December 4, 1998
|Next week, the White House defense team will respond to allegations that President Clinton committed perjury. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot discuss the ongoing hearings and Sen. Bill Bradley's decision to run for president.|
KWAME HOLMAN: The White House ratcheted up its rhetoric against Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee in the days leading up to next week's expected debate of at least one article of impeachment of President Clinton. White House Spokesman Joe Lockhart called the committee's actions this week "chaotic, partisan, and irresponsible." That prompt a statement this afternoon from Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, who called Lockhart's statement unfortunate and said his committee "will not be intimidated by rhetoric or name calling."
The president's lawyers continued to make plans for an appearance before the committee on Tuesday. It's expected the president's private attorney, David Kendall, White House Counsel Charles Ruff, and Special Counsel Gregory Craig will summarize the president's arguments against impeachment and take questions from members. Meanwhile at the capitol today, reports continue to circulate that Democratic and some Republican House members are working behind the scenes to find alternatives to impeaching President Clinton. The main option is some form of censure of the president but at a joint appearance yesterday Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and House Speaker-Designate Bob Livingston declined to take a position on either course.
REP. BOB LIVINGSTON: Right now we don't know when the Judiciary Committee is going to complete its work. We don't know what's going to be in their report. We anticipate that it's possible that they could finish this year. It's my hope that they would finish this year. But I'm not going to make any decisions about procedure until we see the report and have a chance to digest it and understand exactly what Henry Hyde and the Judiciary Committee are recommending.
KWAME HOLMAN: Majority Leader Lott said the Senate -- which may try the president if he's impeached by the House -- will await House action.
SEN. TRENT LOTT: We're not making any plans or any preparation at this time. We want to give the House, the Judiciary Committee, chaired by a very fine man that I know quite well, Henry Hyde, an opportunity to do their work.
|Expanding the probe.|
KWAME HOLMAN: The decision to send the president's lawyers to testify next week ends days of maneuvering by White House officials and Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee. Much of the activity was precipitated Tuesday when Judiciary Committee Republicans voted to subpoena a Justice Department memorandum they said may contain evidence of wrongdoing by President Clinton during fundraising for his 1996 campaign. The memorandum was written by former Justice Department official Charles LaBella -- who along with FBI director Louis Freeh -- led the investigation into Democratic campaign fundraising. The Judiciary Committee's leading Democrat, John Conyers, complained about the new area of inquiry.
REP. JOHN CONYERS: My objection to the committee's expanding again the scope of this impeachment inquiry by going on an open-ended fishing expedition into campaign finance issues. This is not appropriate, nor is it correct, nor is it fair, or nor is it relevant.
KWAME HOLMAN: Bill McCollum of Florida summed up the Republican response.
REP. BILL McCOLLUM: This committee cannot turn away from information that the director of the FBI and others that may bear directly to the resolution under which we are operating. Frankly, I hope that after we review the memoranda and talk to Misters LaBella and Freeh that we can conclude that the president did not break the law or commit any impeachable offenses in regard to any activity alleged in the memoranda.
KWAME HOLMAN: In fact, 48 hours later, Committee Chairman Henry Hyde apparently concluded a review of the memorandum by committee lawyers found no evidence of impeachable offenses by the President. In a statement released yesterday afternoon Hyde said: "The Committee will not address allegations involving abuse of campaign finance laws in its deliberations currently scheduled for next week."
|Three or four days?|
JIM LEHRER: And just a few moments ago - that's about 6:20 Eastern Time - The Associated Press moved the story which said President Clinton's lawyers have asked the House Judiciary Committee for three to four days - three to four days so they can call witnesses in his defense.
JIM LEHRER: And now to syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. What's going on? What do you think this means?
MARK SHIELDS: I don't know. I mean, it obviously means that they're in for a longer siege than we thought. I mean, there had been talk earlier of doing it in a day or so.
JIM LEHRER: Does this mean - well, you tell me what you think it means?
PAUL GIGOT: I think it means they feel they have to make a case, Jim, that the strategy that they had tried, which was to not deal with the merits, was not working in the sense that it was not going to result necessarily in winning an impeachment vote. I think there's a real danger building this week that they could lose an impeachment vote, and I think they're trying to say let's make the case.
JIM LEHRER: You mean, not just in the Judiciary Committee but on the floor of the -
PAUL GIGOT: Absolutely.
JIM LEHRER: And that has changed just in a week.
PAUL GIGOT: I think in the last couple of weeks it's been building, and this week I think the White House has begun to understand and Chuck Schumer, a Democrat on the committee, said this week the president may very well lose that vote.
JIM LEHRER: Do you see it the same way?
MARK SHIELDS: I do.
|It went away.|
JIM LEHRER: Change?
MARK SHIELDS: I think it changed, Jim, after the Democrats in the House were - expressed their dissatisfaction - anger - anxiety to the White House and rather emphatic and unequivocal terms this past week, namely that the president had not been since election days, since the polls closed and vindication rolled in, in the course of - the Senate - that he'd put away all contrition, and -
JIM LEHRER: And those 81 answers didn't help -
MARK SHIELDS: The 81 answers - well, even the parallel - in that whole new cycle the day before the 81 answers came down, there was the president playing golf - a big smile on his face. Now, it just was an inappropriate message to communicate. I mean, not that he has to be wearing a hair shirt but that he'd better - and he has to provide some cover for Democrats, politically, I mean, that he is contrite, that he is, in fact, isn't just going to whistle a happy tune if he does get off the hook, as well for Republicans. I think that there are a number of Republicans now. It's about three dozen members in the House who are going to decide how this does come out, they're both Republicans and Democrats, but in both cases these are people who are taking some political risk if they vote the way that the White House and President Clinton wants them to.
JIM LEHRER: Which would be not for impeachment but possibly something called censure or rebuke or something like that. What about - let's go back to the - to Kwame's report here for a moment. This flap this week about the memoranda on campaign finance violations by the president - there was a big deal and boom - it went away - what happened?
PAUL GIGOT: I think the press made more of this, frankly, and the Democrats made more of this than the Republicans wanted to make of it, or thought was there. I think what the Republicans were doing was partly due diligence, that is, if this memo was out there - remember, they've been trying to get this from Orrin Hatch's Judiciary Committee in the Senate - Dan Burton's Oversight Committee - have been trying to get it for a long time. With the impeachment machinery up, which is really the most power any Congress has over an executive, they felt we're going to use this to get that memo, and so they tried to, and, in fact, they succeeded. Now, I don't think they knew whether anything in there was going to lead to impeachment.
JIM LEHRER: But what about all these leaks that said, well, they had been told by the Secret Service that there was something in there that showed the president committed an impeachable offense?
PAUL GIGOT: They had some tips that coming out of the Justice Department, I'm told, to the Judiciary Committee saying this was important to look into. Now, when David Schippers, the chief counsel, the Republican side, did look into it, he said, these things were - I'm told - undeveloped. They were allegations. So they might - they definitely do in the Republican view warrant further investigation, but they were not going to fit any deadline on impeachment at the end of the year, and ultimately the Republicans have decided that they don't want to take a vote or don't have the vote to reconstitute an impeachment panel into the next Congress, so they want to wrap it up now.
|The momentum has been stopped.|
JIM LEHRER: And the Republicans took some real hits for that one, did they not?
MARK SHIELDS: Yes. I disagree with Paul's analysis in this sense. I think the Republicans made a big mistake, a serious strategic mistake here, as well as a tactical mis-step. His - the thing is this - very simply, Jim - Dan Burton, of whom there is nobody more critical of the president, had said that there wasn't impeachable offenses in any of the campaign finance, not that his committee had pursued or investigated. And I think once they started down that road - and they did have - there were reports - there were rumors, there were stories that there was something in there - once they started down that, I think it's fair to say that a vast majority -- overwhelming majority of Republicans on Capitol Hill have not had an inappropriate relationship with an intern. However, an equally overwhelming majority of Republicans do have an intimate firsthand experience with soft money politically. And once you start down that road of investigating soft money, you're opened up yourself, and I think there was a quick say - hey, it isn't here, let's back off, because we don't need to go into that thicket.
JIM LEHRER: What about - do you think that Bob Livingston, the - you're shaking your head - you don't -
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I don't think that soft money is the source of all political evil. That's a different -
JIM LEHRER: We have had that argument here about 37 times. Right. But do you think that Bob Livingston is making his presence felt?
PAUL GIGOT: I think he is not as aggressively as Newt Gingrich would have, but he is subtly, and he's saying with the rest of the leadership, and I think he's getting agreement from the rest of the leadership, which is saying, conservatives and moderates here, they're coalescing around this deadline at the end of the year for different reasons. Some of the moderates want it over one way or another. Some of the conservatives don't want it to drag into next year, because they're worried that they're going to lose five votes.
JIM LEHRER: Sure. And that's five less seats.
PAUL GIGOT: So Tom DeLay, for example, who is one of the most stalwart - saying we have to impeach and there should be no censure - even a vote on censure - let's go get it over now - and I think Livingston is looking at all this and saying, that's where we're - that's where he's putting his emphasis at the deadline.
JIM LEHRER: Let me read the second take on the AP story. This is the request that the White House has made to the House Judiciary Committee. It says, "The request is contained in a letter to the head GOP lawyer on the Judiciary Committee." It says, "President Clinton's lawyers want to introduce testimony on the standards for impeachment, the standards for prosecuting perjury and obstruction of justice, and prosecutorial misconduct." It says, "These issues are essential to Clinton's defense." So that - do you read that - you do not read that the way Paul reads it, as they're running scared suddenly?
MARK SHIELDS: I think there's no question that the momentum which was very much their way has been stopped - was stopped earlier. I think the Republicans on the committee have had a bad week. I think that, Jim, what this is shaping up as is a Republican issue more than a Democratic issue. The attitude in the country remains that Bill Clinton lied. They don't want him to leave. They don't want him to go. And it's hurting Republicans, as it did at the polls on election day, continues to in surveys, that Republicans in Congress are getting a bad wrap for this handling. But for Republicans internally this is taking on the dimensions of a very important political problem.
It's a little bit like - for those who are around then - the Panama Canal Treaty was in 1978, where how you voted on that issue determined to a considerable degree whether you had a future in the Republican Party. Howard Baker, Republican leader in the Senate, supported Democratic President Jimmy Carter in turning the Panama Canal over to Panama. He paid dearly for it in the future. I don't think anybody in the Republican side wants to have on his hands I was the one who let Bill Clinton off the hook. Newt Gingrich doesn't want to do it. Bob Livingston doesn't want to do it. Each of them - wants - what do we do at this session says Bob Livingston - Newt said - I don't know if I want to do it as my swan song. And the House wants to pass it over to the Senate. The Judiciary Committee wants to pass it to the House.
JIM LEHRER: Your take -
PAUL GIGOT: It's not - there's a lot of that - and Republicans are beginning to understand that the risks for them are voting against impeachment - their voters are going to care how they vote, where a lot of other people in the district are either going to vote for a Democrat anyway, or they're not going to give them much credit for it, because they're not paying much attention. But I will say, it's not just a matter of political calculation. There is also a question - and I talked to - get this - time and again from a lot of Judiciary members - they're playing for history here. They want to - they do not want to be associated with the president's behavior, and they do not want to be associated with what a lot of them think is a very bad constitutional precedent of censure. They want to be able to say we did the right thing based on how we saw it. This city says politicians are supposed to behave - we want politicians to ignore the polls and act on principle. Somebody does it, and we say, my God, how stupid, how can they do that?
JIM LEHRER: Na´ve.
PAUL GIGOT: It hurts them. They're so inept, na´ve.
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
PAUL GIGOT: I think that's what you're seeing with Henry Hyde, despite the fact that he's taking all these slings and arrows.
|The future of Independent Council.|
JIM LEHRER: Two other quick subjects: the acquittal of Mike Espy this week, Secretary of Agriculture, on 30 counts of corruption, what do you think that does about the state or the future of the independent counsel system?
MARK SHIELDS: I think it dealt a very serious body blow to it, Jim. I mean, this is - maximum - if you really inflate it, there were $30,000 involved, $17 million investigation, and if this had been a regular Justice Department inquiry, it would have been dropped after six months because there was no quid pro quo. Even the prosecution could not introduce a quid pro quo.
JIM LEHRER: He took some things that he shouldn't have taken, some - illegally - illegally.
MARK SHIELDS: Absolutely. No question.
JIM LEHRER: But he didn't do anything in -
MARK SHIELDS: And didn't do anything in return.
JIM LEHRER: -- exchange for people who had business with the Agriculture Department.
MARK SHIELDS: That's right. And I think that Mr. Smaltz, the independent counsel's statement that an indictment is a good thing because it sends a message is exactly the worst message you could have sent if you were interested in just preserving the independent counsel law.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, there's no question he accepted gifts. You know, you learn not to do that - gifts from people he regulated. And you learn to do that - that's an ethics violation in high school. You know, that's probably a firing offense. What the jury seemed to be saying, it wasn't a felony offense. And Mike Espy, when he was a member of Congress, voted for the independent counsel statute in the 1980s. And when the - and I guess in 1993 too - he hadn't been named - maybe he wasn't Agriculture Secretary yet - he was voting for it when you had Republicans in the Executive Branch and Democrats controlled Congress. If now as a victim of somebody who's been indicted by an independent counsel, as a Democrat, he's discovered that that is a bad law, then those of us who opposed it from the beginning will more than welcome his support.
JIM LEHRER: Very well put.
MARK SHIELDS: No question about it. I mean, there is - Paul -
JIM LEHRER: There are victims on both sides of the aisle now.
MARK SHIELDS: There are people on the Republican side who oppose the law now, were its most vehement advocates and champions.
|The authentic article.|
JIM LEHRER: Sure. Okay. The other item of business today, Bill Bradley, former Democratic Senator from New Jersey, became the first one to officially file papers to say he was going to have an exploratory committee about running for president in the year 2000. How do you read that?
PAUL GIGOT: I think it's interesting that some important Democrat thinks that they can beat Al Gore, because in this city he's sort of had an air of inevitability, and it's important that Bradley has said that. He's an attractive person. He's a celebrity. He's got experience in government. He's got an interesting mind. What he needs - and what I haven't seen yet - and is going to need to beat Al Gore - is a message.
MARK SHIELDS: Bill Bradley is a serious person. He was a serious legislator, he was an effective legislator. He is that rare politician who has had the ego fix outside of politics. He doesn't need it on a daily basis; he doesn't need the Today Show.
JIM LEHRER: In other words, he did it -
MARK SHIELDS: He did it. He did it.
JIM LEHRER: I mean - basketball - that was a basketball shot.
MARK SHIELDS: It was very good. It was very good. Hall of Fame - Hall of Fame - college - Hall of Fame pro -
JIM LEHRER: A Rhodes scholar.
MARK SHIELDS: A Rhodes scholar. I mean, he was really the authentic article. And I think that it's a recognition - he's not alone in recognizing that Al Gore's nomination is not inevitable. There will be others -
JIM LEHRER: Is that -
MARK SHIELDS: There will be others who join him.
JIM LEHRER: Does the fact that Bradley came in so early now ensure that there will be others, do you think?
MARK SHIELDS: I think there were going to be others. I've talked to several who are others - I mean - they don't think that Al Gore is necessarily invincible or should be getting fitted for Mt. Rushmore today.
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of Mt. Rushmore, thank you both very much.