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KWAME HOLMAN: The ground rules at today’s hearing were quite different. Unlike the past two days when all 37 members of the judiciary committee were allowed to question the many witnesses who came before them, this day for the most part was reserved for the committee’s majority and minority counsels. They made their case for and against the impeachment of the president, while committee members sat silently. Minority counsel Abbe Lowell spoke first.
ABBE LOWELL: I appreciate this chance to present our work. Two months ago, on October 5th, you allowed us to address you on the issue of opening an impeachment inquiry. And we will be referring to parts of that presentation in order to demonstrate that this committee does not have constitutional grounds to put forward the impeachment of the President of the United States.
KWAME HOLMAN: Lowell spent almost all of his nearly two-hour presentation with his head turned towards the majority Republican side of the committee.
ABBE LOWELL: Back in October, Mr. Chairman, I think the committee was listening to one another. Some have said we no longer are. News reports indicate that a majority of the committee’s Republicans have already stated publicly that they will support at least one article of impeachment. I hope these reports are not true and that these debates have some purpose. If the reports are true, however, I hope your colleagues on the House floor are still listening. For a week or more the majority has stated that the president or the minority did not call fact witnesses. Mr. Inglis repeated that charge to White House counsel Ruff yesterday. But in America it should not have been our burden to do so. However, if it’s fact witnesses you need, then it will be fact witnesses you get. Mr. Chairman, on behalf of the minority, I now call to the stand Monica Lewinsky, Betty Currie, Vernon Jordan, Linda Tripp and the president of the United States.
KWAME HOLMAN: Those five witnesses actually didn’t appear in person, but Lowell did quote extensively from their grand jury testimony. He also played tapes from the President’s two court depositions from Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s appearance before the committee and from selected phone conversations between Linda Tripp and Monica Lewinsky. In doing so, Lowell attempted to discredit each of the four articles of impeachment drafted by committee Republicans.
ABBE LOWELL: These draft articles that we all received last evening have article one alleging that the president committed perjury or lied at the grand jury; article two, the same offenses for the civil deposition; article three, obstruction of justice; and article four, abuse of power.
KWAME HOLMAN: In arguing against charges the president committed perjury during his deposition in the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit, Lowell played the actual videotape of that January 17th deposition.
ATTORNEY: Sir, I’d like to hand you what has been marked as deposition exhibit one.
KWAME HOLMAN: On the videotape President Clinton can be seen reading a definition of “sexual relations” handed to him by a lawyer for Paula Jones.
ATTORNEY: This is a definition of a term that will be used in the course of my questioning and the term is “sexual relations.” I will inform the court that the wording of this definition is patterned after federal rule of evidence 4-13. Would you please take whatever time you need to read this definition because when I use the term “sexual relations,” this is what I am meaning today.
KWAME HOLMAN: Soon — off camera — the President’s attorney, Robert Bennett, can be heard arguing against using the stated definition.
ROBERT BENNETT: Your Honor, as an introductory matter, I think this could really lead to confusion. And I think it’s important that the record be clear — for example– it says — the last line — contact means intentional touching directly or through clothing. Just, for example, one could have a completely innocent shake of the hand, and I don’t want this record to reflect – I think we’re here today for counsel for the plaintiff to ask the president what he knows about various things: What he did; what he didn’t do. But I have a real problem with this definition, which means all things to all people in this particular context.
KWAME HOLMAN: For more than ten minutes President Clinton sits quietly while Bennett, Paula Jones’ Attorney, and Judge Susan Webber Wright discuss the written definition. Finally, Judge Wright allows the definition of sexual relationships to be used, but with some reservations.
JUDGE SUSAN WEBBER WRIGHT: And, if this is, in fact, an effort on the part of plaintiff’s counsel to avoid using sexual terms and avoid going into great detail about what might or might not have occurred, then there is no need to worry about that — you may go into detail.
BOB BENNETT: If the predicates match, we have no objections to the details.
JUDGE SUSAN WEBBER WRIGHT: It’s just going to make it very difficult for me to rule, if you want to know the truth, and I’m not sure Mr. Clinton knows all these definitions anyway.
ABBE LOWELL: Mr. Chairman, I think it’s worth repeating that in this — and I’m sorry for the length — 10 or 15 minutes of lawyers and judges trying to come up with the definition that has now brought us to this constitutional moment, does anybody in this room, does anybody in the United States have a clear conception of what the definition of “sexual relations” were if those three people and that judge in that context had to spend that much time getting to the point? Let me end by reminding you what the judge just ended by saying: It’s just going to make it very difficult. If you want to know the truth, I’m not sure Mr. Clinton knows all these definitions anyway. How would you have a trial in the Senate to conclude whether the president was right about what he thought the phrase “sexual relations” meant? You heard and saw the gyrations that it took three lawyers and a judge to deal with this silly expression. So who would you call to determine that the president did not believe in his interpretation? Listen to the witnesses, Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp, before the independent counsel confronted her, before she went back and forth over an immunity agreement, and before this became so important that the definition of sex will sink us into a constitutional quagmire. Listen to the woman who you would have the United States Senate call as a witness as she defines the term in the exact same way you now accuse the president of lying about.
MONICA LEWINSKY: (audio) We didn’t have sex Linda – sex. We didn’t have sex.
LINDA TRIPP: (audio) Well, what do you call it?
MONICA LEWINSKY: (audio) We fooled around.
LINDA TRIPP: (audio) I don’t know. I think if you get to orgasm, that’s having sex.
MONICA LEWINSKY: No, it’s not.
LINDA TRIPP: Yes, it is.
MONICA LEWINSKY: No, it’s not.
LINDA TRIPP: It’s not -
MONICA LEWINSKY: Sex is having intercourse.
ABBE LOWELL: Where is the impeachable offense when the president’s testimony and Ms. Lewinsky’s are the same? Is this what you are going to bring to the floor of the Senate? Mr. Chairman, no one — no one, certainly not Congress, and certainly not Ms. Lewinsky and her family — wants to cause further embarrassment or loss of privacy to her. In short, no one wants to have to have her testify.
KWAME HOLMAN: Lowell offered similar presentations to attack other allegations — like the charge the president obstructed justice when he aided in Monica Lewinsky’s job search, and that he tried to influence the potential testimony of his secretary, Betty Currie.
ABBE LOWELL: Moreover, and more importantly, this entire referral results from charges made by Linda Tripp, who is responsible for getting the Office of Independent Counsel in the case, just a few days before she gave the fruits of her illegal tapes to the Paula Jones attorneys so they could set up the president and create the events that are now before the committee. If some of you are not comfortable with the relationship that existed between Linda Tripp, the Paula Jones attorneys, and the Office of Independent Counsel, you are not alone. Compare how Mr. Starr answered questions about whether he had the ability and the motive to have stopped Linda Tripp here when he was testifying, to his prime time television statements on the news show “20/20.” This is what he said when he was testifying before you.
KENNETH STARR: The truth of that – so the decision that was being made initially was what we call -
SPOKESMAN: But you -
KENNETH STARR: — immunity -
SPOKESMAN: I’m understanding you, but I’m also understanding that you said you’re not contesting that on that day she came in, she had the conversation, she showed you the tapes, or told you about the case.
KENNETH STARR: She did not -
SPOKESMAN: You had the authority to give her immunity and the authority to tell her not to talk; you did the first; you didn’t do the second, did you?
KENNETH STARR: Well, I’m not – I would have to – double-check to see exactly what we did tell her.
ABBE LOWELL: And this — giving the TV a chance to recover — is what he told Diane Sawyer. (Videotape is played.)
DIANE SAWYER: Why did Starr’s office let Tripp run straight from the to lawyers for Paula Jones?
DIANE SAWYER: Linda Tripp, Linda Tripp, leaving your office and going home and talking to Paula Jones’ attorneys that night, I mean, at the very least, is this control of your witness?
KENNETH STARR: I think we could have had better control of her.
DIANE SAWYER: Should have?
KENNETH STARR: Yes.
ABBE LOWELL: He didn’t make that admission in here; he did make it a few days later.
KWAME HOLMAN: Lowell ended his statement with a plea to members to choose a bipartisan response to the President’s actions and avoid impeachment.