Final Arguments in the Impeachment Hearings
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JIM LEHRER: In the afternoon, the committee’s majority counsel laid out the case for impeachment. Again to Kwame Holman.
KWAME HOLMAN: In great detail, David Schippers embarked on a chronological history of the Monica Lewinsky case. He covered much of the same information contained in independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s report, yet told it in almost storybook fashion.
DAVID SCHIPPERS: Monica Lewinsky, a 22-year-old intern, was working at the White House during the government shutdown in 1995. Prior to their first intimate encounter, she had never even spoken to the president. Sometime on November 15, 1995, Ms. Lewinsky made an improper gesture to the president. What did he do in response? Did the president immediately confront her, or report her to her supervisors, as you would expect? Did he make it clear that such conduct would not be tolerated in the White House? No. That would have been an appropriate reaction, but it’s not the one the president chose. Instead, the President of the United States invited this unknown young intern into a private area off the Oval Office where he kissed her. He then invited her back later, and when she returned, the two engaged in the first of many acts of inappropriate conduct. Thereafter, the two concocted a cover story. If Ms. Lewinsky was seen, she was just bringing papers to the president. That story was totally false. The only papers she brought were personal messages having nothing to do with her duties or those of the president. After Ms. Lewinsky moved from the White House to the Pentagon, her frequent visits to the president were disguised as visits to Betty Currie. Now, those cover stories are important because they play a vital role in the later perjuries and obstructions.
During the fall of 1997, things were relatively quiet. Monica Lewinsky was working at the Pentagon and looking for a high-paying job in New York. The president’s attempt to stall the Paula Jones Case was still pending in the Supreme Court, and nobody seemed to care one way or another what the outcome would be. Then in the first week of December, 1997, things began to unravel. The first activity calculated to help Monica actually procure employment took place on December 11th. Mr. Jordan met with Ms. Lewinsky and gave her a list of contact names. The two also discussed the president. By the way, that meeting Mr. Jordan remembered. Vernon Jordan immediately placed calls to two prospective employers. Later in the afternoon, he even called the President to give him a report of his job search efforts. Clearly, Mr. Jordan and the president were now very interested in helping Monica find a good job in New York.
But why the sudden interest? Why the total change in focus? Nobody but Betty Currie really cared about helping Ms. Lewinsky throughout November. Even after the president learned that her name was on the prospective witness list, it didn’t really escalate into any great urgency. Did something happen to remove the job search from a low to a high priority on that day? (pause)
Oh, yes, something happened. On the morning of December 11, 1997, Judge Susan Webber Wright ordered that Paula Jones was entitled to information regarding any state or federal employee with whom the president had sexual relations or proposed or sought to have sexual relations. To keep Monica on the team was now of critical importance.
KWAME HOLMAN: As Abbe Lowell did, Schippers played portions of President Clinton’s videotaped deposition in the Paula Jones civil suit.
DAVID SCHIPPERS: And I’d like you to listen to the president’s deceptions for yourself.
ATTORNEY: Mr. President, before the break, we were talking about Monica Lewinsky. At any time were you and Monica Lewinsky together alone in the Oval Office?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I don’t recall, but, as I said, when she worked at the Legislative Affairs Office, they always had somebody there on the weekend. I typically worked some on the weekends. Sometimes they’d bring me things on the weekend. It seems to me she brought things to me once or twice on the weekend. In that case whatever time she would be in there, drop it off, exchange a few words and go, she was there.
ATTORNEY: Your testimony is that it was possible then that you were alone with her, but you have no specific recollection of that ever happening?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Yes, that’s correct. It’s possible that she in – while she was working there brought something to me and at the time she brought it to me, she was the only person there. That’s possible.
DAVID SCHIPPERS: Life was so much simpler before they found that dress, wasn’t it? The president also provided false and misleading testimony in the grand jury when he was asked about Mr. Bennett’s representation in the Jones deposition that the president is “fully aware” that Lewinsky filed an affidavit saying that “there is absolutely no sex of any kind, in any manner, shape, or form with President Clinton.” President Clinton was asked about this representation made by his lawyer in his presence and whether he felt obligated to inform the federal judge, who was sitting there, of the true facts. The president answered that he was “not even sure I paid much attention to what Mr. Bennett was saying.” Take a look at this tape that’s coming up, and you will see what the President of the United States doesn’t want the people of the United States ever to see. Watch.
ATTORNEY: Counsel is fully aware that Ms. Lewinsky has filed – has an affidavit which they are in possession of saying that there is absolutely no sex of any kind, in any manner, shape, or form with President Clinton.
DAVID SCHIPPERS: Do you think for one moment after watching that tape, that the president wasn’t paying attention? They were talking about Monica Lewinsky – at the time the most dangerous person in the president’s life. If the false affidavit worked, he was home free, because they wouldn’t be permitted to question him about her. Can anyone rationally argue that the president wasn’t vitally interested in what Mr. Bennett was saying? Nonetheless, when he was asked in the grand jury whether Mr. Bennett’s statement was false, he still was unable to tell the truth, even before a federal grand jury. He answered with a – now famous – sentence: “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.” That single declaration – members of the committee – reveals more about the character of the president than perhaps anything else in the record. It points out his attitude and his conscious indifference and complete disregard for the concept of the truth.
KWAME HOLMAN: Schippers also spoke directly to the obstruction of justice charge against the president, claiming there is clear evidence the president did, in fact, try to influence the potential testimony of Betty Currie.
DAVID SCHIPPERS: The president made short, clear, understandable, declarative statements telling Ms. Currie what her testimony was to be. He wasn’t interested in what she knew. Why? He didn’t want to be contradicted by his personal secretary. And the only way to ensure that was by telling her what to say, not asking her what she remembered. And you certainly don’t make declarative statements to someone regarding factual scenarios of which the listener was totally unaware. Betty Currie could not possibly have any personal knowledge of the facts the president was asking about. How could she know if they were never alone? If they were, Ms. Currie wasn’t there, right? So too, how would she know that the president never touched Monica? This wasn’t any attempt by the president to refresh anybody’s recollection; it was witness tampering, pure and simple.
KWAME HOLMAN: And Schippers spoke extensively about the evidence he says supports the abuse of power charge against the president. He read continuously from his 100-page statement. It took him nearly three hours. When he finished, Chairman Henry Hyde said he planned to allow each member of the committee 10 minutes to deliver opening statements before beginning debate on the articles of impeachment. Hyde said votes on those articles, as well as a motion on censure, could extend into the weekend and possibly into next week.