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Judgement Day

February 12, 1999 at 12:00 AM EDT
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TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: The senate found President Clinton not guilty today of two articles of impeachment. Neither drew the 67 votes required by the Constitution to remove him from office. Kwame Holman begins our coverage.

KWAME HOLMAN: Senators came to the capitol this morning prepared for their appointment with history. Most already had announced how they would vote on the two articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton. And while it long was clear two- thirds of the senate would not convict the president, many senators entered the chamber doubting that either article would attract even a majority vote.

SPOKESMAN: Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye.

KWAME HOLMAN: At 9:30, the senate convened briefly in open session. During his statement on the day’s schedule, Majority Leader Trent Lott expressed a feeling endorsed by many senators in recent days.

SEN. TRENT LOTT, Majority Leader: The senate will resume the final deliberations now in the closed session, thank goodness. At this point in the proceedings, there are approximately eight members that still wish to speak or submit part of their speech into the record, and following those final speeches, the senate will resume open session and proceed to the votes on two articles of impeachment.

KWAME HOLMAN: Two and half hours later the senate reconvened. Lott and Chief Justice William Rehnquist began following the senate rules of impeachment toward a vote.

SEN. TRENT LOTT: The senate has met almost exclusively as a court of impeachment since January 7, 1999, to consider the articles of impeachment against the President of the United States. The senate meets today to conclude this trial by voting on the articles of impeachment, thereby fulfilling its obligation under the constitution. I believe we are ready to proceed to vote on the articles, and I yield the floor.

WILLIAM REHNQUIST: The chair would inform those in attendance in the senate galleries that, under Rule XIX of the standing rules of the senate, demonstrations of approval or disapproval are prohibited, and it is the duty of the chair to enforce order on his own initiative. The clerk will now read the first article of impeachment.

CLERK: Article I.

KWAME HOLMAN: Article I charges the president with perjury before a federal grand jury. CLERK: William Jefferson Clinton, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial and removal from office and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.

WILLIAM REHNQUIST: The chair also refers to Article 1, Section 3, Clause 6 of the Constitution regarding the vote required for conviction on impeachment. “No person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two-thirds of the members present.” The question is on the first article of impeachment. Senators, how say you? Is the respondent, William Jefferson Clinton, guilty or not guilty? A roll call vote is required. The clerk will call the roll.

CLERK: Mr. Abraham? Mr. Abraham, guilty. Mr. Akaka? Mr. Akaka, not guilty.

KWAME HOLMAN: The 34th not-guilty vote was cast by Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy. It meant Article I could not receive the required 67 votes.

CLERK: Mr. Leahy?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Not guilty.

CLERK: Mr. Leahy, not guilty.

KWAME HOLMAN: As the roll call continued, an unexpected number of Republicans joined all 45 Democrats in voting not guilty.

CLERK: Mr. Shelby? Mr. Shelby, not guilty. Mr. Thompson? Mr. Thompson, not guilty.

KWAME HOLMAN: Following the 11-minute vote, Chief Justice Rehnquist read the verdict.

WILLIAM REHNQUIST: On this article of impeachment, 45 senators having pronounced William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States, guilty as charged; 55 senators having pronounced him not guilty; two-thirds of the senators present not having him pronounced him guilty; the senate adjudges that the respondent, William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States, is not guilty as charged in the first article of impeachment.

KWAME HOLMAN: In all, ten Republicans joined the Democrats in voting down Article I. They were Chafee of Rhode island, Collins and Snowe of Maine, Gorton of Washington, Jeffords of Vermont, Shelby of Alabama, Specter of Pennsylvania, Stevens of Alaska, Thompson of Tennessee, and Warner of Virginia.

WILLIAM REHNQUIST: The question is on the second article of impeachment. Senators, how say you, is the respondent, William Jefferson Clinton, guilty or not guilty? The clerk will call the roll.

KWAME HOLMAN: The senate moved immediately to article II, which charges the president with obstruction of justice. Democrats again voted not guilty unanimously.

CLERK: Mr. Bachus, Mr. Bachus, not guilty. Mr. Buy. Mr. Buy, not guilty.

KWAME HOLMAN: But this time they were joined by only five Republicans, all of whom voted against Article I, as well: Chafee of Rhode island, Collins and Snowe of Maine, Jeffords of Vermont, and Specter of Pennsylvania.

WILLIAM REHNQUIST: On this article of impeachment, 50 senators have pronounced William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States, guilty as charged. 50 Senators have pronounced him not guilty. Two-thirds of the senators present not having pronounced him guilty, the senate adjudges that the respondent, William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States, is not guilty as charged in the second article of impeachment.

KWAME HOLMAN: The verdicts were ordered sent to the secretary of state and to the House of Representatives. Then the chief justice departed from the preordained script.

WILLIAM REHNQUIST: The chair wishes to make a brief statement– without objection, I trust. (Laughter in room) More than a month ago, I first came here to preside over the senate sitting as a court of impeachment. I was a stranger to the great majority of you. I underwent the sort of culture shock that naturally occurs when one moves from the very structured environment of the Supreme Court to what I shall call, for want of a better phrase, the more free-form environment of the senate. (Laughter) I leave you now a wiser, but not a sadder man. I have been impressed by the manner in which the majority leader and the minority leader have agreed on procedural rules, in spite of the differences that separate their two parties on matters of substance. I have been impressed by the quality of the debate in closed session on the entire question of impeachment as provided for in the Constitution. Agreed-upon procedures for airing substantive divisions must be the hallmark of any great deliberative body. Our work as a court of impeachment is now done. I leave you with the hope that our several paths may cross again under happier circumstances.

KWAME HOLMAN: Majority Leader Lott then spoke for his senate colleagues.

SEN. TRENT LOTT: As you return to your work in the court in the great marble temple of the law right across the lawn from this capitol, we salute you, sir, with renewed appreciation and esteem for a good friend and good neighbor. And now, Mr. Chief Justice, if the Democratic leader would join me, we have a small token of our appreciation. We have a tradition in the senate that, after you have presided over the senate for 100 hours, we present you with a Golden Gavel Award, and I’m not sure it quite reached 100 hours, but it’s close enough. (Applause)

KWAME HOLMAN: At that point, Lott moved to end the trial formally.

SEN. TRENT LOTT: And now, Mr. Chief Justice, I move that the senate, sitting as a court of impeachment on the articles exhibited against William Jefferson Clinton, adjourn sinedi.

WILLIAM REHNQUIST: Without objection, the motion is agreed to. The senate, sitting as a court of impeachment, stands adjourned sinedi.

SEN. TRENT LOTT: The escorts will go to the podium to escort the chief justice from the chamber.

KWAME HOLMAN: The senate immediately reconvened in regular session to address a final piece of impeachment-related business: The wish of most Democrats to have a resolution of censure of the president considered. It was offered by Dianne Feinstein of California.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D) California: Mr. President, I move to proceed to my censure resolution, which is at the desk.

KWAME HOLMAN: But as expected, that was objected to by Phil Gramm of Texas.

SEN. PHIL GRAMM: Mr. President, I have to object – this resolution is not on the calendar and, therefore, it is not in order to present it to the senate.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Mr. President.

SPOKESMAN: The senator from California.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Mr. President, in light of that, I move to suspend the rules, the notice of which I printed in the record on Monday, February 8th, in order to present my motion to proceed.

KWAME HOLMAN: Gramm, however, made a procedural move under which 67 votes were needed to take up the censure resolution. Democrats – joined by a handful of Republican censure supporters — fell short of that mark. They said they may simply have senators sign the censure resolution and have it placed in the Congressional Record. Early this afternoon, the senate recessed for a week for its Presidents’ Day break.