Truth or Consequences in the Impeachment Hearings
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MARGARET WARNER: Joining us are Republican Bill McCollum of Florida and Democrat Thomas Barrett of Wisconsin.
Did today’s hearing, do you think, clarify the issue of perjury as it relates to possible impeachment?
REP. BILL McCOLLUM, (R) Florida: I think it brought it home to the American public in the form of an average citizen, in the form of the court system, in the form of the military. I’m absolutely convinced at this point – having reviewed the evidence – that barring something else forthcoming, the President committed perjury both before the grand jury and in the Jones case; that he encouraged Monica Lewinsky to file a false affidavit that he knew would be false, that he conspired with her and maybe Betty Currie to hide gifts in the presence of a subpoena to produce them; and that he encouraged Betty Currie to also lie. Now, having said all of that, if you believe that’s true, if we, indeed, find that to be true and fail to impeach this president, I think this hearing today was about the consequences of failing to do that, the consequences with respect to our court system, the consequences with respect to our military, where the commander – commanding officer, as we had testimony today, the commanding chief in this case, is not held to the same standard as his troops, if you will, and how demoralizing that could be, and the consequences of the individuals, who are treated differently as the two women testified today, from how the President is in a double standard, what does that mean to our sense of fairness and justice, what does it mean to parties in civil litigation, who expect to get the truth to have their cases decided on it, if, indeed, we say the commander in chief and the chief law enforcement officer of that nation can commit these crimes and get away with it, with impunity?
MARGARET WARNER: What do you think today’s hearing added to this debate about perjury?
REP. THOMAS BARRETT, (D) Wisconsin: Well, I think it shows that this remains a very political issue. There’s no question about that. Perjury is wrong. People who commit perjury and are convicted should be punished. If the President committed perjury and the United States attorney or the special prosecutor chooses to indict him after he leaves office for perjury, that will happen, but I think it also showed if we want to show that there are consequences, we’re going down a dangerous road, because I have yet to meet a single person who thinks that there’s a 2/3 vote in the United States Senate to remove President Clinton from office. And it takes a 2/3 vote to do so. So those who say that there have to be consequences are heading down a road that they know – they know it’s not going to happen. And I think by doing that you are really undermining the lesson we should be sending this nation, that perjury is wrong. I think that the president should be held accountable. I think that a censorship or a censure resolution or some sort of public rebuke is an appropriate way to do that, to show the gravity, that what he did was wrong, but to do so in a way that’s not going to mire this country in an impeachment trial for the better part of the year. The American people do not want a year-long impeachment trial.
MARGARET WARNER: Several of the witnesses did mention that as an alternative; that the Congress would simply censure the President and then leave him open to prosecution in the courts. Does that hold any interest for you?
REP. BILL McCOLLUM: It holds no appeal to me at all. First of all, I don’t think we have any constitutional authority to censure in any way that is meaningful, that is, that there’s any punishment that goes with it, it’s just a resolution, if we do it like you could pass a resolution condemning Saudi Arabia or Iraq or somebody. The second thing is that I believe that what we’re going down in this process is a question of impeachment, which is our constitutional responsibility, and in itself can be a form of censure.
There’s nothing in the Constitution that says that if we impeach in the House, the Senate (a) has to try the president or (b), if it does convict him, they have to remove him from office. There are two things they can do if they convict him. One of them is remove him from office, and the other one is to disable him from holding other offices in the future. It doesn’t say they have to do either one of them, even if they convict. So I think impeachment is the proper constitutional role of Congress and the House.
But it does not mean necessarily removal, and, in fact, as Mr. Barrett points out, I don’t know that you’d get the vote to remove. Nor do I even believe necessarily you’d have a trial in the Senate if the votes might not be there, if the leadership over there didn’t believe it was going to occur. But, again, impeachment is “the” form, if you want to call it that, censure – it’s the ultimate scarlet letter for the kind of crimes that this president has done.
MARGARET WARNER: Can impeachment serve that function, essentially as a form of censure?
REP. THOMAS BARRETT: Well, certainly it can, and I think that no matter how you slice it, the president is left with a mark on his record, and that’s the way he’s going to be treated by history, that he committed something – did something wrong, and he’s not going to walk away from this. But my whole point is that I disagree with my good colleague here in that if we impeach the President of the United States, I think there will be a trial in the Senate, and I think it’s going to mire this country for the next nine or ten months, and at the end of the day he is not going to be removed from office. And so people who are frustrated now, who say that censuring is not enough, are going to be just as frustrated, because there’s going to be an impeachment but not a conviction.
MARGARET WARNER: All right.
REP. BILL McCOLLUM: And that was the point of the hearings today, Karen, because I think -
MARGARET WARNER: Margaret.
REP. BILL McCOLLUM: Margaret. I’m sorry, Margaret. I think that we have the obligation to go forward. I think if we don’t go forward with this, we have terrible consequences to not doing it, and that’s really the difference of opinion here.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay. Let’s shift gears and talk about the motion you made today, which was to subpoena these documents involving campaign fund-raising and Attorney General Reno’s investigation. Why do you want to look at these documents?
REP. BILL McCOLLUM: Well, we’ve been told by very high level government officials that in the Labella memorandum, in the redacted part we’ve not been able to see with regard to -
MARGARET WARNER: This is a memo from the man who was the head of her campaign investigative task force.
REP. BILL McCOLLUM: That’s right. He’s the prosecuting attorney she brought in from San Diego to look at this and give a recommendation to Reno, and we’ve been advised that there is something in there that is very incriminating to the president. I don’t know if there is or not, but I think at this late hour, having – irrelevant to whether we’re doing an impeachment on the other matter or not – we have an obligation to look at that once we get those kind of charges from high level officials who don’t want to be identified, for understandable reasons. I’d like to see what’s in there; the committee needs to see what’s in there; if there’s nothing there, we go on, as most of us would like to do, and conclude this in a week or so. If there is something there, it’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax.
MARGARET WARNER: And you voted against it. Why not look at this?
REP. THOMAS BARRETT: It’s fishing time. That’s what this is. This has nothing to do with anything Ken Starr has done. This is simply an attempt to drag in whatever can be dragged in at this point, and it is – Mr. Hyde has said he wants to complete this by the end of the year, and, here, four weeks before the end of the year, they’re issuing subpoenas in a totally separate matter. And the second reason not to do it is it’s already being handled by another committee – the Government Reform & Oversight Committee chaired by Chairman Burton has been looking into this matter. So there’s no reason for this committee to duplicate what that committee has done, and it’s simply an attempt, I think, to bring in as much as it can. They weren’t able to do anything with Kathleen Willey. The FBI files fell flat. The Travel Office fell flat. But they’re trying to put some more life into this impeachment inquiry that the American people are saying, stop, we want this resolved.
MARGARET WARNER: How much can you do in a week? Let’s say you get the memo, which is still open – those memos – it’s still open to debate, is it not, because the Judge has to agree to release them.
REP. THOMAS BARRETT: Right.
REP. BILL McCOLLUM: Right.
MARGARET WARNER: But let’s say you find something, then you couldn’t complete this by the end of the year.
REP. BILL McCOLLUM: Obviously, I don’t think the American public would want you to complete it by the end of the year, and nor would I, if there was really something there that incriminated the president. Now, I’m not expecting that to be the case necessarily. It’s not at all the objective here. The objective is let’s put this to rest. I’d much prefer there be nothing in those memos. I don’t want to go on further with this. I wish the President weren’t engaged in the situation the way he is today with apparent perjury and so forth that we’re dealing with in impeachment. But I think we need for the sake of the nation to see if we can put this to rest right now. That would be the best thing. We get the memo. There’s nothing there. We put it to rest. Now, as you say, if there’s something there, that’s a whole ‘nother story, but it’s not our objective to find something there; it’s our objective to put it to rest if we can.
MARGARET WARNER: Could this, in fact, put this to rest, I mean, this whole issue of whether the attorney general has acted properly in not appointing independent counsels and so on?
REP. THOMAS BARRETT: Again, there’s a separate committee that’s been investigating this. If they want to take action, they can take action. But what it is – it’s – again, it’s an attempt to bring in another matter to make it look like we have something on the president. I know of nothing in this memorandum that implicates the president. There’s criticism, I believe, of the Justice Department, but I know of nothing in this memorandum that implicates the president.
MARGARET WARNER: Last — final question for the two of you – if you go ahead, if the committee has its vote next week – as is expected – if nothing else turns up – will you be considering anything other than impeachment up or down? Is there a middle ground?
REP. THOMAS BARRETT: It would be a huge mistake for this committee to deny us a vote on censuring the president, because I think at the end of the day, you have moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats who feel that that’s an appropriate remedy, an appropriate punishment. So I think that it would be wrong for the committee to deny a vote on censure. That will be the true test next week.
MARGARET WARNER: Will it be denied, or will you have a vote on it?
REP. BILL McCOLLUM: I do not know. I think that’s up to how it’s framed and the chairman’s rulings with regard to whether it’s germane. I just don’t know. There’s been no policy decision, to my knowledge, about it. But I would say this, that we would all like to do the fairest thing possible. We particularly, though, would like to make sure that we get a solid discussion and debate on articles of impeachment if they come forward, as I expect they will. And I think we will.
REP. THOMAS BARRETT: We can certainly do both, and that’s what we should do.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you, Congressmen, both very much.
REP. BILL McCOLLUM: Thank you.