TOPICS > Politics

Voting for Impeachment

December 12, 1998 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: Good evening. I’m Kwame Holman. The House Judiciary Committee today set the stage for an historic debate in the House of Representatives next week on four articles of impeachment of President Bill Clinton. The Judiciary Committee completed its work in a rare Saturday session approving its fourth and final article of impeachment charging Mr. Clinton with abuse of power. That article and three others passed by the committee yesterday charging two acts of perjury and obstruction of justice will be considered on the House floor next Thursday. A proposal by committee Democrats to censure President Clinton was defeated this afternoon. Just after the committee adjourned tonight, House Republican leaders announced they do not support consideration of a Democratic-backed resolution of censure of the president as an alternative to impeachment. The president left Washington before dawn for a three-day trip to the Middle East. On Capitol Hill the day began at about 9:30 this morning.

KWAME HOLMAN: Today’s House Judiciary Committee session was unusual in several ways. It was held on a Saturday, and some of the committee’s 37 members brought their children into the room to watch. Of course, the most unusual aspect was that the committee was preparing to move to the House floor articles of impeachment of a president for only the third time in U.S. history.

REP. HENRY HYDE: The committee will come to order.

KWAME HOLMAN: Chairman Henry Hyde called up the day’s first business – the fourth impeachment article. The article originally contained provisions charging Mr. Clinton with lying to his aides and to the public and improperly asserting presidential privileges to conceal his conduct in the Monica Lewinsky matter. Some Republicans previously acknowledged those were the weakest of all the impeachment particulars. And this morning, George Gekas of Pennsylvania let it be known Republicans had decided to drop them. The Gekas amendment would limit the fourth article to just one accusation: that Mr. Clinton failed to answer truthfully some of the 81 questions the committee posed to him last month. The article reads: The president refused and failed to respond to certain written requests for admission and willfully made perjurious, false, and misleading sworn statements to the Congress. Gekas explained at length the Republican majority’s decision to eliminate the executive privilege accusation against the president.

REP. GEORGE GEKAS: I don’t believe that the evidence that has been presented to us nor the contents of the referral give us the ability to second-guess the rationale behind the president or what was in his mind in asserting that executive privilege. We may have a good idea. And those of us who have become suspicious about some of the actions of the president would have a right to enhance those suspicions. Nevertheless, we ought to give, in my judgment and the judgment of many, the benefit of the doubt in the assertion of executive privilege.

KWAME HOLMAN: Republicans praised the Gekas amendment.

REP. ROBERT GOODLATTE: I think that the committee and the article are better served by removing these three provisions and going forward with what I think is clearly impeachable and reprehensible conduct, and that is the president’s willful misrepresentation of the facts with regard to the answers to the president’s — or the president’s answers to the 81 questions submitted by Mr. Hyde on behalf of the committee. Those answers were submitted under oath. A number of those answers are, in my opinion, lies and should be accepted by the committee as grounds for impeachment.

KWAME HOLMAN: Democrat Charles Schumer of New York had a different reason for praising the scaled-down abuse of power article.

REP. CHARLES SCHUMER: I’ve always felt that Article IV, the abuse of power parts of this — these articles of impeachment, was the greatest reach of all, when there are lots of high reaches going on — or long reaches going on. The most absurd thing in this entire bill, in this entire bill of impeachment, is to say that when the president speaks to the public or his cabinet, “for the purposes of deceiving people of the United States in order to continue concealing his misconduct,” that that should be an article of impeachment. Now, the gentleman from Pennsylvania, to his credit, has knocked out that article and the others like it in his amendment. I’ll address maybe the articles themselves when we go on to debate those. But he moves it, not from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the very ridiculous to simply the ridiculous. This committee submitted 81 questions to the president. He knocks that part out, the part I mentioned — submitted 81 questions to the president. The president answered them in the way he saw fit. Admittedly, it was frustrating to many members of the majority. Admittedly, it was probably political damaging to the president. Again, you may not like how the president answered. You may think he tried to deceive, mislead the committee. That is not grounds for impeachment.

REP. HENRY HYDE: I want to make it very clear what we’re doing here with this amendment. We are deleting the allegation in Article IV that the president made false and misleading public statements for the purpose of deceiving the people of the United States, not that we deny or doubt that to be the fact, but we don’t choose to make it part of Article IV, mostly because his statements weren’t under oath, and there are so many others that he made that were false and misleading under oath, we choose to emphasize the statements, the false statements made under oath and to delete the others.

REP. CHARLES SCHUMER: Would the gentleman yield for one question?

REP. HENRY HYDE: Well, okay. What?

REP. CHARLES SCHUMER: Yes — because I am — I mean, what I’d ask the gentleman in all due respect, and I have such tremendous respect for him and his fairness, I am glad you are deleting that. I have been making a point of that, many of us have, for a while. How the heck did it get put in to begin with? He wasn’t under oath.

REP. HENRY HYDE: Well, that’s another topic for another seminar, but –

REP. CHARLES SCHUMER: Okay, well I’ll eagerly enroll in that class.

REP. HENRY HYDE: Very good. Very good. Mr. Nadler.

REP. JERROLD NADLER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. This committee has opened a few dangerous doors, and this amendment, while commendable in its purpose, does not fix the problem. The damage is not fixed, it is done, and we are still, in this article, even with the amendment, alleging that the president, without being specific, perjured himself in answering the questions. I would also point out, although this doesn’t affect the amendment, that the article that’s still in here, that the president allegedly didn’t answer these questions that we propounded to him, these questions, I will tell — as far as I am concerned, were illegitimate to start with. The president should have — it would have been within his rights to tell us, “I don’t choose to answer” because they were an attempt to get the accused to condemn himself out of his own mouth; they were an attempt to shift the burden of proof from the accusers having to prove guilt, to shift the burden of proof to the accused having to prove innocence. And I don’t think they should have been sent because I think they were improper, and I don’t think there’s anything perjurious or misleading or incomplete in the answers in any event. But the questions themselves were part of the committee’s turning the entire process on its head and asking the president to prove his innocence, rather than asking the accusers to bear a burden of proof of guilt. With that, I again commend the gentleman for his amendment, which I support, for changing the absolutely indefensible to the still absolutely indefensible, but on fewer grounds.

REP. HENRY HYDE: You talked about the president shouldn’t even have answered these. Really, I think there is a duty for the president to cooperate with a committee of inquiry on articles of impeachment. We could have asked him to come in and testify. We thought we’d submit written interrogatories, admit or deny; perfectly proper. You may disagree with the formulation of them, but the submission of them is perfectly proper and everybody has a duty to cooperate, helping us get the information. So I think you protesteth too much. The gentleman from North Carolina.

REP. HOWARD COBLE (R) North Carolina: Mr. Chairman, I’ll be as brief as I can. I move to strike the last word. In the waning hours last night, one of my friends on the other side implied that we on this side were trying to get rid of the president and being vengeful. Well, we were accused of vengeance earlier in the week, and that’s when I said folks could meet me in the parking lot if they think I’m vengeful. Unfortunately, I’ve had several calls inviting me to the parking lot — (laughter) — but — one 83-year-old -

CONGRESSMAN: Did you go out, Mr. Coble?

REP. HOWARD COBLE: Just a minute. One 83-year-old woman in Texas, who said she was frail, she said she would stand with me — (laughter) — so at least that’s the good news. But we are not being vengeful. There’s no lynch-mob mentality over here, and for the benefit of the gentleman who said that last night, I’ve had not said my gut all week because of this. I approached this, my friends, with a very heavy heart and I’ll have not said my gut next week when we cast votes. I don’t take it lightly. I don’t take it gleefully at all. It’s a hard chore for all of us, on that side, as well as on this side. Many times they talk about polls, we’re resisting the polls, ignoring the polls. I compared the knots in my gut this week with the knots I had in my gut when we addressed the Persian Gulf War. We dispatched men and women to address a problem that was not of their own making and that was a heavy vote for me, as well. But I did not accuse one of my colleagues who voted against that resolution for ignoring the polls. The polls, you will recall, were overwhelmingly in favor of our going to war. But I equate these two, and I do indeed approach both of them with a heavy heart, and I resent the fact that anyone on this committee would accuse a lynch-mob mentality of taking a hold on this side of this hearing room. It clearly is not true.

REP. BARNEY FRANK: Mr. Chairman.

REP. HENRY HYDE: The gentleman from Massachusetts, Mr. Frank.

REP.BARNEY FRANK: Mr. Chairman, I spent the last two years as the ranking member on the subcommittee chaired by the gentleman from North Carolina. I know him to be a man of conviction and integrity, and I am glad that he set the record straight. And I am glad, not simply because he is entitled to reaffirm his integrity, but because, Mr. Chairman, frankly I think his remarks stand in thoughtful contrast to your own remarks late last night. I believe that part of what has been happening, in fact, is an effort by some to explain away impeachment. We have had people say: “Well, wait a minute. We are not really throwing the president out. Wait a minute, we are not really doing much more than sending this to the Senate.” There has been an extraordinary constitutional wrench. Impeachment, the most solemn duty of the House of Representatives, after declaring war; impeachment, which is the absolutely essential first step for canceling an election and throwing an elected president out of office, a resolution which says in fact that, that Bill Clinton has done bad things and should be thrown out of office — this is not sending to the Senate a questionnaire; this is a statement the president should be thrown out. We are not here simply serving as grand jurors to the Senate. We are not simply framing an issue for the Senate to deal with. We are not expressing no views on this and letting the Senate try it. We are beginning the process of throwing the president out of office. We are beginning the process of undoing the last election because members in the majority feel that the president’s transgressions were so grave as to be one of those rare exceptions when you cancel the democratic outcome and say, “No, you can’t have it.” And to try to downgrade that is a terrible error.

REP. HENRY HYDE: I’m just unwilling to let Mr. Frank define the argument as he has because I think he’s absolutely wrong. I just want to agree with Barbara Jordan, who made the point that the House accuses and the Senate judges. Now, I do not disagree with the significance of what we do. I don’t want it bent out of shape. I think it is highly significant; it is the most significant thing we do, short of the declaration of war. But I also want to emphasize that ours is but a partial role in the drama of impeachment. But, you, sir, when you imply that we are kicking him out of office, go too far.

REP. JOHN CONYERS: This does sometimes to some people begin to take on the appearance of a coup. But we’re — and I’m getting the calls into my office about this. It’s frightening, it’s staggering. This is not in a developing country. We’re talking about a polite, paper-exchanging, voting process in which we rip out the 42nd president of the United States. And this isn’t a perception that I am giving to you; it’s a perception that is coming in to me from my constituents.

REP. F. JAMES SENSENBRENNER: Mr. Chairman, I am really very disturbed at some of the debate that I have just heard. The gentleman from Michigan, Mr. Conyers, seems to state that these proceedings are somewhat akin to a coup. And that’s anything but the case. Now, the framers of the Constitution put the impeachment clauses into that document as a way of looking into the conduct of members of the executive and the judicial branches. There can be a legitimate difference of opinion on whether the president has engaged in impeachable activity, but I think that every member of this committee, Democrat and Republican alike, has approached this very grave responsibility with the thoughtfulness and the seriousness that the framers of the Constitution intended to have take place when allegations like this arise. Now should the Senate decide to remove the president from office– and we’re a long ways away from that — Mr. Gore will become president. Mr. Gore is a man of very similar views to Mr. Clinton, and the president and the vice president have bragged about how well they get along and how much they agree. So there’s not going to be an abrupt change in the policies that the President of the United States advances, whether that president be Mr. Clinton or the president be Mr. Gore.

KWAME HOLMAN: Democrat Howard Berman of California brought the debate back to the amendment at hand.

REP. HOWARD BERMAN: The gentleman from Wisconsin sort of manifested what many of us think is going on in this particular amendment — setting up a straw man in order to tear it down. It must have been a very, very interesting caucus that the majority took to conclude that articles which they spent a great deal of time formulating all of a sudden were defective in substantial part and needed to be pulled back through an amendment. It’s an orchestrated dance to create an illusion of reasonability that I don’t think people should fall for.

REP. GEORGE GEKAS: Would the gentleman yield? Would the gentleman from California yield? There’s kind of an aspersion there that I think has to be clarified — kind of.

REP. HOWARD BERMAN: No, it’s not an aspersion; it’s a commentary and analysis.

REP. HENRY HYDE: Mr. Canady is recognized for five minutes.

REP. CHARLES CANADY: Now, the point has just been made a moment ago that if we move forward and impeach the president, that future presidents will be looking over their shoulder. This will have some sort of chilling effect on the institution of the presidency. Well, I will say that I believe the only — there’s an element of truth in that. I believe that if we move forward with this impeachment, future presidents who engage in a course of conduct designed to obstruct justice, who lie repeatedly under oath, will be looking over their shoulder. And I would like for them to be looking over their shoulder. They should take pause before they think about engaging in such conduct. Now, it’s also been argued that it was unfair for us to even ask the president any questions in this inquiry and that we are somehow guilty of misconduct because we dared to ask the president questions about his misconduct. We are accused of somehow being out of line because we expected and required that the president answer our questions in a truthful manner. And when I saw the president’s answers to these questions, quite frankly I was astounded. I’ll have to tell you I was also astounded when I saw the president’s statement yesterday. After all this, we still cannot get an honest acceptance of responsibility for breaking the law, for lying under oath.

REP. MAXINE WATERS: I’d like to direct a question to Mr. Canady, who’s called the president a liar about 100 times this morning. Which answer in the 81 questions do you think is deserving of impeachment that you’re so upset about, Mr. Canady? I’d like you quickly to just point to one.

REP. CHARLES CANADY: The chairman gave a list earlier. I will –

REP. MAXINE WATERS: No, I want you to give one. If you can’t do it, I take back my time.

REP. CHARLES CANADY: I’m not going to engage in this if you won’t let me answer. I’ll be happy to answer –

REP. MAXINE WATERS: Reclaiming my time. If it takes you that much time to think about it, then you don’t know it. I thought you had something that you were so sure about that you could just tell us in a short moment here what it is in the 81 questions, the so-called lie, that is so upsetting, that’s so bothersome, that meets the test of the Constitution, that you would want to impeach the president about. And let me just conclude my remarks by saying I wish I was as pure and as moral and as honest as some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, who keep referring to the president as the greatest liar, the biggest liar they’ve ever seen, they’ve ever met. I hope that we can all work on ourselves and do a little bit better and be a little bit more forthcoming in the work that we do so that, in fact, we can feel comfortable enough to claim the kind of honesty that they’re denying to the president.

KWAME HOLMAN: Republican Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas responded by listing several of the alleged lies by the President contained in his responses to the 81 written questions posed by the committee.

REP. ASA HUTCHINSON: — question number 42, and you have to lay the foundation for this as well. The question that was asked of the president in the deposition of Paula Jones was, Question: Well, have you ever given any gifts to Monica Lewinsky? Answer: I don’t recall. Do you know what they were? Now, the question from Congress was, “Did you admit or deny that when asked on January 17, 1998, in your deposition in the case of Jones v. Clinton if you had ever given gifts to Monica Lewinsky you stated that you did not recall, even though you actually had knowledge of giving her gifts in addition to gifts from The Black Dog.” His answer, which I believe is false: “In my grand jury testimony, I was asked about this same statement. I explained that my full response was ‘I don’t recall, do you know what they were?’ By that answer I did not mean to suggest that I not recall giving gifts. Rather, I meant that I did not recall what the gifts were and I asked for reminders.”

REP. HENRY HYDE: So you’re saying that the president’s characterization of his state of mind was a false statement. My question is, how do you know that? What’s the evidence for your statement that his characterization of his state of mind was false?

REP. ASA HUTCHINSON: He’s a very brilliant person. When the question is, “Well, have you ever given any gifts to Monica Lewinsky, his answer is “I don’t recall.” That is responsive to -

REP. JERROLD NADLER: No, his answer is “I don’t recall. Do you know what they were?” — which seems to imply that he knows gifts were given; he doesn’t recall which ones they were referring to.

REP. ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, if you want to accept the twisted, confusing answer of the president as being truthful, then you certainly have the right. But I believe that if you presented this to a jury of common-sense people in America, perhaps outside the belt way, as Mr. Coble referenced, I think they would understand very clearly that the President of the United States is not being truthful and responsive and respectful to the Congress of the United States.