September 22, 1998
The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer Transcript
Four members of the House Judiciary Committee join Jim Lehrer to discuss President Clinton's grand jury testimony.
JIM LEHRER: The national broadcast of President Clinton's grand jury testimony had many audiences, few more important than the 37 members of the House Judiciary Committee, which must now decide want to do next. Four of the thirty-seven are with us now: Republicans James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin and Charles Canady of Florida; Democrats Marty Meehan of Massachusetts, who will be joining us in a moment, and Thomas Barrett of Wisconsin. Congressman Canady, did the president's testimony change your view of the case against him?
REP. CHARLES CANADY: No. I don't think we really saw much new in the president's testimony. Of course, I'd seen the tape more than a week ago. And I've read the account of the president's testimony in the independent counsel's report. Basically what we see in the tape is confirmation of what we already knew. This is part of the evidence. We need to evaluate it, but we don't need to rush to judgment. There were disturbing things in the president's testimony. There is a clear conflict between his testimony and Ms. Lewinsky's testimony. I believe there's also a conflict between his testimony and Ms. Currie's testimony on certain points. But we've got to evaluate all that and really look at all of the relevant evidence before we make an ultimate judgment on whether the president committed perjury in this testimony before the grand jury.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Barrett, how about you, did it change any of your basic views about what was at issue here?
REP. THOMAS BARRETT: It really didn't, Jim, but for me, probably the biggest surprise was last week, as we had leaks to the press as to what it would what would be in this transcript or what would be in the videotape, we are hearing how the president would storm out and how angry he would get. And I think those were leaks designed to make people watch this. But we saw a measured president. We saw a president that was embarrassed and at times angry, but I think it was certainly a president under control throughout the entire videotaped deposition.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Sensenbrenner, what was your view of it after you finished looking at it?
REP. F. JAMES SENSENBRENNER: Well, I guess I'd have to agree with both of my colleagues. The real question the Judiciary Committee has to decide is who was telling the truth and who was lying between the written testimony of Monica Lewinsky before the grand jury and the videotaped and transcripted testimony of the president.
JIM LEHRER: Now, is that a big difference? I mean, to watch say the president on videotape and then read what Monica Lewinsky said in paper in other words, a transcript, is that going to change the way you're going to evaluate things? Is that going to affect it?
REP. F. JAMES SENSENBRENNER: No, I don't think so. This is kind of spin and the picture speaks a thousand words. And obviously, with a videotape, one is able to see the president's facial expressions and the tone of his voice, which are absent in the transcript. But, again, I think the Judiciary Committee's charge is to determine who was telling the truth and who wasn't because what Lewinsky testified is opposite what the president testified.
JIM LEHRER: Now, Congressman Barrett, the issue now before you and the other members of the Judiciary Committee is whether or not there should be a formal impeachment inquiry. Where do matters stand, as far as you're concerned on that question right now?
REP. THOMAS BARRETT: Well, first of all, it's my understanding that we really don't need a formal vote of the whole House of Representatives to have the impeachment inquiry. So in many ways I think that this was a political vote that's coming toward us. But I think it's an extremely important vote, because I think it is going to be "the" vote that will tell you whether we're going to be proceeding on a bipartisan basis or not. If it's a if it's a vote that's crafted solely by the Republican leadership to try to paint Democrats in the corner, I think that that's going to send a message to the American people. I think to lay out the options before us that we should have language there talking about the other options that are available: censure, fine, public reprimand. And I think if that language is contained in this resolution that we'll be voting on right before we leave and right before the November election, I think that will be a signal to the American people that this is going to be a bipartisan or non-partisan investigation. If it's a stacked resolution, you still may have lots of Democrats voting for it, but it will send a signal, I think, to the American people and I think the press as to exactly what's going on here.
JIM LEHRER: You mean you think it should be kind of a multiple choice type resolution, in other words, the Judiciary Committee should proceed and decide one or three or four things but not to necessarily decide --
REP. THOMAS BARRETT: I think they can simply saying something along the lines of whatever remedy is appropriate. Again, my understanding is that we don't even need an impeachment resolution. And so this is being crafted, in large part I think, in preparation for the November 3rd election. But since it's coming, I'm assuming it's coming, I'm assuming all the Republicans are going to vote for it, I think that it is a sign of goodwill that they would place it in this resolution the other possible remedies that have been discussed. And none of them I think are considered frivolous. They've gotten a lot of discussion throughout this country.
JIM LEHRER: I want to go to two Republican colleagues and then to Congressman Meehan, who has now joined us. Congressman, where do you think the process stands at this moment in terms of what happens next and what you as an individual member of the committee want to accomplish and think the committee should do next?
REP. MARTY MEEHAN: Well, I would like to see the committee operate on more of a bipartisan level. I don't think we're off to a very good start in terms of bipartisanship. Chairman Henry Hyde had unilaterally gotten ahold of the judge in the Paula Jones case and gotten that videotaped testimony of the president. And those things ought to be done jointly. Now from my vantage point, we've had the president now on all of the networks testifying under oath, unprecedented not only for a president unprecedented for any American ever to be videotaped and then to have it come out public, grand jury testimony that is usually private. I think what we ought to do now is step back and reflect seriously on the cost to the public discourse in America that this is having, the cost to the institution of the presidency, and the cost to American global leadership. And we ought to reflect on whether or not there isn't a way to end this sooner, rather than later, by avoiding a long-term impeachment hearing, which I think the Republicans at this point are bent on. Now if there's any way we could, we should try to get the Republican leadership, Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott, to sit down with the Democratic leadership and determine what could we do short of impeachment that could get this over for the country sooner, rather than later.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Canaday, that brings us to the story of the day. The talking of the day is about some kind of deal that would avoid an impeachment inquiry. One of the suggestions made by Senator Kerry from Congressman Meehan's state has been Senator Lott said today, hey, maybe we ought to talk about it, and apparently Senator Kerry has also discussed this with Senator Gingrich, which is for the president to come down there, appear before the four of you and the other members of the House Judiciary Committee and see if something can be worked out. What do you think of that idea?
REP. CHARLES CANADY: Well, I think it's premature to talk about punishment before we dealt with the issue of guilt. The president is still protesting that he is guilty of no offenses. He claims that he has not committed perjury; he's not obstructed justice, or been guilty of the other matters that the independent counsel has alleged against him. So I think it would just -- we're jumping ahead here to talk about punishment. Now, I think, clearly, if the president wants to make a presentation to the Judiciary Committee and we institute an impeachment inquiry, he certainly should be given that opportunity. I will have to say it would not be just an opportunity for him to come and make a speech to us. I think he would have to be willing to answer questions concerning these matters. But
JIM LEHRER: But not part of a deal? In other words, he wouldn't you're saying if he came as a witness to testify on his own behalf, that's on thing, but not as part of a deal, hey, I'll come and talk if you all agree not to have an impeachment inquiry?
REP. CHARLES CANADY: Well, again, I don't know a deal with respect to what? I don't know what he's guilty of. I'm reserving judgment on those matters. And until we make a judgment about the offenses that might have been committed and whether he is guilty or not, it seems difficult to me to talk about what the appropriate punishment would be.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Sensenbrenner, how do you feel about it?
REP. F. JAMES SENSENBRENNER: The job of the Judiciary Committee is to determine whether or not the president committed an impeachable offense. And only way we're going to be able to do that is to go to a formal hearing, an inquiry, where the evidence is tested. And it all depends upon the strength of the evidence to determine who's telling the truth. Certainly, I think it is premature to talk about punishment, although I would observe that if the president told the truth in January when the Lewinsky story broke, there would have been no Starr investigation into the circumstances around this, and there would be no Starr Report before the Judiciary Committee at the present time.
JIM LEHRER: So you think that the House Judiciary Committee should have hearings, in other words, have Monica Lewinsky come testify, all the people that have already testified before Judge Starr, the grand jury, come and do it again for the House Judiciary?
REP. F. JAMES SENSENBRENNER: Only the House of Representatives has got the power of impeachment under the Constitution. And Ken Starr can't make that determination; a grand jury can't make that determination. Only the House of representatives can. So it's our job on the Judiciary Committee to find out what the facts are and then to report our conclusions to our colleagues in the House for their consideration.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Barrett, so it looks like, at least from the Republicans' point of view, there are going to be hearings.
REP. THOMAS BARRETT: Well, I think that decision was made a long time ago, just as the decision last week as to what was going to be released was made before anybody took a single step into that hearing room. And that's what's unfortunate here; that this is not a bipartisan process. These decisions, I think, as Henry Hyde said, just that these decisions are being made above his pay grade. These are I think Republican leadership decisions as to how this will proceed. And my concern is I think the American people don't want us meeting as Democrats and Republicans on this; they want us meeting as Americans. But that's not what's happening right now.
JIM LEHRER: That's not what --
REP. CHARLES CANADY: If I could comment on that, I agree with my colleague that the American people don't want this dealt with in a partisan way. We need to follow a process here and use standards that we would be willing to apply to any American president.
REP. TOMAS BARRETT: Well, should we have
REP. CHARLES CANADY: if you'd let me finish but the process we're following now is a process that was put in motion by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of the House. 363 members voted for that resolution, 63 voted against it. Unfortunately, a majority of the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee opposed the resolution that was overwhelmingly adopted by the House, and I think we're seeing that reflected in some of the things going on in the Judiciary Committee.
JIM LEHRER: That brings me to the question I want to ask all of you and I'll start with you, Congressman Meehan the conventional wisdom is that the committee that you all sit on is the most polarized committee of the House of Representatives, that the most liberal of the Democrats are on it and the most conservative of the Republicans, and the likelihood of you all getting together in a non-partisan way was doomed from the beginning.
REP. MARTY MEEHAN: There's some truth to that. You know, I worked on a bipartisan way on campaign finance reform with Chris Shays. We got that bill passed in this session. I've worked with Jim Hanson from Utah on tobacco issues, Bob Franks from new Jersey. I know what bipartisanship is all about. And what we've done this far us anything but bipartisan. I mean, to talk about what procedures we're going to use, you know that this committee hasn't even had a hearing or discussion with both sides there on what constitutes impeachable conduct. How in the world can you justify releasing 2800 pages worth of secret in many instances secret grand jury testimony without even having done what constitutes impeachable conduct. We should have done that before we started releasing all this information. So we have our work cut out for us. I don't think it's been very bipartisan. My experience in bipartisanship in the six years I've been in the House is that both sides give and take; both sides compromise; they reach agreement. They don't work unilaterally. They don't come into a meeting and say, okay, we're all going to vote this way and you guys have yours. They give you a little time to talk, but that's about it.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Sesenbrenner.
REP. F. JAMES SENSENBRENNER: I'll plead guilty to being partisan in behalf of open government. And the whole issue of what the Judiciary Committee did last week and has to do this week involves what of the Starr materials that the taxpayers paid for will be put in the public record for the American public and the news media to consider in terms of the 11 points that Mr. Starr made as alleged grounds for impeachment for the President of the United States. So I don't have any apologies in saying that yes the tape and the grand jury testimony should be out in the open because those go to the essential questions of whether the president perjured himself and obstructed justice, which is in my opinion both of them are impeachable offenses. So if we put them out in the public, the public will have the same evidence that the members of the Judiciary Committee have and we'll be able to reach their own conclusion.
JIM LEHRER: Just as a matter of timetable, Congressman Canady, what happens next, literally what happens next?
REP. CHARLES CANADY: Well, I think the committee will be meeting on Thursday, but I'm hopeful that --
JIM LEHRER: The whole committee?
REP. CHARLES CANADY: The whole committee. And I'm hopeful we'll be able to reach agreement on the reaction of sensitive material that is in the remaining material of which is now in confidential status. One thing that's been absurd is we did have some substantial agreement about a redaction of materials in our considerations last week. And I'm hopeful that we'll have agreement on the redaction of additional materials, but we will follow forward with the mandate given us by the resolution passed by the House and additional materials will be released. Then the next question facing us is whether we will recommend to the House that we institute an
JIM LEHRER: Formal proceedings?
REP. CHARLES CANADY: -- impeachment inquiry. The resolution passed by the House contemplates that the Judiciary Committee would consider that question and then make a recommendation to the full House for the full House's consideration.
JIM LEHRER: And would you anticipate, Congressman Meehan and Congressman Barrett, that all the Republicans will vote for it and all the Democrats will vote against it?
REP. THOMAS BARRETT: I'm assuming that all the Republicans will vote for it. I think that you'll have a mixed bag among the Democrats, depending upon how fair the resolution is. If it's a stacked resolution, I think you're going to have some that will say, no, we're not going to do it. If it's a fair resolution, if it's one, again, that talks about what the standard for impeachment is, what we're going to be looking at, and the possible ways to deal with this serious problem, then you're going to, I think, have a feeling among Democrats that this was a good faith effort, that something I, as one of the members of the Judiciary Committee, who did vote for the release of the Starr Report, feel has been totally absent from the proceedings thus far.
REP. F. JAMES SENSENBRENNER: But that's not the procedure that was used in the President Nixon impeachment 24 years ago. There, the Judiciary Committee held the hearings. They drafted six articles of impeachment where they declared specific conduct that President Nixon engaged in to be impeachable offenses. So the standard of what is an impeachable offense was not done at the beginning of the President Nixon process and shouldn't be done in the beginning of the President Clinton process.
REP. MARTY MEEHAN: You can't even compare the process between what was done in Watergate and this. Judge John Sirrica had a ruling. Leon Jaworski, the prosecutor, kept all that information secret so that President Nixon's lawyers could cross-examine it. There was an opportunity there for a fair hearing and cross-examination of the evidence. If we could just follow the procedures that we used in Watergate, frankly, I think a lot of the Democrats would feel a lot better about the process here.
REP. THOMAS BARRETT: I agree. I agree.
JIM LEHRER: All right. On that agreement between the two Democrats, at least, we'll leave it there. Thank you all four very much.