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The Impeachment Vote: White House Counsel Gregory Craig

October 8, 1998 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: Now, reaction to today’s vote. We’ll hear from the White House and a member of the Republican congressional leadership. First is Gregory Craig, special assistant to the president and counsel. He recently joined the White House staff to coordinate the administration’s response to the impeachment inquiry. Welcome Mr. Craig. What is your assessment of today’s vote?

GREGORY CRAIG: Well, I think the most significant thing about this debate and this vote today were the number of members of the House of Representatives who expressed extreme concern about the fairness of the process up until this moment and the fairness of the process going forward. I think that was the primary difference of the views between the two parties as to whether or not the Republican proposal had a fair procedure, had a finite procedure, one that was focused on certain topics, one that embraced standards that can be used to judge conduct and the one that also had some time limits on it.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you think it’s a fair process?

GREGORY CRAIG: Well, I have questions about it because of the history of the way in which the Judiciary Committee has handled this process in the past, and my concern that because they haven’t addressed the issue of what standards they’re going to apply, the constitutional standards to judge whether conduct really rises to the level of an impeachable offense. They still haven’t gotten to that point. And absent that, I have some real questions about fairness.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, 31 Democrats did vote for the Republican proposal. How do you explain that?

GREGORY CRAIG: Well, I think that that can be explained in a variety of ways, but one of the — 99 percent of the Democratic Party voted for the Democratic alternative.


GREGORY CRAIG: First. And so I think it’s important to point out that all the Democrats believe that the Democratic alternative was more fair, had that chance of being more constitutional and more prompt in resolution. The 31 Democrats, you’d have to ask them as to exactly why the Republican alternative. Maybe that was the only way they could keep the process going forward.

MARGARET WARNER: Have you talked to the president today?


MARGARET WARNER: What are his reflections? I mean, we heard him speak just a few moments about. But what are his reflections at this time?

GREGORY CRAIG: Well, it’s pretty much what you heard. He is very concerned about continuing his job and continuing to look after the issues that brought him to the White House in the first place. I think his budgetary concerns right now are on his mind more than almost anything else, and because we are approaching the end of this session of the Congress and there’s so much work to be done, whether it’s on health care or reform of HMO’s, or other issues that are really very much on his mind. That’s where he’s at. That’s where his head is at.

MARGARET WARNER: But do you think the enormity of what’s happened today has hit him?

GREGORY CRAIG: Oh, yes. I think he understands – I see him every day and it’s a very serious man going through a very serious time in his life. And this is a very important aspect of his existence today, I can tell you.

MARGARET WARNER: The thing he said a couple of times is that he ultimately was trusting in the American people. And I’m wondering, how does he think the American people are going to affect this process?

GREGORY CRAIG: Well, first of all he has given us instructions to be very deferential to the House of Representatives and to respect their prerogative. This is a House of Representatives process. And as we have gone through this process to date, we have been very sensitive in the White House for what their rights are and what their sensitivities are to this. I think the American people have demonstrated that they understand pretty much what happened in this case and have concluded that the conduct that is at issue really doesn’t rise to the level of an impeachable offense. Although blame worthy and indefensible and wrong, the American people seem to be sustained in their view that this doesn’t rise to a level of an impeachable offense.

MARGARET WARNER: But is he saying he expects it? I mean, they’ve already told the pollsters that, and that didn’t make a difference today. Is he saying he expects them to express that somehow in the elections, and that will make a difference?

GREGORY CRAIG: Well, I think he is expecting the American people to go back to the issues that they care most about, which are issues of education and environment and health care, issues that really – that he cares about as the President of the United States. And he hopes that those issues are the ones that they cast their vote on in November.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Where do you go from here? I mean, where does the White House effort to deal with this inquiry go from here?

GREGORY CRAIG: Well, as I said to you, he has instructed us to consult with our counterparts in the House, both in the Democratic side and in the Republican side. There is a provision, as I understand, in the rules that allow the president’s lawyers to play a role. But we are being very deferential and working with our counterparts on the Republican side and on the Democratic side to try and make this process fair and prompt.

MARGARET WARNER: Chairman Hyde has said it a number of times, he said it again today, that he really does want to end it by the end of the year, but he’s also said that will depend on cooperation from everyone involved. Will the president be urging, for instance, any aides they might call to testify, any friends to go ahead and just testify and not wait to be subpoenaed, to really cooperate fully?

GREGORY CRAIG: Well, we’re just beginning the process. And I don’t think there is any question that we would like to have this process go very quickly and very speedily, and we will, I think the chairman of the committee will find that we will work very hard to do all those things that can speed up the process.

MARGARET WARNER: Does the president want to testify?

GREGORY CRAIG: Well, it’s much too early to say. I’ve not discussed that with him in precision. But I must say that it’s — one of the reasons is it’s too early to make that judgment is because we really don’t know what rules the committee is going to be operating under. His strategy, if I may say, his strategy is to continue doing every day the best job he can do as President of the United States in all the issues that I’ve been discussing with you. Our job is to work out as best we can a fair process that has the promise of a rapid conclusion that’s just with consequences, if required. But we really haven’t gotten to that issue yet. It’s premature.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you see, at this point, any alternative to this whole process at least going through the steps in the House, that is, a full inquiry by the Judiciary Committee now, a vote in the committee, and going to the floor with an impeachment vote?

GREGORY CRAIG: Well, it’s quite clear that one event that is going to be happening that I think is important is the hearings that the subcommittee on constitution in the Judiciary Committee is going to have on October 22nd about constitutional standards by which you measure conduct. I think that’s very important to have happen early on, so that the members of the House of Representatives can really have a standard by which they evaluate this conduct. That’s going to be the first step. And then I think we will discuss the question of taking testimony.

MARGARET WARNER: Is the president, though, seeking some sort of alternative?

GREGORY CRAIG: At the moment, we’re just in the process, Margaret. We haven’t entered into any negotiations. We haven’t authorized anybody to enter into negotiations. No one’s approached us with any negotiations. We’re in the process that the House of Representatives have decided to set forth. And what we’re trying to do is to make that a fair, evenhanded, and prompt process. You heard the president talk about the Constitution and the promptness and the fairness of the process. These are our concerns right now.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, as you know, former President Ford wrote an op-ed this weekend —


MARGARET WARNER: — suggesting that impeachment could be avoided and should be avoided by using – doing something else – for instance, having the president called to the well of the House, accepting responsibility, and being publicly rebuked. Does something like that sound reasonable to you?

GREGORY CRAIG: Well, let me just say at the beginning that we welcome these kinds of proposals from people of national stature whose motives cannot be put in doubt. They have only the good of the country in their minds. And so we think that people like President Ford, when they make some suggestions like that, they should be given very serious consideration and deference. But, as I say, I think we are – and as the president has said – we are on the receiving end of this. We have views. We have ideas. But it’s the House of Representatives that is really going to make the decision about how to proceed. And until someone from the House of Representatives approaches us with some kinds of ideas, it’s premature to even talk about it.

MARGARET WARNER: But all of these proposals do center on the president being willing to come and really accept responsibility for misleading everyone about this and to accept punishment. Does he think he serves some sort of punishment?

GREGORY CRAIG: The president every day is going through a difficult time. I see – he’s being punished in a very serious way every day because of the distraction that is occurring from the agenda that he cares about. I think that he is his own toughest judge on these issues. And he understands that there’s going to be some kind of consequence to his activity.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thanks very much, Mr. Craig.