Why Webster Hubbell was indicted again, and how Ken Starr earned $1 million a year from his private law practice while serving as Whitewater Special Counsel

Here's what Webster Hubbell wrote in his book FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES:

A few weeks before the Bush administration political appointees left the Justice Department, the Office of Legal Counsel issued a letter ruling stating that the one-year ban on lobbying the department of government you had left did not apply to signing legal briefs. Some high-level attorneys are paid handsome sums to sign legal briefs for other firms or entities. The Rose law firm once had a case before the U.S. Supreme Court and we hired a former solicitor general to help. He signed the brief and argued the case. We knew that having his name on the brief increased tenfold the chances of our case being heard.

According to the letter ruling, a senior official could leave Justice and immediately be opposite the U.S. government in a lawsuit signing briefs unless it was a matter that the lawyer had substantial involvement in during his tenure. This wasn't a published opinion, so neither Dan Kofsky, acting head of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel, nor the Office of Government Ethics knew who in Justice had received the opinions. The Office of Government Ethics was also concerned that other lawyers who left other divisions of the executive branch, such as the Departments of the Interior or Education, were operating under the belief that they couldn't sign briefs opposing the United States until the one-year ban was exhausted - while a select group of Justice lawyers could use this private letter to their advantage.

The bigger problem was that they all thought the letter opinion was wrong. I saw a political problem and a legal problem. The legal problem was that if the opinion was wrong, we needed to change it. The political problem was a bit stickier. I didn't want a change of a month-old rule to look like the new administration was punishing lawyers from the previous administration. I asked for a thoroughly researched memo on the subject.

The memo took a while to prepare, and one evening I sat and read all the points for and against. Dan had been unbiased and fair, but it was clear to me that we had to reverse the previous opinion and inform everyone that signing briefs violated the one-year ban. When I told Dan and Jon Rogovin, a lawyer assigned to help me until he could be permanently placed, I said we needed to get the word out to all recipients of the previous memo. Jon warned me that I was about to make a lot of people mad. "Ken Starr gets paid a million dollars a year to sign legal briefs," he said. He said that no matter how hard I tried to be fair, I would be seen as "messing with people's livelihood."

I never heard back from Jon on Ken Starr's reaction. The problem was compounded when the Criminal Division heard about the opinion and opened a criminal investigation - despite my pleas that this was surely a case of an honest difference of opinion on the law, not a criminal matter. The investigation found no criminal conduct. This issue came up again when in Ralph Nader's book, NO CONTEST: COROPORATE LAWYERS AND THE PERVERSION OF JUSTICE IN AMERICA, he criticized Starr for signing briefs. Some of my friends have suggested that perhaps because of my actions Ken Starr has a vendetta against me. I don't believe that.


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Contact: Joshua Leinsdorf