December 10, 1998
KWAME HOLMAN: Then shortly before 6 p.m. Eastern Time came the committee members' 10-minute statements. With 37 members, the process will take at least six hours. Here are some excerpts. First to speak was Republican James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin.
REP. F. JAMES SENSENBRENNER: Mr. Chairman, for the past 11 months, the toughest questions I've had to answer come from parents who want to know what to tell their kids about what President Clinton did. Every parent tries to teach their children to know the difference between right and wrong, to always tell the truth, and when they make mistakes, to take responsibility for them and to face the consequences of their actions. President Clinton's actions at every step, since the media told us who Monica Lewinsky is, have been completely opposite to the values parents hope to teach their children.
No amount of government education programs and day care facilities can reverse the damage done to our children's values by the leader of our country. But being a poor example isn't grounds for impeachment. Undermining the rule of law is. Frustrating the court's ability to administer justice turns private misconduct into an attack upon the ability of one of the three branches of our government to impartially administer justice.
This is a direct attack on the rule of law in our country and a very public wrong that goes to the constitutional workings of our government. To me, making a false statement under oath to a criminal grand jury is an impeachable offense, period. This committee in the House decided that issue by a vote of 417 to nothing nine years ago in the Judge Nixon impeachment. To accept the argument that presidential lying to a grand jury is somewhat different than judicial lying to a grand jury and, thus, not impeachable is wrong. It sets the standard for presidential truthfulness more than for judicial truthfulness.
The truth is the truth and a lie is a lie, no matter who says it. And no amount of legal hairsplitting can obscure that fact. The president's defenders might claim that he did it to protect the First Lady and his daughter. While that might have been true right when the story broke, it wasn't shortly afterwards, when all the personal embarrassment possible had already been caused.
He didn't admit to an inappropriate relationship with Ms. Lewinsky until the DNA tests on that famous dress came back. And to this day he still will not admit to lying at the deposition and to the grand jury all to evade responsibility for his untruthful testimony. His repeated and continued failure to accept responsibility for his false testimony has brought us to the point where this committee is on the verge of approving articles of impeachment of a president for only the third time in our nation's history.
KWAME HOLMAN: The committee's ranking Democrat, John Conyers of Michigan, was next. He is the only member of the committee who also served on the Watergate important panel of President Nixon 24 years ago. Congress said the current panel is plagued by partisanship.
REP. JOHN CONYERS: This inquiry began with the tawdry, salacious, unnecessarily sexually graphic referral delivered to us by an occasionally obsessive counsel in September with so much drama. And since that time, our proceedings in that committee have been marked by one partisan vote after another -- beginning with the majority decision to release literally every shred of paper received from Mr. Starr onto the Internet; although we have been able to reach accord on some matters, in too many respects, this inquiry has been a textbook example of how not to run an impeachment inquiry.
Time after time we, the minority, have suffered the indignity of learning from the newspaper or television about important investigative or procedural decisions made by the majority. We learn about the decision to take depositions five minutes before the majority issues a press release to the world. One day they decide to expand our investigation to campaign finance matters and the next day read that the subject is off the table. Just yesterday, even while the White House counsel was concluding his testimony, the majority released its articles of impeachment, articles so vague that they would be dismissed by most courts in the country. So much for fairness, so much for bipartisanship.
The majority have simply rubber-stamped the uncross-examined, untested, double hearsay, yes, triple hearsay, and conclusions of the independent counsel without conducting any factual investigation of its own. Not one fact witness came before this committee. Faced with the failure of the process that they champion, the majority members this week adopted a new line of attack and tried to blame the president for not calling fact witnesses. My friends across the aisle, please let me remind you that it is you who are trying to overturn the results of two national elections. You, who are attempting a legislative takeover of the executive branch and you, not the president, who have the burden of coming forward with evidence to sustain your actions.
KWAME HOLMAN: Democrat Barney Frank of Massachusetts argued censure is the appropriate congressional response to President Clinton's conduct.
REP. BARNEY FRANK: I am struck by those who have argued that censure is somehow an irrelevancy, a triviality, something of no weight. History doesn't say that. There are two members of this House right now who continue to play a role who were reprimanded for lying - myself and outgoing Speaker Gingrich. We both were found to have lied - not under oath - but in an official proceeding - and were reprimanded.
I will tell you that having been reprimanded by this House of Representatives, where I'm so proud to serve, there's no triviality. It is something that when people write about me, they still write about, it is not something that's a matter of pride. I wish I could go back and undo it.
I don't think Speaker Gingrich's political problems subsequent to his reprimand were unrelated to the fact that he was reprimanded. I am, indeed, surprised that members who share my reverence for this institution, my reverence for democracy, my deep, abiding faith in what Thomas Jefferson eloquently called a decent respect for the opinions of mankind, for all of us who are in this business of dealing with public opinion and courting it and trying to shape it and trying to make it into an instrument for the implementation of our values, to be dismissive of the fact that the United States House of Representatives or Senate might vote a condemnation - as if that doesn't mean anything - members know better.
I cannot think of another context in which members would have argued that a censure - the solemn vote of condemnation - would not have meant very much. Certainly, former Senators Thomas Dodd or Joseph McCarthy would not have believed that for a minute.
REP. CHARLES CANADY: The Constitution does not authorize the censure of a president who is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors. The Constitution provides for the impeachment of a president who has committed high crimes and misdemeanors. Do we have so little faith in our Constitution and the institutions of our government that we will turn aside from the pattern established in our Constitution and devise what we consider a better way to call the president to account for his misdeed? Do we believe that our own wisdom exceeds the wisdom of the Framers of the Constitution?
If I could have 30 seconds, Mr. Chairman. The answer is clear, we must say no. William Jefferson Clinton must be called to account as the Constitution provides. He must be impeached and called before the Senate to answer for the harm he has done. He must be called before the Senate to answer for the harm he has caused by undermining the integrity of the high office entrusted to him by the people of the United States. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
KWAME HOLMAN: Other members addressed the impact of a possible House vote for impeachment, followed by a trial of President Clinton in the Senate next year.
REP. DICK BOUCHER: It is universally acknowledged that a 2/3 vote in the Senate to convict the president and remove him from office cannot be obtained. Therefore, for the House of Representatives to approve articles of impeachment would simply prolong this national debate for many more months without bringing closure, further polarizing the country and hardening the divisions that exist in our population at the present time, diverting the Congress and the president from attending to our urgent national business, demobilizing the Supreme Court, while the chief justice presides over a long trial in the Senate, lowering the standard for future presidential impeachments, and possibly causing disruptions in the financial markets to the detriment of our national economy.
For all of these reasons I'm convinced that impeachment is not the appropriate remedy in this case. Its use would not well serve the national interest.
REP. HOWARD COBLE: When the government shut down in 1991, President Bush was blamed for the shutdown. When the government shut down in 1995, Congress was blamed for the shutdown. I still haven't figured that one out. I think the truth of the matter is President Bush and the Congress closed down the government in '91. President Clinton and the Congress closed down the government in '95 - under almost identical circumstances - the inability to agree on spending measures. So, I don't believe that - assuming impeachment will follow - I don't think that will accelerate the shutting down of the government. I'm the eternal optimist. I forever see that glass half-filled, and I can't see that this is going to shut down the government or tie it up, assuming it does advance to the Senate.
KWAME HOLMAN: Another issue raised in the opening statements was the long-term impact an impeachment would have on the balance of power among the three branches of government.
REP. ROBERT SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, we did have a hearing at which we considered the constitutional standards for impeachment. At that hearing, scholars told us that there is no constitutional authority to impeach a president simply because we dislike him or because we disapprove of his actions when those actions do not constitute treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. In fact, by proceeding with an inquiry, based on allegations that do not meet that high standard, we have done irreparable harm to our system of government by establishing a dangerous and partisan impeachment-at-will president that will forever weaken the institution of the presidency.
The presidency was intended to be free from subversion by the legislature. Three separate and coequal branches were envisioned by the drafters of our Constitution, and it is this reason that impeachment is limited to the constitutionally explicit treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. Impeachment was to be a mechanism to protect us against conduct as described by Professor Ackerman yesterday that constitutes a threat to the very foundation of the republic.
REP. BOB GOODLATTE: Mr. Chairman, this is a somber occasion. I am here because it is my constitutional duty, as it is the constitutional duty of every member of this committee, to follow the truth, wherever it may lead. Our Founding Fathers established this nation on a fundamental - yet at the time untested - idea that a nation should be governed not by the whims of any man but by the rule of law. Implicit in that idea is the principle that no one is above the law, including the chief executive.
Since it is the rule of law that guides us, we must ask ourselves, what happens to our nation if the rule of law is ignored, cheapened, or violated, especially at the highest level of government? Consider the words of former Supreme Court Justice Lewis Brandeis, who was particularly insightful on this point. In a government of laws, the existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. If government becomes a law-breaker, it breeds contempt for the law. It invites every man to become a law unto himself.
KWAME HOLMAN: The committee adjourned at about 9:30 p.m. Eastern Time. Tomorrow morning at 9, the committee will hear the remaining opening statements and then begin debating the specific wording of the Republican majority's impeachment articles. The process is expected to carry over to Saturday, when final committee votes are expected. The full House of Representatives has been summoned back to Washington by Speaker Newt Gingrich to debate and to vote on the committee's work next Thursday. That concludes our special report on today's House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing. Join Jim Lehrer for reports and analysis on the NewsHour tomorrow evening. I'll be back with another one-hour summary tomorrow night. More information about the impeachment inquiry can be found on the NewsHour Online. I'm Kwame Holman. Thank you for joining us. Good night.