TOPICS > Politics

Starr Report To Congress

September 9, 1998 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Now the views of four members of the House Judiciary Committee: Republicans Bill McCollum of Florida; and Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas; and Democrat Zoe Lofgren of California, and Marty Meehan of Massachusetts. Congressman McCollum, the process – has the process actually been agreed to?

REP. BILL McCOLLUM: Yes, generally it has. I think Democrats and Republicans alike now realize that we have to go forward in a very bipartisan fashion on this resolution that will come out. It will provide, as I understand it, for the report in its entirely – some four or five hundred pages – with addendums to be released to the public, as soon as practicable, after we pass that resolution. And I presume that’ll be Friday. There will, however, be some sixteen or seventeen volumes of material or whatever’s in those boxes. Those were duplicate boxes, by the way, twice as many – two copies.

JIM LEHRER: So there are really 18 –

REP. BILL McCOLLUM: That’s right.

JIM LEHRER: –boxes – got it.

REP. BILL McCOLLUM: Eighteen boxes with real material in them, presumably about seventeen of them will be transcripts or depositions. Those I believe will provide – they will be sequestered for Judiciary Committee members’ eyes and their staff only. We’ll review those. The rule will also provide for certain procedural steps to prepare for the possibility of hearings. But we come back to the house if we found there was an agreement among the Judiciary Committee members, with the Starr recommendation, or his view at least that there may be impeachable material here for the President. But we don’t know that, of course, till we review it.

JIM LEHRER: So that would be step one.

REP. BILL McCOLLUM: That’s right.

JIM LEHRER: The Judiciary Committee make a decision as to whether or not there should be an impeachment begin.

REP. BILL McCOLLUM: That’s correct. And that would then be a recommendation, presumably two or three weeks down the road. I would hope before we got out, October the 9th or 10th, when we’re scheduled to go out on Sunday night – which I don’t know that we will do this year — but that’s the expectation. Again, we haven’t seen it. These boxes are under seal, so we don’t really know what’s in them.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman Meehan, are you on board in this process?

REP. MARTY MEEHAN: Well, I think we need to – I’d like to read the resolution and see what the specifics are. Certainly, there are certain constitutional requirements we have. But I also think it’s important that those individuals, some 80 odd individuals, who testified before the grand jury – if we’re going to follow the federal criminal rules of procedure, we ought to follow them and make sure that people’s constitutional rights are protected. I want to make sure all of that happens.

JIM LEHRER: Do you think it can be done? Do you agree with Congressman McCollum, that it’s possible this could be done, at least step one, which is for your committee to decide whether or not there should even be an impeachment process, that that could be done before you all adjourn in October?

REP. MARTY MEEHAN: Well, it’s difficult to make an assessment without having seen the report and read the report –


REP. MARTY MEEHAN: But I will say I was encouraged by the meeting between the speaker and the minority leader and the acknowledgement that this has to be a bipartisan undertaking. And I was encouraged today. So hopefully if it is a bipartisan undertaking then we’ll move forward based on facts and based on the evidence that it presented.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman Hutchinson, is it really possible to do this in a bipartisan way?

REP. ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, it’s going to be difficult. We have some strong personalities on the Judiciary Committee, but Marty’s right, that a very good tone was set today by the leadership of both parties. And I hope that our committee will follow that. I believe that there is a commitment to do that. It’s — as we go through this initial step, though, there’s going to be some questions arise as to applying the Constitution to the facts. You first have to learn the facts and then determine what the Constitution defines as high crimes and misdemeanors, an historical precedence, so it’s going to be some work to get to that first step, but I hope we can do that in a bipartisan fashion.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman Hutchinson, what do you say to those who say, look, high crimes and misdemeanors is defined by the Congress at any given moment?

REP. ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, I think there’s some truth to that, but at the same time, I think there’s a good case that could be made that high crime and misdemeanor is not just a violation of criminal law, but it’s an assault upon the office of the presidency, which is usually defined as an abuse of office. And so that I think will be the debate. And you can also have a legally sufficient high crime and misdemeanor, but that there might not be a consensus to proceed to the step of impeachment. And so I think there will be a vigorous debate, and we’re going to have to research those precedents, as well as weigh our own conscience.

JIM LEHRER: Congresswoman Lofgren, do you agree with Congressman McCollum that this basic report – that four or five hundred reports should be released as soon as possible to the public?

REP. ZOE LOFGREN: Well, you know, I actually think that we ought to look to the precedents. And I reread the rules that the House adopted when Richard Nixon was reviewed. And, interestingly enough, obviously he was a Republican president; the House was controlled by the Democratic Party. Now we have a Democratic president and a House controlled by the Republicans. And it seems to me if we look at the kind of procedures that were put in place at that time, it might be a good guideline for us now in terms of fairness. And at that point in time the documents were not fully released. The Judiciary Committee kept them very private. There were no leaks. The chairman and the ranking member had the right to issue subpoenas together or independently if they disagreed with each other. It was a very orderly process, not done in a festive way. I think many of us saw Chairman Rodino on the one of the Sunday talks shows this last weekend, and who admitted that he wept when the matter was over. This is something that is very serious, if we do not move forward in a bipartisan way, we will shame and harm our country. And the first clue will be: Are the procedures the same as what was done in 1974?

JIM LEHRER: On the question of releasing the public report, of course, there was no independent counsel —

REP. ZOE LOFGREN: That’s correct.

JIM LEHRER: — report. In fact, there was no independent counsel then. Independent counsels came into being as a result of Watergate. So do you think that – back to my question – do you think this report should be made public?

REP. ZOE LOFGREN: Well, there’s an interesting — I don’t know the answer, but the other thing that was true in ’74 was that President Nixon’s counsel was permitted to be present at every single stage of the proceedings – every deposition, all of the evidence – so that the president would have due process and a right to counter information and to be advised. In a sense, although this isn’t exactly the same, to allow – you know, not having read the report it’s hard to say — but there is a due process issue. And if we’re going to treat President Clinton as well as President Nixon was treated procedurally, we need to think very carefully about that.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman McCollum, what about that point? The President’s lawyer, David Kendall, requested the opportunity to look at the report beforehand. Congressman Gephardt repeated that today. It has been a suggestion that now it is at the House before it is made public, that Mr. Kendall and the President’s lawyers have a chance to write, prepare, and release a companion other side type of statement. What do you think about that?

REP. BILL McCOLLUM: Well, as you pointed out, this is quite different from way back in Watergate. We’re talking about an independent counsel now reporting for the first time in history on possible impeachable offenses by the President. The report, itself, I think should go to the American public after all this period of time. Nobody should learn that — not me, not Asa, not any of the other members here, or the President, before the public does. Everybody should learn it together. I think it’s due time to put it out on the table, let them see the report now. I will say again – because I think it’s very important — there are quite a sizeable number of documents – transcripts and what have you – that would not be immediately made public. And I presume the rule would provide for some protections and possible access for different people. I don’t know what that rule’s going to have. Perhaps even the President’s counsel – as we proceed through whatever review of this we go through — but the report itself, I firmly believe the right decision has been made, and I believe a bipartisan decision to release that report publicly, openly, and at the time that we get the rule passed.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman Meehan, do you agree with that process?

REP. MARTY MEEHAN: No, I don’t agree. I think the President ought to get due process, and whether there’s an agreement or not, from my vantage point, this has been an investigation that’s gone on for a long period of time. None of these witnesses – although 80 witnesses called me before a grand jury – never an opportunity to cross-examine any of these witnesses. Consider the credibility of any of the witnesses, and I think that justice would be served by allowing the other side to be heard, so that we as the determiners of the facts can determine whose credibility we should weigh and how we should weigh it. We haven’t had any of that opportunity here, so I would disagree with that. I think that the President’s lawyers ought to have an opportunity to present their facts and their evidence.

JIM LEHRER: At the same time the report – in other words – hold the public release —

REP. MARTY MEEHAN: At the same time the report is released.

JIM LEHRER: Withhold the release of the report until the president’s statement is prepared.

REP. MARTY MEEHAN: I think that a procedure could set up in order to give the president that type of due process and consideration. And frankly I think that the Constitution requires it.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman Hutchinson, how do you feel about that?

REP. ASA HUTCHINSON: Two points. I mean, first of all, the independent counsel did the right thing. His obligation was to submit it to Congress. But at the same time he should receive a copy of the report, and he should have an opportunity to respond to it, and we should withhold judgment until we see both sides. The second concern I have is on the privacy issues. Even the report itself may contain information that might compromise someone’s privacies, that should not be divulged, and I think that it would be good for the chairman, the ranking member, to review that and make a determination whether certain portions of that should redacted to protect privacy interests. There’s a number of complicated issues here. I hope we can get this resolved, so the American public can receive it as soon as possible — perhaps by Friday.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman Hutchinson, are you satisfied that the leadership of your committee – that’s Congressman Conyers on the Democratic side and the chairman – Congressman Hyde — are working in tandem thus far and can make this – can get through — for instance we just heard a disagreement here between Congressman McCollum and Congressman Meehan – who’s going to resolve that? How’s this going to get worked out?

REP. ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, I have full confidence in the leadership of the Judiciary Committee. Chairman Hyde has a bipartisan reputation and today set a good example of a chairman working with the ranking member, Mr. Conyers. I believe that they’re working on it as we speak and that this can be resolved. But I think that there’s a broader privacy concern that they will address. I mean, they understand this. And I think that it can be done where names can be deleted; the information given to the public –there’s still privacy concerns. But you got to review the report before you can make that determination.

JIM LEHRER: Sure. Congresswoman Lofgren, how do you feel about the potential privacy problem beyond the due process question that you’ve already talked about in terms of the President?

REP. ZOE LOFGREN: Well, I think, you know, not having seen any of the material, it’s hard to know, but clearly the potential is there. I’d like to add also that I think the independent counsel was correct in terms of delivering his report here to the House. The statute doesn’t provide for him to give it to the President and then to us. And so I’d like to defend him now. But it’s now our job to make sure that due process is put in place as was done 24 year ago. In terms of the privacy implication there have been so many people who have been damaged through this whole thing, I think we ought to take care that other people are not damaged needlessly and that is an obligation we ought to take to heart, along with our obligation to be bipartisan. And if this devolves into a partisan fight, we will not be serving our country well.

JIM LEHRER: Congresswoman, however, the speaker said and we just saw it on the tape, that something’s got to going to get out in public because there are so many members of Congress and there are so many members of the press that work here that it’s going to get out anyhow, that there’s no way to keep those leaks from happening.

REP. ZOE LOFGREN: Actually that’s not correct. And, if you look back in 1974, there weren’t those leaks. It was under lock and key. The material right now is locked up. It’s in an office being guarded by sergeant of arms. No one has seen it, including the speaker. And I think it is possible ultimately — every member of the House in 1974 had access to the evidence but not until the processes have moved forward. The independent counsel – the special prosecutor has been pursuing this for many, many, many months. And I think that we ought to be patient, all of us Americans, to all our governmental processes to move forward in an orderly way. Our Constitution and our form of government really demands it.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman Meehan, a lot of statements like that have been made these last – today, in fact, and particularly in the last 24 hours — about that this is different, this is different than all things that members of the House of Representatives will ever do. Do you think that will, in fact, change the way you and other members handle the material, itself, material in the past that may have been leaked to the press and may have been dealt with differently, that this really will be a different operation?

REP. MARTY MEEHAN: I hope that it is. As I look at the course of this investigation and look at the leaks over a period of time, you know, we might as well throw the Constitutional protections in, the federal rules of criminal procedure out the window, and start over again, if we are not going to adhere to some constitutional principles of privacy with regard to grand jury transcripts and testimony. I think all of us take this responsibility very, very seriously, and I think that we are capable of putting partisanship aside and considering the constitutional rights of all of the witnesses that have appeared before the grand jury, I’m hoping that not only we look at precedent and constitutional basis of what we do, but also consider the fact that this is a little different. And we are setting precedent as well for future generations. And I think if we look at it that seriously, we’ll all do the right thing.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman McCollum, you do not believe – do you agree that this will not be business as usual?

REP. BILL McCOLLUM: It won’t be business as usual, Jim. We’re going to be very, very careful with this. I think every member of the Judiciary Committee – I know both sides of the aisle feels this is a terribly important obligation, a constitutional duty. We need to be objective. Most all of us have said that time and again in the weeks that have gone on leading up to this report being submitted – holding our powder –wanting to look at what we still haven’t seen. And I tried very hard I know myself not to pre-judge anything. We don’t really still know what’s in this material. And I agree completely with the idea of protecting as much privacy as possible. At the same time we have a public obligation to release that report in as much entirety as we can, as soon as possible, and an obligation I think to expeditiously get on with whatever proceedings we’re going to do and get this behind us. Impeachment none of us want to do. But if the President has lied under oath in a court proceeding, committed perjury, or obstructed justice, or something else like that, then I’m going to be compelled to vote for impeachment, as many other members will be, but we don’t want that. We don’t know if that’s there. We need to find out if it’s there. And the reason why, by the way, is because if we were not to vote impeachment – if the President lied under oath in a court proceeding, for example, — I think we would be stretching the rule of law, threatening it terribly, causing judicial process in this country to break down, because thousands of other people out there every day are called upon to testify under oath under threat of perjury – in civil, as well as criminal cases. And we’ve impeached three judges since I’ve been in Congress, two of them for plain old perjury. I think that it’s a very serious matter, not going to prejudge it at all, but we need to understand the gravity of every one of the possible charges before we move into it.

JIM LEHRER: Congresswoman Lofgren, what would you add or subtract from what Congressman McCollum just said?

REP. ZOE LOFGREN: Well, clearly, the precedence and the law of impeachment is a completely separate body of law from the ordinary criminal law. And if you read back — I just flew out from home and got here 10 minutes after the report and I took the time to read through again the wonderful report issued in ’74 – that I would recommend to all Americans – I have it posted on my Web site. You can all read it and access it. It goes through the historical precedence, and it’s not all the case that any criminal law violation is either required or necessarily the determinative factor, historically or legally or any other way. It needs to be very important. It needs to be about the whole process of government. You can commit an impeachable offense without committing a criminal offense, if it subverts the Constitution and destroys our form of government.

JIM LEHRER: I got a hunch we’re going to be hearing a lot of discussions like this over the next several weeks at least. Thank you all four very much.