TOPICS > Politics

Closing Arguments

February 8, 1999 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: Today, House managers delivered their closing arguments. It was their last chance to convince any undecided senators that President Clinton should be removed from office. But many of the 13 managers, beginning with Wisconsin’s James Sensenbrenner, gave personal reflections of their own four- month impeachment duty.

REP. JAMES SENSENBRENNER, Impeachment Manager: The news media characterizes the managers as 13 angry men. They are right in that we are angry, but they are dead wrong about what we are angry about. We have not spent long hours pouring through the evidence, sacrificed time with our families, and subjected ourselves to intense political criticism to further a political vendetta. We have done so because of our love for this country and respect for the office of the presidency, regardless of who may hold it. We have done so because of our devotion to the rule of law, and our fear that if the president does not suffer the legal and constitutional consequences of his actions, the impact of allowing the president to stand above the law will be felt for generations to come.

KWAME HOLMAN: Utah’s Christopher Cannon.

REP. CHRISTOPHER CANNON, Impeachment Manager: Traditionally after an airing of the facts and a vote by the senate, either a president is removed, or he is vindicated. In this case, it seems, neither of those results will be realized. While the facts are clear that the president committed perjury and obstruction of justice – and here I’d like to associate myself with the comments of Mr. Manager Sensenbrenner — it is equally clear that this body may not remove him from office, and from this perception, you face the challenge of legitimizing the end result. Your vote will end this matter. It is nonjusticiable. Whatever your decision is, it cannot be undone. The outcome will be right by definition. But how well you do the work of divining that outcome will affect the way we as a nation deal with the divisions among us.

KWAME HOLMAN: Some managers spoke directly to what criteria senators should use to make their decisions. George Gekas of Pennsylvania.

REP. GEORGE GEKAS, Impeachment Manager: With all the fury and the tumult and the shouting and the invective and the language and the just plain shouting that has occurred across the halls of congress and every place else in the country, it all swoops down and is telescoped to one issue: Did the president utter falsehoods under oath? Everyone understands that. Everyone comes to the conclusion that that’s a serious allegation that has been made through the impeachment, and one which you must judge in the final vote, which you will be casting. But why is it important about whether or not the president uttered falsehoods under oath? It is important not just to constitute the basis of perjury, as is alleged, or — and/or obstruction of justice, which is alleged, but even if those two were not proved in all their elements as crimes, you would still have to consider a falsehood under oath as constituting an impeachable offense.

KWAME HOLMAN: Indiana’s Steve Buyer.

REP. STEVE BUYER: I have heard some senators state publicly that they are using the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. But the senate has held that the criminal standard of proof is inappropriate for impeachment trials. The result of conviction in an impeachment trial is removal from office; it is not punishment. You are to be guided by your own conscience, not by the criminal standard of proof of beyond a reasonable doubt. I have also heard some senators from both sides of the aisle state publicly, “I think these offenses rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors.” Now, to state publicly that you believe that high crimes and misdemeanors have occurred but for some reason you have this desire to not remove the president – that desire, though, does not square with the law, the Constitution, and the senate’s precedents for removing federal judges for similar offenses. Now, so long as William Jefferson Clinton is president, the only mechanism available to hold him accountable for his high crimes and misdemeanors is the power of impeachment and removal. The Constitution is very clear.

KWAME HOLMAN: House managers spoke for only one of the three hours they were allotted, reserving the other two for after the president’s lawyers spoke. White House Counsel Charles Ruff showed his displeasure with the House managers having that opportunity.

CHARLES RUFF, White House Counsel: I don’t think there is a court in the land where a prosecutor would be able to stand up for one-third of his allotted time, speak in general terms about the — what the people are entitled to and what the rule of law stands for, as important as all that may be, and sit down and turn to the defendant’s counsel and ask that defense counsel go forward, reserving two hours for rebuttal. I recognize that procedural niceties have not necessarily characterized the way this trial has gone forward, but I do believe– and this is the only time today I will say this, I promise– that kind of prosecutorial gambit is symptomatic of what we have seen before in these last weeks: Wanting to win too much.

JIM LEHRER: Ruff then challenged the House managers’ general argument that the president actions warrant his removal from office.

CHARLES RUFF: I respect them as elected representatives of their people and, as were, the adversaries, but I believe their vision to be too dark, a vision too little attuned to the needs of the people, too little sensitive to the needs of our democracy. I believe it to be a vision more focused on retribution, more designed to achieve partisan ends, more uncaring about the future we face together. Our vision, I think, is quite different, but it is not naive. We know the pain the president has caused our society and his family and his friends, for we know too how much the president has done for this country. And more importantly, we know that our primary obligation — the duty we all have– is to preserve that which the founders gave us, and we can best fulfill that duty by carefully traveling the path that they laid out for us.

There is only one question before you, albeit a difficult one, one that is a question of fact and of law and constitutional theory. Would it put at risk the liberties of the people to retain the president in office? Putting aside partisan animus, if you can honestly say that it would not, that those liberties are safe in his hands, then you must vote to acquit.

Now, each of you has a sense of this in your mind and in your heart better than anything I could convey or, I suspect, anything better than my colleagues could convey to you, and I won’t undertake to instruct you further on this issue. And just as we ultimately leave that question in your hands, we leave to the conscience of each member the question of what standard of proof to apply. Despite Congressman Buyer’s exhortation to the contrary, this body has never decided– for any of you– what standard is appropriate, what standard inappropriate. Each senator is left to his or her own best judgment. I suggested to you when I last spoke to you that I believe you must apply a standard sufficiently stringent to enable you to make this most important decision with certainty and in a manner that will ensure that the American people understand that it has been made with that certainty. This is not an issue as to which we as a people and we as a republic can be endowed.

JIM LEHRER: Ruff systematically rebutted the charges of perjury and obstruction of justice contained in the two articles of impeachment.

CHARLES RUFF: As we start this discussion, let me offer you a phrase that I hope you will remember as I move through the articles with you, and that phrase is “moving targets” and “empty pots.” “Moving targets,” ever shifting theories, each one advanced to replace the last as it has fallen, fallen victim to the facts; empty pots, attractive containers but when you take the lid off, you find nothing to sustain you.

KWAME HOLMAN: Ruff used portions of Monica Lewinsky’s videotaped deposition to support his arguments.

CHARLES RUFF: Ms. Lewinsky made clear beyond any doubt, first, that the president had never discussed the contents of the affidavit with her.


ATTORNEY: (videotape) Did he make any representation to you about what you could say in that affidavit?


ATTORNEY: What did you understand you would be saying in that affidavit to avoid testifying?

MONICA LEWINSKY: I believe I testified to this in the grand jury. And to the best of my recollection, it was, to my mind, came – it was a range of things. I mean, it could either be something innocuous or could go as far as having to deny the relationship. Not being a lawyer, nor having gone to law school was – I thought it could be anything.

ATTORNEY: Did he at that point suggest one version or the other version?

MONICA LEWINSKY: No, I didn’t even mention that, so there wasn’t a further discussion — there was no discussion of what would be in an affidavit.

CHARLES RUFF: And I’m sure you’ll take those excerpts with you as you move into your deliberations. Now before today, I wrote down the following: The rules say that the managers will have the last word. Well, the rules today say the managers will have the last paragraphs. And as you listen to them, I know that you will hear not their eloquence, as grand as it may be, not the pointed jibes of Manager Hutchinson or Centaurian tones of Manager Rogan, nor the homespun homilies of Manager Graham, nor the grave exhortations of Manager Hyde but voices of greater eloquence than any of us can master, the voices of Madison and Hamilton and the others who met in Philadelphia 212 years ago and the voices of the generations since and the voices of the American people now and the voices of generations to come. These– not the voices of mere advocates– must be your guide.

KWAME HOLMAN: Ruff’s closing argument in defense of President Clinton took less than two hours. Following a break, the lead prosecutors in the impeachment trial concluded their remarks as well.

REP. BILL McCOLLUM, Impeachment Manager: Now what are the consequences of failing to remove this president from office if you believe he’s committed the crimes of perjury and obstruction of justice? What are the consequences of failing to do that? What’s the down side? First, at the very least, you will leave a precedent of doubt as to whether perjury and obstruction of justice are high crimes and misdemeanors when impeaching the president. In fact, your vote to acquit under these circumstances may well mean that no president in the future will ever be impeached or removed for perjury or obstruction of justice. Is that the record that you want?

Second, you will be establishing the precedent that the standard for impeachment and removal of a president is different of that for impeaching or removing a judge or any other official. What legacy to history is this? By voting to acquit the president, what mischief have you wrought to our Constitution, to our system of government, to the values and principles to be cherished by future generations of Americans — al William Jefferson Clinton – all because — I guess is the argument — that William Jefferson Clinton was elected and is popular with the people — all this when it is clear that a vote to convict would amount to nothing more than the peaceful, orderly and immediate transition of government of the presidency to the vice president. William Jefferson Clinton is not a king. He is our president. You have the power and the duty to remove him from office for high crimes and misdemeanors. I implore you to muster the courage of your convictions, to muster the courage the Founding Fathers believed that the senate would always have in times like these. William Jefferson Clinton has committed high crimes and misdemeanors. Convict him and remove him.

REP. CHARLES CANADY, Impeachment Manager: Those who established our Constitution would have understood the seriousness of the misconduct of William Jefferson Clinton. They would have understood that it was the president who has shown contempt for the Constitution, not the managers from the House of Representatives. They would have understood the seriousness of the example of lawlessness he has set. They would have understood the seriousness of the contempt for the law the president’s conduct has caused. They would have understood the seriousness of the damage the president has done to the integrity of his high office. Those wise statesmen who established our form of government would have understood the seriousness of the harm President Clinton has done to the cause of justice and constitutional government. They would have understood that a president who does such things should not remain in office with his crimes. Ladies and gentlemen of the senate, for the sake of justice and for the sake of the Constitution, this president should be convicted and removed.

KWAME HOLMAN: When the prosecution completes its closing arguments this evening, the impeachment case will be in the hands of the senators. Their deliberations are expected to begin tomorrow.