As the Senate begins impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump this week, one of the major players, and one of the newest, has deep Texas ties. Ken Starr was born in Vernon, Texas, and was president of Baylor University from 2010 to 2016, when he was removed after the university’s mishandling of sexual assault cases. Back in the 1990s, he took a leading role in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Now, the man President Trump once called a “freak” and a “wacko” is part of Trump’s own legal defense team.
Jeffrey Engel is the founding director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. He says it’s difficult to know exactly how the Senate impeachment proceedings will play out.
“The Senate is able to define its own rules,” Engel says. “The Senate is even able to overrule Chief Justice [John] Roberts – any ruling he makes – with a simple majority.”
Roberts will preside over Trump’s impeachment trial, in which the 100 senators are the decision-makers in the case. Engel says Senate leaders are currently negotiating the amount of time allowed for the trial, and whether witnesses will be allowed to testify.
Engel says a key difference between the Trump and Clinton impeachments is that witnesses each side wanted to call in the Clinton case had already testified in other contexts. In the current impeachment, many witnesses have yet to be heard at all.
“There’s a real difference between having a witness that is trying to present the best case, and a witness who is trying to give information to help us decide what actually happened,” Engel says.
Starr’s presence on the president’s defense team rekindled controversy that surrounded Starr when he left his role as Baylor’s president. During his tenure, the university faced accusations of ignoring or mishandling sexual assault allegations made by female students.
Starr’s central role in the Clinton impeachment, and his close association with conservative politics, have continued to make him a lightning rod for critics who believe that Clinton’s impeachment in 1999 was improper.
“I think he is there today to add enthusiasm to President Trump’s base,” Engel says. “He is a person who is known to have gone after the Democrats, gone after a Clinton, for goodness sake.”
Written by Shelly Brisbin.