TOPICS > Politics

The Defense Rests

January 21, 1999 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: On the third and final day of President Clinton’s formal defense presentation, David Kendall, the president’s private lawyer, stepped up and tried his hand at chipping away at the articles of impeachment.

DAVID KENDALL: The evidence plainly shows that the president did not obstruct justice in any way, and there is nothing in this article which would warrant his removal from office.

KWAME HOLMAN: Kendall systematically took individual parts of the obstruction of justice charge and opened them for closer inspection. He began with the charge the president encouraged Monica Lewinsky to file a false affidavit in the Paula Jones case.

DAVID KENDALL: The House managers alleged that during a December 17th telephone conversation, Ms. Lewinsky asked the president what she could do if she were subpoenaed in the Jones case. And the president responded, “Well, maybe you could sign an affidavit.” And that’s a statement the president does not dispute making. It’s hard to believe, but this statement of the president to Ms. Lewinsky advising her of the possibility of totally lawful conduct is the House managers’ entire factual basis for supporting the first allegation in subpart one.

First of all, Ms. Lewinsky has repeatedly and forcefully denied any and all suggestions that the president ever asked her to lie. In her proffer — and a proffer, of course, is an offer made to a prosecutor to try to get immunity — she made one in her own handwriting on February 1, 1998. And she stated explicitly that neither the president nor anyone on his behalf ever told — ever asked or encouraged Ms. Lewinsky to lie.

In an F.B.I. interview conducted on July 27th, she made two similar statements. You see them up here on the chart. Neither the president nor Jordan ever told Lewinsky that she had to lie. Neither the president nor anyone ever directed Lewinsky to say anything or to lie. And it was the F.B.I. agent who transcribed those two comments. Finally, in Ms. Lewinsky’s August 20th grand jury testimony, she stated, and she had to volunteer to do it, “No one ever asked me to lie and I was never promised a job for my silence.” “No one ever asked me to lie and I was never promised a job for my silence.” Is there something difficult to understand here?

KWAME HOLMAN: Next, Kendall approached the charge the president encouraged Monica Lewinsky to lie if she was called to testify in the Paula Jones case.

DAVID KENDALL: She said, in her handwritten proffer that I had on the chart earlier, that the president did not ask her or encourage her to lie. She made that statement when talking to the independent counsel when her fate was in the hands of the independent counsel, when her immunity agreement could be broken and she could be prosecuted. Indeed, Mr. Manager Hutchinson, and I’d like to quote him, shares this same belief with me. He told you standing right here, “that Ms. Lewinsky’s testimony is credible and she has the motive to tell the truth because of her immunity agreement with the independent counsel where she gets in trouble only if she lies.”

Their claim boils down, however, to the inferences to be drawn from the uncontested facts that in the past before this time, before this December 17th phone call, the president and Ms. Lewinsky had had discussions about what she should say if asked about her visits to the Oval Office. Both have acknowledged that. Not surprisingly, at the time these conversations occurred, they were both concerned to conceal their improper relationship from others while it was going on. Cover stories are an almost inevitable part of every improper relationship between two human beings.

By its very nature, the relationship is one that has to be concealed, and, therefore, misleading cover stories inevitably accompany that relationship. Now to say that is not to excuse it or to exonerate it or justify it, but rather to emphasize that the testimony about visiting Betty or bringing me letters, is in the record, but it’s not linked in any way to the December 17th phone call or to any testimony or affidavit with regard to the Jones case.

KWAME HOLMAN: Kendall moved on to the charge the president allowed his attorney to make false statements to the judge in the Paula Jones case.

DAVID KENDALL: At one point Mr. Bennett, the president’s lawyer, states that according to the affidavit, there is no sex of any kind in any manner, shape or form. Now this claim, which also is presented in the perjury section, as Mr. Craig pointed out, is deficient as an allegation of obstruction both as a matter of fact and as a matter of law.

But I will say one thing. The direct evidence on this point is uniquely available because there is only one witness who can testify about what was in his thoughts at a given moment. And the president has testified at great length in his grand jury testimony about what he was thinking at this point. The president told the grand jury that he was simply not focusing closely on the exchange between the lawyers, but was instead concentrating on his own testimony. He said, “I’m not even sure I paid much attention to what he, Mr. Bennett, was saying. I was thinking. I was ready to get on with my testimony here and they were having these constant discussions all through the deposition.”

There was good reason for the president to be thinking about his own testimony and leave the legal fencing to the lawyers, because whatever else may be said about it, there can be no doubt that the Jones case itself was a vehicle for partisan attack on the president and that he was going to be facing a series of hostile and difficult questions at the deposition.

And also let’s be clear about one other thing. Nothing about this interchange between Mr. Bennett and Judge Wright blocked the ability of the Jones lawyers to obtain information about the president’s relationship with Ms. Lewinsky because the Jones lawyers had been briefed the night before in great detail by Ms. Linda Tripp.

KWAME HOLMAN: Kendall then took on the charge the president obstructed justice by making false and misleading statements to White House aides about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

DAVID KENDALL: The statements which this subpart seven addresses were statements that the president made very shortly after the Lewinsky publicity had broken to Mr. Bowles, Mr. Podesta, Mr. Blumenthal and Mr. Ickes, none of whom were witnesses in the Paula Jones case. They were on none of the witness lists and they had no evidence at all relevant to the Paula Jones case since they had been working for the president — they weren’t working for the president when he was governor of Arkansas in May of 1991, and since they weren’t individuals subject to discovery. So these four aides just had no evidence whatsoever that they could contribute to the Paula Jones case.

Now these allegedly impeachable denials to the four aides occurred, as I said, right after the publicity broke. Indeed, one of them broke on January 21 last year, and then also on the 23rd and the 26th. This was at the very time the president was denying he had had sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky in nearly identical terms on national television to whoever across the united states happened to be watching at that time. Now, having made this denial to the entire country, it’s simply absurd to regard it any differently when made to four aides in the White House directly and person to person rather than through the medium of television.

KWAME HOLMAN: And finally the charge the president assisted in Monica Lewinsky’s job search in order to prevent her truthful testimony.

DAVID KENDALL: Now the proof that is in the record is that there was no corrupt linkage, no assistance whatsoever, which was designed and focused to get Ms. Lewinsky to do anything, nothing which tied the job assistance to what was going on in the Jones case. Mr. Jordan did help open doors, and Ms. Lewinsky went through those doors, and she either succeeded or failed on her own merits. Two of the companies declined to offer her a job, and at the third, she did get an entry-level job, which she received on her own merits. There was no fix, no quid quo proceed, no link to the Jones case.

And also there was no urgency to Mr. Jordan’s assistance to her. He started assisting her well before she showed up on the Jones witness list, and he helped her whenever he could consistently with his own heavy travel schedule. There’s the allegation of a quid pro quo, but there’s nothing in the evidence to support the pro part of it. What the House managers have tried to do — and they are skillful prosecutors — they are able, they are experienced and they are polished, and they know what they’re doing — they’ve tried to juxtapose unrelated events, and by a selective chronology, try and establish causation between two wholly unrelated sets of an event — of events.

And there’s an old logical fallacy that — we’ve had enough Latin today — today, that just because something comes after something, it was caused by the preceding event. It’s like the rooster crowing and taking credit for the sun coming up. When you look at the House managers’ case, there’s a lot of that going on.

JIM LEHRER: And then the last speaker on the president’s behalf – it was former Senator Dale Bumpers of Arkansas. Once again, to Kwame Holman.

KWAME HOLMAN: Reportedly, it was the president himself who called on his longtime friend to close the defense argument. Respected and well-liked by senators of both parties, 73- year-old Dale Bumpers completed his 24-year career in the senate earlier this month. Bumpers is known as a fine orator, but he began addressing his former colleagues with his also-customary jocularity.

FORMER SENATOR DALE BUMPERS: I have seen the look of disappointment on many faces because I know a lot of people thought you were rid of me once and for all. (Laughter) And I’ve taken a lot of ribbing this afternoon, but I have seriously negotiated with some people, particularly on this side, by an offer to walk out and not deliver this speech in exchange for a few votes. (Laughter) I understand three have it under active consideration.

KWAME HOLMAN: Bumpers then got serious.

FORMER SENATOR DALE BUMPERS: The president and I have been together hundreds of times, at parades, dedications, political events, social events. And in all of those years, and in all of those hundreds of times we’ve been together, both in public and in private, I have never one time seen the president conduct himself in a way that did not reflect the highest credit on him, his family, his state, and his beloved nation.

The reason I came here today with some reluctance — please don’t misconstrue that. It has nothing to do with my feelings go the president, as I’ve already said — but it’s because we are from the same state and we are long friends and I know that that necessarily diminishes to some extent the effectiveness of my words. So if Bill Clinton the man, Bill Clinton the friend, were the issue here, I’m quite sure I would not be doing this. But it is the weight of history on all of us, and it is my reverence for that great document — you’ve heard me rail about it for 24 years — that we call our Constitution, the most sacred document to me next to the holy Bible.

We’re here today because the president suffered a terrible moral lapse — a marital infidelity — not a breach of the public trust — not a crime against society, the two things Hamilton talked about in the Federalist Paper Number 65. I recommend it to you before you vote. But it was a breach of his marriage vows, a breach of his family trust. It is a sex scandal. H. L. Mencken said one time, “When you hear somebody say ‘this is not about money,’ it’s about money.” (Laughter)

And when you hear somebody say this is not about sex, it’s about sex. You pick your own adjective to describe the president’s conduct; here’s some that I would use: Indefensible, outrageous, unforgivable, shameless. I promise you the president would not contest any of those or any others. But there’s a human element in this case that has not even been mentioned, and that is the president and Hillary and Chelsea are human beings. This is intended only as a mild criticism of our distinguished friends from the House. But as I listen to the presenters, to the managers make their opening statements, they were remarkably well prepared, and they spoke eloquently, more eloquently than I really had hoped. But when I talk about the human element, I talk about what I thought was, on occasion, unnecessarily harsh and pejorative descriptions of the president. I thought that the language should have been tempered somewhat to acknowledge that he is the president.

To say constantly that the president lied about this and lied about that, as I say, I thought that was too much for a family that has already been as decimated as a family can get. A relationship between husband and wife, father and child, has been incredibly strained, if not destroyed. There’s been nothing but sleepless nights, mental agony for this family for almost five years. — day after day from accusations of having assassinated or had Vince Foster assassinated on down. It has been bizarre. But I didn’t sense any compassion. And perhaps none is deserved. What are we doing here? If, as Hamilton said, it had to be a crime against society or a breach of the public trust, what are we doing here? Even perjury, concealing, or deceiving, an unfaithful relationship does not even come close to being an impeachable offense. Nobody has suggested that Bill Clinton committed a political crime against the state.

So, colleagues, if you honor the Constitution, you must look at the history of the Constitution and how we got to the impeachment clause. And if you do that, and you do that honestly, according to the oath you took, you cannot — you can censure Bill Clinton, you can hand him over to the prosecutor for him to be prosecuted, but you cannot convict him. And you cannot indulge yourselves the luxury or the right to ignore this history.

The American people are now and for sometime have been asking to be allowed a good night’s sleep. They are asking for an end to this nightmare. It is a legitimate request. I’m not suggesting that you vote for or against the polls. I understand that. Nobody should vote against the polls just to show their meddle and their courage. I have cast plenty of votes against the polls and it’s cost me politically a lot of times. This has been going on for a year though. Colleagues, this is easily the most important vote you will ever cast. If you have difficulty because of an intense dislike of the president, that’s understandable. Rise above it. He is not the issue. He will be gone. You won’t. So don’t leave a precedent from which we may never recover, and almost surely will regret.

If you vote to acquit, Mr. Leader, you know exactly what’s going to happen. You are going to go back to your committees, you are going to get on this legislative agenda, you are going to start dealing with Medicare, and Social Security, and tax cuts, and all those things which the people of this country have a non-negotiable demand that you do. If you vote to acquit, you go immediately to the people’s agenda. But if you vote to convict, you can’t be sure what’s going to happen.

James G. Blaine was a member of the senate when Andrew Johnson was tried in 1868. And 20 years later, he recanted and he said, “I made a bad mistake.” And he says, “As I reflect back on it, all I can think about is having convicted Andrew Johnson would have caused much more chaos and confusion in this country than Andrew Johnson could ever conceivably have tried. And so it is with William Jefferson Clinton. If you vote to convict, in my opinion, you are going to be creating more havoc than he could ever possibly create. After all, he has only got two years left. So don’t, for God’s sake, heighten people’s alienation that is at an all-time high toward their government. The people have a right, and they are calling on you to rise above politics, rise above partisanship. They’re calling you on to do your solemn duty. I pray you will. Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice.