September 24, 1998
The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer Transcript
Excerpts from the Judiciary Committee news conference reagrding the impeachment inquiry.
JIM LEHRER: Now the impeachment inquiry. Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde said today he expects the whole House will vote on a resolution for such an inquiry in two weeks. Here are excerpts from his news conference.
REP. HENRY HYDE, Chairman, Judiciary Committee: Like all Americans, I want to bring this matter to closure as soon as possible. The timetable I've proposed today is the most expeditious schedule we can follow. I urge everyone to be patient, allow our system of law to work, and I'll be very happy to try and answer your questions. Mr. Franken.
FRANKEN: You started by talking about it's a crime to talk about a deal. Are you just absolutely eliminating the possibility that there will be any sort of a plea bargain, censure, censure plus, anything like that?
REP. HENRY HYDE: Well, there's an old saying, you never say never, but I don't know anybody on the committee on the Republican side who is contemplating anything remotely close to a deal.
REPORTER: But the criticism from Democrats is that evidence that you are trying to pile on the president.
REP. HENRY HYDE: No. We're not trying to pile on the president; we're trying to follow the rule of law, the Constitution, the precedence. There is no precedent for censuring a president. The Constitution doesn't provide for it. That's way down the line even considering that proposal, if, indeed, it is a proposal. We haven't gotten nearly there yet. But even so, if you'd like a curbstone opinion, I'm not entranced by that idea, and our members are not.
REPORTER: How do you respond to Speaker Gingrich's suggestion that the inquiry be expanded to include all kinds of matters like campaign finance and the Chinese satellite scandal, and so forth, and secondly, then, how would you do that, if you agreed, by the end of the year, as you said, that you wanted to do?
REP. HENRY HYDE: Well, none of us are very interested in casting a very wide net. We have enough on our plate, believe me, with the single matter we're looking at; however, if you recall from the introduction in the referral from the independent counsel, he said they were nearly through with their Whitewater, Filegate, Travelgate investigations. They interrupted those investigations to deal with the Lewinsky matter, and when they reached a point when they ought to, under the law, submit their findings to us by way of referral, they did and now they're going back to those other matters. I don't see that we would be justified in saying what we won't hear. We want to hear anything and everything - good, bad indifferent, exculpatory, accusatory - that bears on the main question. But we're not seeking to widen the scope. But if a further referral comes to us, we certainly would take it. I also have never felt we were bound by Judge Starr's activities, that is to say the independent counsel. There may be other matters that we feel bear on the main question of the fitness of the president for this office. I would never say we won't hear those things. But I would be guided by the rule of relevancy, germaneness, probity, or probative value We don't want to be a catch-all magnet for all kinds of things that really don't pertain to what we're looking at. Yes, sir.
REPORTER: Many Democrats on your committee would like for you to define an impeachable offense before you vote an inquiry. Why don't you do that? What's wrong with taking that approach?
REP. HENRY HYDE: Well, because we don't have all the evidence yet, and defining an impeachable offense right now would be an abstraction. People may have different standards. It is a fact that some people want clear and convincing evidence, some people want probable cause, some people want beyond a reasonable doubt. And it's pretty hard to do that right now. That's kind of abstract. But when we get to a vote, we must decide what may be an impeachable offense. We act as a grand jury. It would be the Senate, the other body, that would determine if A, B, C, D, E are impeachable offenses warranting the finding of guilty. So, I can't really answer that
REPORTER: On this resolution, are you saying that you believe the House will vote to initiate an impeachment inquiry?
REP. HENRY HYDE: I do not predict how the House will vote, but -
REPORTER: How the Republicans on the committee would vote.
REP. HENRY HYDE: They will vote, I'm sorry, we will cast a vote. I don't know how that will turn out.
REPORTER: Will Kenneth Starr be subject to subpoena issued by your committee and also will material under his control be subject to subpoena?
REP. HENRY HYDE: It could be. When it becomes subpoena time, if they want to subpoena Mr. Starr, they can.
REPORTER: Would the minority be able to do that without support of the majority of your committee? How would that work?
REP. HENRY HYDE: Well, we would try to find out what the purpose was. If there was a useful purpose to do it, I would agree. If it's just to harass Ken Starr, I might be less ready to agree. But that's a possibility.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts spoke afterward for the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee.
REP. BARNEY FRANK: What bothers me is according to this timetable, a month will have gone by from when we received Kenneth Starr's report and the committee will not have begun to deal with what I think are the serious questions. Starr makes some recommendations that he says - his latest letter now -- he's getting a little moderate for him - he says that it "may" be grounds for impeachment. And there are some things in there which many of us think are obviously not grounds for impeachment. And the committee hasn't decided what is or isn't impeachable. Not only hasn't it decided, we haven't even talked about how you would decide what is or isn't impeachable. There are factual disputes. Monica Lewinsky says one thing. And Betty Currie contradicts her. Actually, Monica Lewinsky says one thing and Kenneth Starr rewrites here about whether or not she was told to lie. There is not even a procedure for deciding, though. So, a month will have gone by in which we will have not begun seriously to deal with this issue. A month will have gone by in which all we will have done is to make more information available. And I realize that making more information available is not a practice to which you are constitutionally opposed. But it is not the sole business of the Judiciary Committee. We have not yet - and apparently according to this timetable - will not in a month have considered this. And so what they've done is managed to run out the clock - and I think this is what we're talking about - this is an effort to run out the clock so that the election comes and goes with this totally unresolved, with all of the questions hanging, because I think the dilemma my Republican colleagues face is they have a significant part of their party that wants an impeachment and to their disappointment, the public does not appear yet ready to join them. And, therefore, they don't want to take any conclusive action one way or the other. So what we have is a long timeout until after the election. And that's just not a very good idea. We ought to be meeting and trying to figure out some way to begin to be dealing with this.
REPORTER: Mr. Gephardt asked for a timetable yesterday. Mr. Hyde's given him one. Is this the kind of timetable he envisaged?
REP. BARNEY FRANK: No, Mr. Gephardt asked for a timetable to resolve this. Mr. Hyde gave him a timetable to avoid resolving it. Mr. Hyde gave him a timetable that says we will in a couple of weeks vote on whether to do anything or not. This is a timetable for making sure that nothing is resolved before the election. What Mr. Gephardt was trying to do was to try to at least begin a process of trying to resolve this. By the way, most of the information is out. I mean, Kenneth Starr has been working on this for a long time. I don't understand what's going to take many, many more months, other than the need for the Republicans to resolve their political dilemma, which is how do you satisfy your own people who want an impeachment and the general public that appears to be less so. I think the Republicans are kind of mad at the public and we're all going to have to wait around while they try to work this out.
REPORTER: Mr. Hyde and then some other Republicans, Mr. Canady later, were rather adamant that they didn't think that it was necessary to hear from Mr. Starr. How do you feel on that subject?
REP. BARNEY FRANK: Well, I'm beginning to think this is going to be a pretty quick hearing. We can't hear from Monica Lewinsky. We can't hear from Kenneth Starr. They don't want to hear from Bill Clinton. What are we going to do at this hearing, play records? I mean, I don't understand this. I guess that's old fashioned - CD's. I'm sorry. I get in trouble with Hillary Rosen. But the - I mean, in the first place this underscores the point, these things ought to be discussed. This is what I mean. There has been no rational discussion about how do you structure this and who should you have.
JIM LEHRER: The Judiciary Committee will meet tomorrow to vote on the release of more documents from the Ken Starr investigation.