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Committee Reactions

December 11, 1998 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: The committee reaction and to Margaret Warner.

MARGARET WARNER: Joining us from Capitol Hill are two members of the committee: Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democrat Thomas Barrett of Wisconsin.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Graham, the president’s words today weren’t enough to stop you and your committee from voting that first article of impeachment. Why not?

REP. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) South Carolina: Well, for quite a while here I’ve been encouraging the president to reconcile himself with the law, and I was real clear about what I meant; that you need to admit to your criminal wrongdoing. In courtrooms all over the last people bring their families in; they bring community supporters in, and they’ll go before the judge and say, I know the charges against me, and I’m here to offer my legal repentance; I’m sorry; and I admit to violating the law. I think with that kind of note we could have a disposition maybe differently because the president would have done something I think would have been good for the law, good for the country, and I know he’s sorry. Everybody who engages in crimes is sorry, but our law was not reconciled with, and he didn’t address what he needed to, in my opinion, to make it right with the law. And I’m sorry for the country.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Barrett, do you think he failed to address what he needed to?

REP. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Well, obviously he didn’t sway any votes on the Judiciary Committee, but I don’t think anybody realistically thought that he would. The real question is whether he’s swayed any votes in the House of Representatives and whether he’s swayed the American people. He certainly has shown his remorse. Lindsey is correct in that he has not come before the American people and said that I’ve committed a crime. I think people can understand his reluctance to put himself into that type of jeopardy, but we’ll have to see in the next week whether it’s sufficient for him to have done what he did today.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Graham, what’s your view on that? I know you Republicans and Democrats who were on the committee are here in Washington and all your colleagues are still out in their home districts, but do you think the president’s words may have an impact on the 20 or 30 moderate Republicans that the White House feels are still persuadable?

REP. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Yeah, and it was adverse. I think the Republicans and some Democrats are looking for reconciliation with the law. Sure, when you have to come before the law and admit to your wrongdoing, there’s a punishment or accountability to be had. My point has been I believe these are high crimes and misdemeanors, deserving of impeachment, but if he would come before the American people and our body and admit without humiliating himself that he violated the law, then we could have a disposition planned differently. And the idea of the president being prosecuted two years after he accomplished such event is remote and really nonexistent. He would have done the law and the country so much good by proving to people that nobody’s above it and that he has the character and the good judgment to admit his legal wrongs. And if you want forgiveness, that’s great. But to have forgiveness without legal accountability simply because it’s been tough on your family, every criminal defendant would love that luxury; they don’t have it.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Barrett, your committee right now is debating the second article of impeachment – the one dealing with alleged perjury in the Jones deposition. How do you think that and the remaining two articles are going to come out?

REP. THOMAS BARRETT, (D) Wisconsin: Well, I assume that we will see fewer votes for each of them probably in succession, although I anticipate that this one will pass as well. I think that the remaining two could go either way. But clearly, the damage has been done. The Judiciary Committee will order out an article of impeachment. The next fight is over whether we will be permitted to have a vote of censure on the floor of the House of Representatives. And that’s important for many of us because for many of us that’s our conscience vote. I’ve heard many of my colleagues saying that their vote for impeachment is a conscience vote. And I accept that. But I think the real test of democracy here in the House is going to be whether we who oppose impeachment will be permitted to vote our conscience by voting for a censure resolution.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Graham, where do you think the remaining three articles are going to come out? Are you going to vote for them all?

REP. LINDSEY GRAHAM: No. I will not vote for the next article. I believe the president gave false testimony at the Paula Jones deposition, that he lied. But once the federal judge ruled his testimony inadmissible because it was more prejudicial than probative, because of whatever reason in her mind, I believe the materiality element is in question. And that’s an element of perjury. And I’m going to give the president legal benefit of the doubt. I believe he gave false testimony. But once it was deemed inadmissible in an underlying lawsuit, I think you got a legitimate argument that it was – didn’t meet the materiality element, and I’ll vote against that article.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you know if any of your Republican colleagues are going to join you in that?

REP. LINDSEY GRAHAM: I think I’m an island of one on this. I’m probably giving a bigger benefit of the doubt than really maybe is justified, but I’ve been a prosecutor and a defense attorney, and I feel like that’s the attitude we should have. I think the obstruction of justice article will be overwhelmingly passed by every Republican. I think it’s a strong case of obstruction of justice. And Tom’s right. There may be some people who have a visa process – the visa process article may not get unanimous votes on our side.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Barrett, let’s go back to censure. What do you think – how do you think now – is there anything you all in the committee can do to make it more possible or more likely that censure will come up for a vote on the floor? You will get a vote on censure in a committee, is that right?

REP. THOMAS BARRETT: Yes, we will have a vote in the committee on censure. And I think really I’m appealing to the conscience of my colleagues, because I think again that I will accept as true their argument that their vote is a vote of conscience. And I simply ask them to permit me to vote my conscience as well. And I don’t think any member of the House of Representatives can really with good faith say, well, I want to deny another member of the House of Representatives a vote of conscience on a matter as grave as this; this should not be a partisan matter. It must not be a partisan matter. And so I am hopeful and I’m optimistic that at the end of the day that we will be able to have that vote. And -

MARGARET WARNER: Let me just ask – are you hoping that some Republicans on the committee will – even if they voted for impeachment – will also vote for censure so it would also -

REP. THOMAS BARRETT: No. I don’t expect that at all, because I think it would be in their mind inconsistent, but if there’s a motion to advance the measure on an adverse vote – in other words a negative vote – I think it would be a sign of comity and getting along – the parties getting along in good faith for a number of Republican representatives to support that.

MARGARET WARNER: So, in other words, you’d like the Republicans on the committee at least to join you in urging the leadership to allow a vote on the floor?

REP. THOMAS BARRETT: That is correct.

MARGARET WARNER: And, Congressman Graham, are you prepared to do that?

REP. LINDSEY GRAHAM: I have felt that censure becomes a player only when the president reconciles it himself with law. I really believe these are high crimes and misdemeanors and that they’re deserving of going forward and being called as such. And I think it’s a black and white issue to me that he violated the law in a way that every president should be subject to impeachment. The disposition plan I felt could change if his reconciliation with the law occurred. That is a gray area; that has not occurred.

MARGARET WARNER: I’m sorry. I didn’t quite understand the disposition plan.

REP. LINDSEY GRAHAM: The disposition plan is either censure becomes a player only after he reconciles himself with the law, because I believe the crimes are high crimes and misdemeanors.

MARGARET WARNER: But I guess the question is: would you at least vote to urge the Republican leadership to allow a vote on the floor for those who would feel otherwise?

REP. LINDSEY GRAHAM: I respect Tom. He has a great conscience. But let me say this – that I believe it’s important that people pass judgment on whether or not this is a high crime or misdemeanor in a way that really puts Congress on record about its conduct. If we have a vote without censure – and the only time I would ever consider it if he did – would have come forward because of a different disposition being earned by the president – and that’s sort of a political cop-out for us – if it goes to straight up and down vote and Tom feels like it’s not the best interests of the country, even though it may be questionable to send it to the Senate, I respect that, and Tom shouldn’t worry, because what he can do is go down to the floor of the House and let people know he doesn’t agree with the president’s conduct. He has been very consistent about that. He’s never suggested for one moment that he agrees or feels the president hasn’t done anything wrong or serious, but really censure at the end of the day is not punishment. Censure at the end of the day is a bad letter from the Congress. I feel there has been punishment in this case; if that’s what you’re looking for.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Barrett, briefly, does this give you any hope that you’re going to get what you’re looking for here?

REP. THOMAS BARRETT: It doesn’t give me hope here, but I’m the eternal optimist, and I do not want to deny the Republicans their right to vote for impeachment. But it would be wrong for them to deny us a right to vote on censure.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thank you both very much.