, publishing a new memoir about his time as independent counsel called “Contempt” sharply criticizing Bill and Hillary Clinton. He also has become a regular commentator defending Mr. Trump against House Democrats seeking to impeach him for abuse of office and obstruction of Congress.

Mr. Starr has distinguished between Mr. Clinton’s actions, which he called clear felonies, and Mr. Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to provide incriminating information about Democrats, which he called “woefully inadequate” justification for removal from office.

“That is abuse of power,” Mr. Starr said on Mark Levin’s Fox News show in December shortly after the House impeached Mr. Trump. “We are going to impeach him before he’s done anything. Excuse me, you are using your power in a very vicious way. Whatever you think of him — you don’t think well of him; you think ill of him — it is not your business to use power in such an unprincipled way. Again, shame on you.”

His defense contrasted with previous moments when he criticized Mr. Trump. After Gordon D. Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, testified to the House about Mr. Trump’s Ukraine pressure campaign, Mr. Starr said it was “bombshell” testimony that would be cited by Democrats as evidence that “the president, in fact, committed the crime of bribery.”

He said the testimony could prompt Republican senators to decide that “we need to make a trip down to the White House” to tell Mr. Trump to resign the way Republican lawmakers did with President Richard M. Nixon in 1974. He added he did not think that would happen but that Mr. Sondland’s account had “the potential to be a game-changer.”

As the proceedings made their way to a final vote, however, Mr. Starr firmed up his position on the president’s side, condemning House Democrats for what he called an “anti-constitutional exercise of power” by impeaching Mr. Trump.