TOPICS > Politics

Citizens Reaction in the Impeachment Trial of the President

February 15, 1999 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Now, the first of several looks over the next few evenings at the impact of President Clinton’s impeachment and trial. There are two tonight, beginning with that group of Denver voters we have brought together before to talk about this and other issues. Elizabeth Farnsworth spoke with them last Friday after the senate vote.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: It’s good to see you all again. Thanks for being with us. After more than a year that we all have been talking about this together, Dennis Coughlin, what do you think of the outcome?

DENNIS COUGHLIN, Republican: Well, I would have wished for a different outcome, but I think that the constitution did work. I am glad they went through the process. I think that that’s important for future generations, but everyone that touched this issue comes out a loser — certainly President Clinton, his reputation is damaged forever. Ken Starr is not exactly a shining light. Both the Senate and the House, I thought, were portrayed in a very poor light. Linda Tripp, Monica Lewinsky, Paula Jones, literally everybody that had anything to do with this issue comes across looking very poor. But the process did work, and I think now we get on with our lives and get on with the business of the country. And long term, that’s probably best for all of us.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: James Sulton, do you agree with that?

JAMES SULTON, Democrat: There is no way I could be glad we went through this process. It was absolutely excruciating and probably the most anti-climactic drama in the history of the world. I don’t know why we were forced, other than for reasons of people posturing for history probably, to go through this long charade when the conclusion was preordained the way it was. We have known and we have known for several weeks what the outcome was going to be, and so I am looking for somebody to please explain to me why.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So you don’t feel good right now, having just seen the vote, knowing that it’s basically over? What do you feel like?

JAMES SULTON: I feel spent. I feel like I’ve been whipped. I’ve been whipped by my own TV. (Laughter) I’m just tired.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Linda Houston, how do you look at it?

LINDA HOUSTON, Republican: Well, I think the process finished, and I think it basically worked, but I sometimes feel a little bit like Jim, too, that I’m exhausted by it all. I think that — I think the other side of the fact that everyone looks bad in it, it didn’t help us as a country either. I think, you know, it’s sad that we ever had to go through this, but I mean, I think if any of us could change the last 13 months, we’d do it in a minute, and especially Clinton. I think he would have taken the fifth amendment. He would have done some things differently. And I am — I am happy that they’ve made the conclusion that they’ve made, but I think it’s a sad day for all of us.

CHRIS GOODWIN, Independent: I really worry that the whole impeachment procedure has been cheapened and maybe it’s going to happen more often because of the low standards that they used in initiating the process this time.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And you’re not heartened by the fact that the vote went the way it did in the senate. You don’t see that the system worked in some way?

CHRIS GOODWIN: Well, I think that if the system really would have worked, it wouldn’t have happened in the first place.

ANN PADILLA, Republican: Oh, I disagree.

CHRIS GOODWIN: I’m glad — I’m glad of the result. I don’t think he should have been convicted, but we have shouldn’t have gone through this whole process at all.


ANN PADILLA, Republican: I disagree 100 percent. I think that what we’re dealing with– I think everybody forgets what we’re dealing with. We are a country of law. We had to go through the process because the man committed perjury, and we are all bound by law. Okay? We are all bound by law, and we have all have to go through the process at one point or another. And I think the process that we went through as a country was very necessary.

ERIC DURAN, Democrat: I disagree with that because, I mean, just think about it. Imagine if each one of us had to be tried in a political process rather than a legal process. I think that this is a –

ANN PADILLA: It was a political process.

ERIC DURAN: — definitely — this is definitely — I don’t think he committed a crime against the country as Reagan did or as Nixon did. I mean, you could go — you could take it to the extreme and say that we’re going to indict a president and have him go through impeachment proceedings for jaywalking or for some traffic violation.

BOB JORNAYVAZ, Republican: The same disagreement that we’re having right here is the process.


BOB JORNAYVAZ: You know, let’s not forget that, that the same disagreement that we’re having here is the whole process that our congress and senate went through. You know, both aisles disagreed on whether or not he committed perjury. He was impeached, he was tried, and he was found innocent, and it’s over. You know, we need to get on with things, but that’s the process.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you agree, Bob, with Dennis, that nobody comes out looking good, or do you think that there is credit for some of the institutions involved?

BOB JORNAYVAZ: Well, I want to believe that the Constitution comes out intact. I think it’s a very sad episode that we all with went through. I agree.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Susana Cordova, you’ve been alienated from this from the very beginning. You’ve felt it far away from you, deep disappointment as a Democrat. Has anything changed in these last weeks of the senate trial to make you feel less alienated from it?

SUSANA CORDOVA, Democrat: I still feel really disappointed in the president, but I certainly don’t feel like I gained anything out of this. I wonder a lot what — how this will be treated in history books. And, you know, I work in education, and many times you look at how episodes like this are written up in two paragraphs basically in a high school text, and so I wonder what the two- paragraph summary on this will be. And you know, I just don’t see — I don’t see anybody coming out really a winner, and I’m not sure that the summary would say the Constitution worked.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Linda Houston, I want to get now on the subject of the legacy, which you touched on a little bit. What do you think the legacy of this will be?

LINDA HOUSTON: Well, I think that one thing that’s been damaged is the way we look at leaders now. Where is the honesty? Where is the integrity? Where is the leadership? Where is the elegance and the –maybe the myth of a wonderful leader?

SUSANA CORDOVA: Sure, you know what? He is a man. He’s a man just like we sitting here are men and women, and I think –

LINDA HOUSTON: I have seen wonderful leaders.

SUSANA CORDOVA: And I think you’re right.

LINDA HOUSTON: But you have a responsibility –

ANN PADILLA: And I think you’re right; I think that there are incredible leaders who have human faults just like everybody in this room.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Linda Stankhe, what do you think the legacy is?

LINDA STAHNKE, Republican: I think our grandchildren are going to ask us, and ask their parents, how could it have turned out this way, when he so obviously did these things? How could it have been so politicized when the man obviously committed a crime?

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Sara Smith, do you think there will be a really lasting legacy from this, and if so, in what?

SARA SMITH, Democrat: I think it really depends what happens next, because personally I don’t think it’s over. Clinton’s only — Clinton, all he wants now is to make the most of the time he has left. I don’t think the Republicans have dropped it. I think they’re going to do everything they can to make sure he doesn’t make anything or bring any kind of dignity to his legacy.

BOB JORNAYVAZ: I disagree.


ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, I want to follow up on that. Okay. Are you skeptical about that?

BOB JORNAYVAZ: I think there’s a lot of Republicans out there that are willing to say, “we’ve gone through the process, we don’t like the outcome, but it is over. Now let’s move on.”

SARA SMITH: I hope so.

BOB JORNAYVAZ: Okay? And so I think you’ll see that. I mean –

SARA SMITH: I hope so.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So, you’re optimistic.

BOB JORNAYVAZ: We’re the ones that said, “let’s go through the process. Once we’ve gone through it, let’s put it behind us.” There were others that said, “let’s not go through the process.”

DEE CISNEROS, Democrat: As long as we have that independent counsel, it’s not going to stop. He’s going to keep harping at something, and I think that’s the big danger. And I think that the legislature has to start looking at the independent counsel. This independent counsel has not been independent. He became a prosecutor. He sided with the Republicans.

CHRIS GOODWIN: You’re right.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay, Chris Goodwin, let’s say that that may be one of the legacies, something — that there’s questioning of the independent counsel law. What do you think another legacy will be?

CHRIS GOODWIN: Well, I think over the short-term, for the Republicans, they could be in for some political trouble in the next election, so if they’re smart, I think they would drop the whole — because I think they’ve had basically three referendums on Bill Clinton, the two presidential elections and the last congressional election. And they’ve lost each time they’ve tried to make him the issue. Now, whether you like Bill Clinton or not, and I’m not a big fan of Bill Clinton for a lot of other reasons, I think they better get that message or they’ll all suffer at the polls.

BOB JORNAYVAZ: Can you imagine anybody in the year 2000 bringing this up, whether you’re a Democrat saying, “yes, I support the president’s behavior,” or, “I’m a Republican that tried to impeach him”? I think we’re going to see it’s behind us. It was dark period in our history, and I can’t imagine anyone using it in a campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I disagree with that. (Talking over each other)

ERIC DURAN: That’s what happened after Watergate. After Watergate, there was a huge backlash against the Republican Party. And, you know, here in Colorado, the state legislature’s almost always been Republican dominated. And that was the first time ever in the history of the state, I think, that we had a Democratic legislature. So there was a huge backlash. And I think, also, the president’s going to feel some need to vindicate himself by going out and working hard for Al Gore and working against some of these folks that actually, you know, sort of led the impeachment process against him.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON IN GROUP: But he would have done that anyway.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Brent Neiser, how do you see the legacy?

BRENT NEISER, Republican: Long-term, I think the lessons of history will look back at principles, what principles were followed. Down the road, we’re going to be looking at, you know, where was the truth in all this? And who stood up for right and wrong? That will be the ultimate legacy.


JAMES SULTON: You have to admire the idealism that surrounds a lot of this discussion about the system worked and the Constitution remained whole, and bladdy, bladdy, blah. But the fact of the matter is that when you get down to the real essence of it, the image of the presidency, if you study history, was always artificial. Presidents starting from George Washington sinned and made mistakes and did all kinds of things that were never brought to light. So the event, the trial, has no legacy. Presidents do. The trial doesn’t. It has a mark in history, and it’s an ugly mark, undeniably ugly mark. That won’t change. How much attention people pay to it will depend on just what happens afterward.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: All right. Well, thank you very much. I have a feeling our next discussion will be about something else. (Laughter)

WOMAN IN GROUP: We can only hope. (laughter among group)