October 6, 1998
|Kwame Holman sets up a discussion with our regional commentators, who take a look at the House impeachment process so far.|
JIM LEHRER: Kwame Holman sets the stage for our regional commentators' discussion.
KWAME HOLMAN: At about 7:30 last night members of the House Judiciary Committee began wandering back from the House floor following a series of votes unrelated to impeachment. The committee had been in session since 9 a.m.. Each member got the opportunity to speak his or her mind on the impeachment process. They heard an analysis of the Starr Report from committee investigators. They debated and defeated two Democratic proposals to limit the scope and length of any impeachment inquiry. Their last piece of business was a vote on the Republican plan to allow an inquiry that would extend as long as necessary, necessary to be defined by the Judiciary chairman.
REP. HENRY HYDE: The committee will come to order.
KWAME HOLMAN: With committee Republicans holding a 21 to 16 advantage, approval of their plan was assured. Nevertheless, Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee pleaded that they do otherwise.
REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE, (D) Texas: And I'm just stunned that although we have had the tone of bipartisanship, the minority has not been able to gain the goodwill and good faith of this majority to, in fact, draw us together around some issues of commonality. Can we come to an agreement about the conclusion or working toward a reasonable time certain not to cover up, not to deny my colleagues on the other side of the aisle their fair assessment of the facts, but recognizing where we are, Mr. Chairman, in this process.
REP. HENRY HYDE: Let me just ask you to accept the fact that we want to move this thing along. I announced my New Year's resolution that they have it over by then, but I can't tell how cooperative people will be that we find necessary to depose or have testify.
KWAME HOLMAN: As expected, the Republican proposal for an open-ended inquiry was approved, with all 21 Republicans voting for it.
SPOKESMAN: Mr. Kobel votes aye.
KWAME HOLMAN: And all 16 Democrats voting against us.
SPOKESMAN: Mr. Meehan votes no.
KWAME HOLMAN: A few hours earlier, Democrats had presented their own plan, which set Thanksgiving Day as the target for ending an impeachment inquiry. But once again, the vote and debate on that idea followed party lines.
REP. HENRY HYDE: This resolution gives us 17 days to investigate it.
SPOKESMAN: Mr. Chairman -
REP. HENRY HYDE: That is not - you should pardon the expression - due process.
REP. BARNEY FRANK: If you would yield - as I understood you to say yesterday was you're about three weeks beyond us, so if, in fact, you think that all this has to happen, were you serious then about thinking you were going to get it done? What did you mean when you said we were going to end by the end of the year?
REP. HENRY HYDE: I truthfully can say I don't understand your question.
REP. BARNEY FRANK: Well, let me rephrase it.
REP. HENRY HYDE: No, no, no.
REP. BARNEY FRANK: How can you -
REP. HENRY HYDE: Oh, no. I understand it.
REP. BARNEY FRANK: How can you end by the end of the year?
REP. HENRY HYDE: All right.
REP. BARNEY FRANK: How can you end by the end of the year?
REP. HENRY HYDE: I don't know. If you will cooperate and we'll get some stipulations, we can end before then.
REP. BARNEY FRANK: So the 17 months is irrelevant.
REP. HENRY HYDE: But if you will change the pattern of delay and stall ball and lost records - not you - not you -
REP. BARNEY FRANK: Mr. Chairman, I have to ask you one more time. I object very much to this charge of stalling. We got this report from Kenneth Starr nearly a month ago, and this committee has done nothing but been the publicity transmission belt until then as a committee, and some of us tried earlier to get some of this process started. So it is not our responsibility that a month has gone by and nothing has been done until today to start to resolve this.
REP. HENRY HYDE: I will accept charges that have some merit to them, but we're almost out of breath we've been running so fast to move this thing along. Nobody wants it to be delayed 10 minutes, I can assure you that.
KWAME HOLMAN: Throughout yesterday's long session members were able to make their points without raising the decibel level to any great degree. For a committee widely regarded as one of the most partisan in Congress, only a few statements seemed to approach histrionic.
REP. BOB BARR, (R) Georgia: We are witnessing nothing less than the symptoms of a cancer on the American presidency. If we fail to remove it, it will expand to destroy the principles that matter most to all of us.
REP. ROBERT WEXLER, (D) Florida: I am not proud of this prosecutor, Ken Starr, who has turned government in upon itself, distorted our system of justice in a politically-inspired witch hunt that rivals McCarthyism in its sinister purpose.
KWAME HOLMAN: Such strong rhetoric was the exception, however, despite votes on committee resolutions that all broke along straight party lines.
JIM LEHRER: Elizabeth Farnsworth in San Francisco takes it from there.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And now our regional commentators on the Judiciary Committee proceedings. Robert Kittle of the San Diego Union Tribune; Lee Cullum of the Dallas Morning News; Patrick McGuigan of the Daily Oklahoman; and Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Constitution. Joining them tonight is Susan Albright of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Bob Kittle, did the Judiciary Committee make the right decision yesterday?
ROBERT KITTLE: I think it did, Elizabeth. You know, we're really facing some very serious questions here, and the Judiciary Committee has an obligation, despite the - you know - understandable impatience of the American people to get this over with, to examine whether this president committed felonies while in office, and if he did, to then move on to determine whether those are impeachable offenses. You know, these are not minor matters that we're talking about. It's perjury. It's obstruction of justice, and it's witness tampering by a sitting president. Just within the last decade the House impeached a federal judge in Mississippi and the Senate convicted him and removed him from office for lying to a grand jury. So these are not minor matters, and I think the Judiciary Committee was wise to move ahead as expeditiously as possible but not to set an artificial deadline, which would simply invite more stalling from the White House. I think despite the unfortunate partisan nature of the vote yesterday, the Judiciary Committee has done the measured thing and done the right thing.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. I'll come back to whether it was partisan or not. Cynthia Tucker, do you agree that this was the right thing to do?
CYNTHIA TUCKER: Well, I think the vote was inevitable. I think it has been pretty clear that the Republicans were bound and determined to move the process forward, but I also have to say that I think that at this point this is probably the best chance that the American public has for having any sense of faith in the presidency restored. Lots of charges have been thrown back and forth, and Bob Kittle is right, serious crimes have certainly been alleged here. And I think that - given what has happened - given the president's own conduct, which has certainly left a lot to be desired, perhaps the best way that we can restore faith in the process is to at least have the inquiry proceed.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Pat McGuigan, best way to restore faith in the process?
PATRICK McGUIGAN: Well, I certainly think it's a good first step, and I agree with the observations of both Bob and Cynthia. I find myself in this somewhat unusual position of agreeing with recent observations of both the New York Times and the Washington Post when they said that to artificially limit the time or the extent of the process would be a disservice when there's still emerging evidence, there's still information that's being put on the table almost daily, and I agree with what Bob and Cynthia said.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Susan Albright, first on the decision to have an inquiry and then on whether it should have been limited.
SUSAN ALBRIGHT: Well, we didn't think that they should have an inquiry. I don't think all misdeeds are the same. One of the things that bothered us about David Schippers, the counsel for the majority, one thing that bothered us about his comments were that, first of all, he inferred the worst case picture, and then he suggested that all misdeeds are similar. We don't think all misdeeds are similar. I think Abbe Lowell was correct when he said they're wrenching the words from the factual content. He used words like "conspirators" and "abuse of power," "aiding," "abetting," and so forth. We are talking about two people trying to keep an affair secret, and you can't get rid of that.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Lee Cullum, where do you weigh in on each side's case?
LEE CULLUM: Well, Susan, I thought that each said made the best possible case for itself. I thought that David Schippers presenting the possible articles of impeachment - I thought he managed very, very well. I liked the things that he pared away from the Starr Report. I see no reason to charge the president with obstruction of justice for trying to defend himself. But the matters that he set forth he did very well and very forcefully. And I thought that Abbe Lowell did as well as he possibly could with his material. You know, I was listening to Susan, and she's right, we are talking about a relationship that was -that tried to remain secret, that those involved in it tried to keep secret, and that's very difficult material for the language of the law. But I thought that Abbe Lowell did as well as one could do in framing those matters in courtroom style.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Lee, what did you think of the process yesterday? Did you find it fair?
LEE CULLUM: I thought the process was fair. I thought that Chairman Hyde was very even-handed. I thought he was right in not allowing David Schippers' remarks, personal remarks, at the end of his presentation to be incorporated into the record. That was when Mr. Schippers spoke passionately about truth in the law, and it's not that one would disagree with him, it's just that that was not his role, and Chairman Hyde was quick to associate himself with the objections of the Democrats. That was completely fair, I thought.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Susan, what did you think? Did you find it fair?
SUSAN ALBRIGHT: Well, I didn't really find it fair. I mean, look what they rejected. They rejected Howard Berman's proposal, which would have overlaid the one that the Republicans had to first see - if you took all of Starr's accusations and said, okay, they're all true, would that reach a level of impeachment? And then, if so, proceed with the inquiry. They wouldn't even do that, and it seems to me that to have an open-ended inquiry, which could go into any matter for any length of time, makes no sense if they haven't even determined whether these charges, if true, would rise to the level of impeachment. And I don't think they would.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Pat, looking at it all, I mean, looking at it for fairness and also the level of partisanship, they are sort of the same and yet not quite the same, how do you judge both?
PATRICK McGUIGAN: Well, in terms of fairness, not to be too cute, but I guess it depends on how you define the word "fair," fairness does not mean without legal, ethical, moral, or other content. It doesn't mean not having an opinion about where something should go, especially if you're the guy in charge. Now, given Henry Hyde's predilections, his career, all of the things we know about him, I think this stood four square in his tradition, and that is he tried to give each side a chance to vent, if you will, and in that sense he was fair. I did disagree - I must say - with his suppression of the counsel's remarks, Mr. Schippers. And the reason I disagreed is I've watched this process and it seems as if it's okay for the Democratic members of the committee and for even staff to say anything they want about Ken Starr, to compare him to some kind of Torque Amada. But on the other hand, for Mr. Schippers to make an illusion to this is an important process that you're embarking on and previous generations, as well as this generation, are counting on you to do the right thing, to have that suppressed as if it's some kind of a vicious, partisan comment just struck me as a little bit odd.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. I'll come back to you on the partisanship. Cynthia, what do you think about that? Was that the wrong thing to do, and did you find the proceedings fair?
CYNTHIA TUCKER: Well, Elizabeth, I certainly thought it was fair in a political context. I mean, what do you expect here? This is a political matter. Fair in the courtroom sense? Certainly not. These procedures would never take place in a courtroom. But this is a political process. Henry Hyde did his best, I thought, to be even-handed. But if you look at the vote at the end, all the Republicans voting to proceed, all the Democrats voting not to proceed, it's clearly very partisan. And in that way, it differs fairly dramatically from Watergate, when the House Judiciary Committee took a unanimous vote to proceed. So these proceedings are very partisan, fair, as I said, only in the political sense. The Republicans are clearly in a majority in the House, and they intend to use their political advantage.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Bob Kittle, very partisan, and is there anything wrong with that? What's wrong with being partisan?
ROBERT KITTLE: Well, what's wrong with being partisan, Elizabeth, I think is that you want a broad consensus for any actions as serious as approving articles of impeachment against a president or if it comes to that, action by the Senate, a vote by the Senate to remove him from office. You don't want that to be done along narrow partisan lines. And, unfortunately, that's exactly the way this debate played out in the Judiciary Committee yesterday. I am hopeful that when this reaches the floor of the House in the next couple of days, that Democrats will reflect on the importance of this and see some merit in going ahead with an impeachment inquiry, just an inquiry, not one that prejudges the outcome, but to move ahead and examine these issues, because if it becomes on the House floor a straight party line vote, then I think it cheapens the process. It certainly gives it political overtones and doubts about the legitimacy of it, if it's strictly along party lines. That's not the way to proceed here.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Pat McGuigan, did you find yesterday - very partisan - I know the vote was partisan, but what about looking at the whole event - too partisan?
PATRICK McGUIGAN: I don't know. I think there was a lot of partisanship from the Democratic side. To the extent that there were any nuances, if you will, they were along the lines of what Bob just expressed by the one gentleman - I'm sorry, I can't remember his name - from the Carolinas, who indicated that he wasn't sure where all this was going to lead and if he would, in fact, vote to impeach, that is to, in essence, indict and send the thing on to the Senate -
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You're talking about Lindsey Graham, Congressman Graham.
PATRICK McGUIGAN: Yes. Thank you. He was not reaching a conclusion on that issue, but he was saying the question is just as Mr. Hyde indicated, do we look further, or do we look away, and the Judiciary Committee made the right decision, and unfortunately, the right decision broke along partisan lines, look further. And I think that was a wise decision. I think it was a statesmanlike decision, not a partisan one by the majority.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Susan Albright, do you think that, or do you think that the partisanship is - there's too much partisanship?
SUSAN ALBRIGHT: I'm dismayed at the partisanship. Impeachment is a very serious thing. And I think what the Democrats were actually trying to do yesterday was to bring us back to what scholars of the Constitution would tell you about what the founders meant. They haven't explored that at all, and I think if you do look at what scholars have said - and Rep. Scott from Virginia did some town hall discussions of this a week or so ago - you would find that it has never been applied to a situation like this.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Lee Cullum, where do you come down on whether these proceedings were just too partisan?
LEE CULLUM: Well, Elizabeth, of course, they were partisan. We have a political disagreement here. It's obvious the two parties see the Clinton-Lewinsky matter very differently at this point. I think Bob Kittle is right when he suggests that some Democrats may, indeed, vote for the inquiry to go forward on the floor of the House. I suspect they will. And if Democrats do not cross over and join Republicans in this matter, as time goes on, then it won't get very far. But I don't think we're going to see all the Democrats voting no on Thursday, if that's the day that the vote is taken on the floor of the House. We may see some non-partisanship before it's over.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Thank you all very much.