TOPICS > Politics

The Impeachment Trial

January 7, 1999 at 12:00 AM EST
REALAUDIO SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: The Impeachment trial of President Clinton began today in the Senate. Two articles charging him with perjury and obstruction of justice were read aloud. Chief Justice William Rehnquist was sworn in as presiding judge and the 100 Senators took oaths to do impartial justice as jurors. The trial then recessed while Republicans and Democrats struggled to agree on how to proceed and whether to allow witnesses.

Kwame Holman begins our coverage of this important day.

KWAME HOLMAN: Shortly after 10 o’clock this morning Henry Hyde, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, led a dramatic process of 13 House managers across the capitol to the Senate chamber to open formally the impeachment trial of President Clinton. The managers, all Republicans, whose appointments were approved yesterday by a vote in the House, will prosecute a case against a sitting president for only the second time in history.

SEN. THROM THURMOND: The Senate will be in order.

KWAME HOLMAN: As the House managers made their way across the Capitol, 96-year-old Strom Thurmond, the president protem of the Senate, tried to bring order to the chamber. Senators conversed in clumps scattered across the floor; the largest group surrounded Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. With the opening of the trial minutes away, there still was no agreement by Senators on how they would proceed once the formalities were over.

JAMES W. ZIGLAR, Sergeant-at-Arms, U.S. Senate: Mr. President and members of the Senate I announce the presence of the managers on the part of the House of Representatives to conduct proceedings on behalf of the House concerning the impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton, the President of the United States.

REP. STROM THURMOND: The managers on the part of the House will be received and escorted to the well of the Senate.

KWAME HOLMAN: Many of the procedural rules followed on this opening day were adopted by the Senate during the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson in 1868. In fact, James Ziglar, the Senate’s sergeant-at-arms, this morning opened the proceeding with the same words used at the Johnson trial 130 years ago.

JAMES ZIGLAR: Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye. All persons are commanded to keep silent on pain of imprisonment while the House of Representatives is exhibiting to the Senate of the United States articles of impeachment against William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States.

REP. STROM THURMOND: The managers on the part of the House will proceed.

REP. HENRY HYDE: Mr. President, the managers on the part of the House of Representatives are here and present and ready to present the articles of impeachment which have been preferred by the House of Representatives against William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States.

KWAME HOLMAN: Only Henry Hyde spoke. He read from a prepared text, never strayed, and barely lifted his eyes from the paper. With all 100 Senators seeming to listen intently, Hyde read the two articles of impeachment of President Clinton adopted on December 19th by the House of Representatives.

REP. HENRY HYDE: Article one, in his conduct while President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and to the best of his ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed has willfully corrupted and manipulated the judicial process of the United States for his personal gain and exoneration, impeding the administration of justice in that — on August 17, 1998, William Jefferson Clinton swore to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth before a federal grand jury of the United States. Contrary to that oath, William Jefferson Clinton willfully provided perjurious, false and misleading testimony to the grand jury concerning one or more of the following:

One, the nature and details of his relationship with a subordinate government employee;

two, prior perjurious, false and misleading testimony he gave in a federal civil rights action brought against him;

three, prior false and misleading statements he allowed his attorney to make to a federal judge in that civil rights action; and four, his corrupt efforts to influence the testimony of witnesses and to impede the discovery of evidence in that civil rights action.

Article Two, in his conduct while President of the United States William Jefferson Clinton in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and to the best of his ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed has prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice and has to that end engaged personally and through his subordinates and agents in a course of conduct or scheme designed to delay, impede, cover up and conceal the existence of evidence and testimony related to a federal civil rights action brought against him in a duly instituted judicial proceeding, the means used to implement this course of conduct or scheme, including – included one or more of the following acts:

One, on or about December 17, 1997, William Jefferson Clinton corruptly encouraged a witness in a federal civil rights action brought against him to execute a sworn affidavit in that proceeding that he knew to be perjurious, false and misleading;

two, on about December 17, 1997, William Jefferson Clinton corruptly encouraged a witness in a federal civil rights action brought against him to give perjurious, false, and misleading testimony if and when called to testify personally in that proceeding;

three, on or about December 28, 1997, William Jefferson Clinton corruptly engaged in, encouraged, or supported a scheme to conceal evidence that had been subpoenaed in a federal civil rights action brought against him;

four, beginning on or about December 7, 1997, and continuing through and including January 14, 1998, William Jefferson Clinton intensified and succeeded in an effort to secure job assistance to a witness in a federal civil rights action brought against him in order to corruptly prevent the truthful testimony of that witness in that proceeding at a time when the truthful testimony of that witness would have been harmful to him.

In all this, William Jefferson Clinton has undermined the integrity of his office, has brought disrepute on the presidency, has betrayed his trust as president, and has acted in a manner subversive of the rule of law and justice to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.

Wherefore, 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

–passed the House of Representatives December 19, 1998

- Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the House of Representatives, attest Robin H. Karl, Clerk.

Mr. President, that completes the exhibition of the articles of impeachment against William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States. The managers request that the Senate take order for the trial. The managers now request leave to withdraw.

KWAME HOLMAN: When Hyde finished, the 13 House managers turned on their heels and exited the chamber. No words were exchanged with members of the Senate. The solemnity of the matter and the moment was unprecedented. The formal opening of the impeachment trial of President Clinton took 12 minutes. The Senate then adjourned, scheduled to return in early afternoon for another formality. Senators awaited the arrival of William Rehnquist, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who under procedures set out in the Constitution, must preside over the Senate trial.

SEN. STROM THURMOND: Under previous order the escort committee will now conduct the Chief Justice of the United States to the die to be administration the oath.

KWAME HOLMAN: At 20 minutes past 1 o’clock Supreme Court Chief Justice Rehnquist escorted by Senators Byrd, Stevens, Hatch, Leahy, McCulski, and Snowe entered the Senate chamber.

SEN. STROM THURMOND: Please to welcome you.

WILLIAM REHNQUIST, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court: Senators. I attend the Senate in conformity with your notice, for the purpose of joining with you for the trial of the President of the United States, and I’m now ready to take the oath.

KWAME HOLMAN: As outlined under Senate rules, Rehnquist first was sworn in by Senator Thurmond.

(Swearing in of Rehnquist)

KWAME HOLMAN: The chief justice then administered the oath to all 100 Senators who become the jurors of the impeachment trial.

(Swearing in of all 100 Senators)

KWAME HOLMAN: Senators were called upon to respond individually and to come forward to sign a book verifying their pledge. Each was given the pen he or she used to sign the book. With that, the formalities of the day came to an end.

SEN. TRENT LOTT: Is there any objection to the request by the majority leader that the Senate trial now stand in recess subject to the call of the chair?

WILLIAM REHNQUIST: Is there objection? Hearing none, it is so ordered.

KWAME HOLMAN: But instead of leaving the chamber, Senators again broke off into discussion groups of varying sizes, the largest again surrounding Majority Leader Trent Lott. Following several hours of discussion Lott and Democratic Leader Tom Daschle appeared together and sounded victorious as they told a packed Capitol news conference they will hold a meeting of all senators tomorrow to decide finally how to conduct the Senate trial.

SEN. TRENT LOTT: I’m very pleased that we are here together to announce that at 9:30 tomorrow morning in the Old Senate Chamber that we will have a bipartisan Senate conference so that we can talk to each other and listen to each other and understand what we’re actually suggesting as to how we should proceed.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE: I’m very hopeful that we can continue the I think extraordinary bipartisan effort that Sen. Lott and I all and so many of both of our caucuses have attempted throughout the last several days in particular and in an effort to keep that bipartisan spirit this caucus tomorrow I think could go a long way to helping us resolve yet unanswered questions about how to proceed and give us a chance to talk together about a solution to many of the procedural questions that are still outstanding.

JIM LEHRER: At the White House President Clinton attended an education event while his spokesman explained the offer his lawyers have made to expedite the impeachment proceedings. Again, Kwame Holman reports.

KWAME HOLMAN: Sixteen blocks from the Capitol at about 1:30 p.m. White House spokesman Joe Lockhart held his daily briefing for reporters. He was asked whether the president watched the history-making events in the Senate.

JOE LOCKHART: As we speak now, he’s in the dining room having lunch with the vice president, his weekly lunch. This morning he was – as the proceedings got underway he was in the residence working over there, and I’m reliably informed was not watching.

KWAME HOLMAN: Lockhart explained what occurred last night when the president’s lawyers met with members of Congress.

JOE LOCKHART: Well, I think we went up and told the bipartisan group of senators that we were willing to stipulate to the record that the House Judiciary Committee sent over in support of the articles of impeachment the two articles. This is the record that was sent along by the Independent Counsel, Ken Starr, which, I think if you go back and do a little searching, was widely praised by the Republicans on that committee as the basis for the action that they took and the articles of impeachment that they passed in the House. We will forego our rights to test, cross-examine; we will forego our rights to even know the evidence, the evidence that has been made available to the Judiciary Committee and to the Independent Counsel that we haven’t seen — and that is an enormous amount of information — based on what we think is our ability to argue this case, and based on the overwhelming consensus that it is in the best interests of this country and the American people to find a way to put this whole case behind us.

REPORTER: Joe, you’ve also made a take it or leave it offer, right? I mean, it’s conditioned upon no witnesses being called. And if –

JOE LOCKHART: Well, I don’t think we’re in a position to make take-or-leave offers with the Senate, and I think they understand that; we understand that. They, in good faith, asked us to express our views. We did that; we did that in good faith. We hope our views are considered and are considered seriously. I expect they will be. But we further made the point that, if the House managers insist on calling witnesses — witnesses they didn’t have any use for when they controlled this process in the Judiciary Committee or before the floor of the House — that they will, in effect, extend this process and delay this process, because bringing witnesses in and not stipulating to a record opens up a whole area of motions, discovery and depositions. And that takes time.

REPORTER: Joe, in the far more likely events, if this stipulation strategy doesn’t work and the House managers do get to call witnesses, how do you then proceed?

JOE LOCKHART: Well, I think the Senate will have to deal with some important issues of how discovery is handled, how depositions are handled, how motions are handled. And that all takes some time. I’m not — not being a lawyer — I do understand this from watching “Perry Mason” and “Law & Order” — that the defense waits until the prosecution has made their case, and then they decide how they’ll make their case depending on how the prosecution goes. But let me tell you, there is a danger here that this process can move forward without the defense having any idea what the prosecution’s case is going to be. The suggestion that it would be proper to move forward with opening statements and opening presentations before the issue is resolved of what the prosecution’s case is, and without knowing whether they’ll call witnesses and who they’ll call and having the defense the ability to depose those people and understand what their testimony is going to be would be very unfair. The Senate I think is working hard, is working in good faith to try to resolve these issue. I believe they’ll continue to do that. And we may be in a situation where we do move forward without clear rules of the road. But I would suggest that that would be a situation, an environment that is manifestly unfair to the President.