TOPICS > Politics

Extended Excerpts: Constitutional Issues

January 22, 1999 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: The president’s legal team has complained House managers included in Article I charges of perjury rejected by the full House of Representatives in December. Today both sides got the chance to address that question.

GREGORY CRAIG, White House Special Counsel: Now, I’ve testified, as has Mr. Ruff, before the Judiciary Committee on this issue. And I have said that the president’s responses in the Jones deposition were surely evasive, that they surely were incomplete, that they surely were intended to mislead, and it was wrong for him to do all that. But they were not perjurious. And if you want to try a perjury case about all the things and the statements that the House of Representatives did not want to accuse him of, that would be inconsistent, I think, with your duty as members of this court. You cannot impeach the president on the issues that are included in Article II. He was not impeached. You cannot remove.

REP. JAMES ROGAN, Impeachment Manager: If Mr. Craig would read Article I, he would see that one of the allegations of perjury is that the president committed perjury in the grand jury when he referenced his civil deposition answers and reiterated those to the grand jury. And so the House made a decision not to use a separate stand-alone article, but I would respectfully submit to this body that that is the only inference that can be drawn.

The other thing that I want to mention briefly about Mr. Craig’s presentation on that issue is what I found to be a startling admission on his part. Assuming of course that the senate is going to look at Article I, as it was drafted and passed by the House and as presented to you, dealing with civil deposition perjury, Mr. Craig said that the president’s testimony in the Jones case was evasive and incomplete. And so this body has to make a determination, when they review that testimony, both given during the civil deposition and reiterated during the grand jury, whether the president fulfilled his legal obligation in a sexual harassment lawsuit. And if he did, then clearly that should be stricken and you should not consider that. But if he did not, if you find that, in fact, he testified, as Mr. Craig says he testified, incompletely, evasively and misleadingly, then I believe this body has an obligation to cast a vote accordingly.

KWAME HOLMAN: The broader constitutional question of whether the president’s actions amount to impeachable offenses was asked by the senate’s recognized constitutional expert, Robert Byrd of West Virginia.

WILLIAM REHNQUIST: “Putting aside the specific legal questions concerning perjury and obstruction of justice, how does the president defend against the charge that, by giving false and misleading statements under oath, such misconduct abused or violated some public trust?”

CHARLES RUFF, White House Counsel: Let us assume for a moment, and we will disagree with each and every element of the accusation, but let us assume for the moment that this body were to conclude that the president lied in the grand jury about his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky. That, in and of itself, does not lead to the judgment and in our view, must not lead to the judgment that he is to be removed from office. It must give you pause, you must think carefully about it, but ultimately you must ask, despite our rejection of any such conduct, whether it be a judge or a president or any other civil officer, have the Framers instructed us to remove from his office and to overturn the will of the electorate a president who admittedly, if you conclude that he did violate the law in this regard, has violated a public trust in the broadest sense, as each of us does who serves the public if we do anything other than that which are our proper and assigned responsibilities and do them with the utmost of integrity?

Each of us violates that trust if we don’t meet that standard. But the one thing we can be certain of is that the Framers understood the frailties that they were dealing with. They understood the nature of the offense that had been the background of impeachment proceedings in England and certainly the Framers, in their debate, made it clear that it has to be at the highest level of public trust, the breach of the public trust, that embodied in the words “treason, bribery,” selling your office and similar other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

WILLIAM REHNQUIST: Senator Lott asks the House managers: “Do the managers wish to respond to the answer just given by the president’s counsel?”

REP. CHARLES CANADY, Impeachment Manager: Mr. Chief Justice, members of the senate, we would briefly respond to the response just given by counsel for the president. We believe that the response and the position taken by the counsel for the president here really involves two great errors. One error is in establishing a standard of conduct for the presidency that is too low. The other error is in attempting to minimize the significance of the offenses that this president has been charged with and which we submit to you the evidence supports the charges.

Now, we do not submit that any president, this president, whoever it may be, should be impeached and removed from office for trivial or insubstantial offenses. We believe that an essential part of the focus of your inquiry must be on whether there was a serious corrupt intent involved in the underlying conduct. A president should not be impeached and removed from office for a mistake of judgment. He should not be impeached and removed for a momentary lapse. Instead, he should be impeached and removed if he engages in a conscious and deliberate and settled choice to do wrong — a conscious and deliberate and settled choice to violate the laws of this land. And we submit that he must be impeached and removed if he does that because, in doing so, he has violated his oath of office.

In doing so, he has turned away from the unique role which he has under our Constitution, as the chief executive, charged with ensure that the laws be faithfully executed — he steps aside from that role and takes on the role of one who attacks the rule of law. And it is for that reason that we believe that this president should be removed, and we would further submit that the attempt to minimize the significance of the conduct of this president does a disservice to the laws of this land.

KWAME HOLMAN: The question-and-answer period lasted for nearly five hours.

SEN. TRENT LOTT: I believe that that reaches a point that we could take a break. I think we’ve had responses to approximately 50 questions today.

KWAME HOLMAN: The senate will meet tomorrow morning and hopes to wrap up the questioning.