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The Trial and Revenge
February 12, 1999
Correspondent: Chris Bury
Anchor: Ted Koppel


ANNOUNCER: This is a Nightline Friday night special.

WILLIAM REHNQUIST: Senators, how say you?

SENATE CLERK: Mr. Abraham? Mr. Abraham, guilty.

TED KOPPEL, ABC News (voice-over): The impeachment trial of William Jefferson Clinton, 42nd president of the United States, has concluded.

WILLIAM REHNQUIST: It is therefore ordered and adjudged that the said William Jefferson Clinton be and he hereby is acquitted of the charges in the said articles.

TED KOPPEL (voice-over): The seemingly endless and arduous process is now officially history.

Rep. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), Impeachment Trial Manager: Impeachment is hard, it was meant to be hard and it's over.

Pres. WILLIAM J. CLINTON: And this must be a time of reconciliation and renewal for America.

TED KOPPEL (voice-over): Tonight, the trial, it's finally over but is it time for reconciliation or political payback?

ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, this is Nightline. Reporting from Washington, Ted Koppel.

TED KOPPEL: Hypocrisy can be a useful lubricant and today it was being liberally applied to the wounds and bruises that have accumulated these past 13 months.

Congresspeople who could barely contain their contempt for one another during the House Judiciary Committee meetings now speak warmly of working with one another on future legislation. The President's team at the White House, which has battled with every ounce of energy at its disposal to achieve Mr. Clinton's acquittal, looked today for all the world as though they had lost. With a careful eye on the future, the White House remains a gloat-free zone.

Only that free spirit, James Carville, who has chiseled out a unique career saying exactly what is on his mind remained true to form. Asked by Katie Couric this morning whether he would like to bury the hatchet with Kenneth Starr, Carville suggested that he would prefer to bury the hatchet in the independent counsel. But Carville side, this was the day on which most people pretended that the last 13 months will have no or little impact on the next round of political combat. Reconciliation was the buzz word of the day and on all sides there was a tangible sense of relief that the trial had reached its final act.

Here's Nightline Correspondent Chris Bury, who has chronicled every part of this story for us.

WILLIAM REHNQUIST: The clerk will now read the first article of impeachment.

SENATE CLERK: Article one.

CHRIS BURY, ABC News (voice-over): Any genuine suspense was missing, of course, but the first vote of its kind since 1868 did convey a certain sense of drama as the chief justice polled the jury.

WILLIAM REHNQUIST: Senators, how say you? Is the respondent, William Jefferson Clinton, guilty or not guilty? A roll call vote is required. The clerk will call the roll.

SENATE CLERK: Mr. Abraham?

Sen. SPENCER ABRAHAM, (R), Michigan: Guilty.

SENATE CLERK: Mr. Abraham, guilty. Mr. Akaka?

Sen. DANIEL AKAKA, (D), Hawaii: Not guilty.

SENATE CLERK: Mr. Akaka, not guilty.

CHRIS BURY (voice-over): On article one, perjury before the grand jury, 10 Republicans joined all 45 Democrats.

SENATE CLERK: Mr. Shelby?

Sen. RICHARD SHELBY, (D), Alabama: Not guilty.

SENATE CLERK: Mr. Shelby, not guilty.

CHRIS BURY (voice-over): Even such conservatives as Alabama's Richard Shelby sided with the Democrats and the perjury count did not even muster a majority, let along the 67 votes needed to convict.

WILLIAM REHNQUIST: Two thirds of the senators present not having pronounced him guilty, the Senate adjudges that the respondent, William Jefferson Clinton, president of the United States, is not guilty as charged in the first article of impeachment.

SENATE CLERK: Article two.

CHRIS BURY (voice-over): On article two, obstruction of justice, long considered the stronger count, five Republicans from northeastern states broke ranks.

SENATE CLERK: Ms. Snowe?

Sen. OLYMPIA SNOWE, (R), Maine: Not guilty.

SENATE CLERK: Ms. Snowe, not guilty.

CHRIS BURY (voice-over): All 45 Democrats once again held firm and once again Republicans did not even get the symbolic majority they had sought.

SENATE CLERK: Not guilty.

WILLIAM REHNQUIST: On this article of impeachment 50 senators have pronounced William Jefferson Clinton, president of the United States, guilty as charged. Fifty senators have pronounced him not guilty.

CHRIS BURY (voice-over): Though the final votes were cast mostly along partisan lines, the proceedings in the Senate from beginning to end had little of the acrimony so pervasive in the House.

WILLIAM REHNQUIST: The chair wishes to make a brief statement, without objection, I trust.

CHRIS BURY (voice-over): Even the chief justice, who conceded some culture shock coming over from the Supreme Court, expressed his admiration for how the Senate conducted itself.

WILLIAM REHNQUIST: I leave you with the hope that our several paths may cross again under happier circumstances.

CHRIS BURY (voice-over): Once the trial officially ended, Senator Diane Feinstein, the California Democrat, tried in vain to win consideration of a resolution to censure the President and condemn his wrongful conduct in the strongest possible terms.

Sen. DIANE FEINSTEIN, (D), California: Mr. President, I move to proceed to my censure resolution, which is at the desk.

CHRIS BURY (voice-over): But Texas Republican Phil Gramm, who has adamantly opposed censure as unconstitutional, killed it, at least for now, with a procedural maneuver.

Sen. PHIL GRAMM, (R), Texas: This resolution is not on the calendar and therefore it is not in order to present it to the Senate.

CHRIS BURY (voice-over): At the White House today, the official word was relief, not vindication, among aides who have been ordered not to gloat. This afternoon in a solitary Rose Garden performance, Mr. Clinton struck a careful chord of contrition and healing.

Pres. WILLIAM J. CLINTON: Now that the Senate has fulfilled its constitutional responsibility bringing this process to a conclusion, I want to say again to the American people how profoundly sorry I profoundly sorry I am for what I said and did to trigger these events and the great burden they have imposed on the Congress and on the American people. I also am humbled and very grateful for the support and the prayers I have received from millions of Americans over this past year. Now I ask all Americans, and I hope all Americans, here in Washington and throughout our land will rededicate ourselves to the work of serving our nation and building our future together. This can be and this must be a time of reconciliation and renewal for America. Thank you very much.

CHRIS BURY (voice-over): The President took only one question from ABC's Sam Donaldson. In your heart, can you forgive and forget?

Pres. WILLIAM J. CLINTON: I believe any person who asks for forgiveness has to be prepared to give it.

CHRIS BURY (voice-over): But forgiveness was not on the minds of the President's harshest critics, the House managers who tried and failed to have him removed from office.

Rep. STEVE BUYER, (R), Indiana: As I one by one checked off guilty and not guilty, my gut kept turning over and over. Why? Here's the damage that's been done to the constitution and the presidency because my great fear is that future presidents will now flaunt the law in a more egregious manner.

CHRIS BURY (voice-over): The one key player not talking today was independent counsel Kenneth Starr, whose office has considered indicting Bill Clinton. But ABC News Correspondent Jackie Judd reports that is unlikely, at least while Mr. Clinton is still in office.

JACKIE JUDD, ABC News: Someone familiar with Starr's thinking said to me today that Starr respects the institutional integrity of the office of the presidency and he wouldn't do anything to undermine that. Now, critics may find that disingenuous, but that's what they're saying. It all points to no indictment while Mr. Clinton is in the Oval Office.

CHRIS BURY (voice-over): Even Henry Hyde, the chief prosecutor, said Starr should not pursue the President once he leaves office.

Rep. HENRY HYDE (R-IL), Impeachment Trial Manager: I think the President, well, I don't want to venture too far down this road, but I don't think indicting and criminally trying him after what we have all been through is going to be helpful to the country.

CHRIS BURY (voice-over): If there was one universal reaction that reached across every political divide, it was relief at reaching the end of this road.

Sen. PAUL WELLSTONE, (D), Minnesota: This is the end of a long, sad year and I think people in the country and all of us are ready to get back to work.

CHRIS BURY: So the Senate, by constitutional design, has cooled the hot passions of the House and kept a popular president in office. Even those who cast losing votes today concede, however grudgingly, that the system worked pretty well. But in a capital suffering from acute scandal fatigue, the question tonight is did anyone really win?

This is Chris Bury for Nightline in Washington.

TED KOPPEL: So, are we entering a period of reconciliation or will it be pay back time? We'll talk with two members of the House Judiciary Committee when we come back.

(Commercial Break)

TED KOPPEL: And joining us here in Washington, two members of the House Judiciary Committee, Democrat Barney Frank and Republican Charles Canady, who was also a House impeachment manager.

Americans, Congressman Frank, love the sort of image of athletes the more violent the game the better they like the image. Athletes after a football game or after a boxing match sort of embrace each other afterwards. Any danger of that happening in this case?

Rep. BARNEY FRANK, (D), Massachusetts: (Washington) Oh, I think we'll get along much better than some in the media think and maybe even hope, to be honest. During the impeachment process while things were really very heated, the House Judiciary Committee was continuing to function on other business. I serve on a subcommittee that has responsibility for intellectual property. We put through a major piece of legislation redefining the responsibilities of online service providers in case of copyright violations. It was very important to the recording industry and the motion picture industry. I don't think personal relationships have been damaged. There are some ideological differences between the parties. On some of these big issues I think you're going to see some genuine policy differences. But I do not think that personal factors will be a problem. You know, we're used to disagreeing with each other, trying to defeat each other and at the same time working constructively.

TED KOPPEL: Mr. Canady, boy, you sure fooled me. I don't mean you personally but I mean all of you in the Judiciary Committee. It seemed to get quite adamant at times. Do you feel the same way that Mr. Frank does?

Rep. CHARLES CANADY, (R), Florida: (Washington) I think Mr. Frank is absolutely right. I think it's important for all of us to understand that we are sent to Washington to work together for the good of the American people. There are ideological differences that divide us on occasion, but we need to work together whenever we can.

TED KOPPEL: Let me talk for a moment about today's two votes. Does either one of you, and let's start with you, Mr. Canady, have a sense of vindication based on what happened today?

Rep. CHARLES CANADY: Well, I am not happy with the ultimate judgment of the Senate. We prosecuted this case because we believed that the House was right in impeaching the President. I think the 50 senators, half of the Senate who voted for an article of impeachment did vote to establish a standard of integrity for the presidency. I was pleased that half of the Senate agreed with the House on that.

TED KOPPEL: What about you, Mr. Frank, a sense of vindication?

Rep. BARNEY FRANK: Yes, to a great extent. I think this shows that, in fact, there was never a basis for throwing the President out of office, a basis for condemning his irresponsibility, yes, and for his lying to cover-up his private consensual sexual affair. But, you know, you generally start out here with the partisan lines drawn. I mean people, after all, Democrats supported Bill Clinton for president and Republicans opposed him. As Henry Hyde himself said earlier, but frankly appeared to have forgotten, you don't undo an election unless some of the people who supported the winning candidate have changed their mind and think now he's no longer worthy of support. And so you start off basically partisan and I felt some vindication that to the extent there were partisan deviations in the Senate, it was Republicans on the one article, on the perjury article, a very significant number of Republicans saying no, this is not a basis for throwing the man out of office. And so I do feel that that validated our position.

TED KOPPEL: For all the talk of reconciliation today, and Mr. Canady, if you would answer first and then Mr. Frank, the same question to you, do you think when we move into the campaign phase of the year 2000, which is not that many months away now before the campaigning begins, that the campaigning itself will have a particular edge to it this year? Do you feel more targeted, Mr. Canady, than you did when you ran just a few months ago?

Rep. CHARLES CANADY: Well, I feel less targeted than ever because I'm not seeking reelection.

TED KOPPEL: Ah.

Rep. CHARLES CANADY: And as a matter of fact, I was unopposed in the last election also. But I think it is extremely difficult to predict what the next election is going to be like. That is a long time away in the world of politics and I think it would be a mistake for either side to turn that election into a game of recriminations. I think we have philosophical differences. We need to present our vision for the future to the American people and let the American people make their judgments about us based on our vision for the future of the country.

TED KOPPEL: So the behavior of Republicans both on the Judiciary Committee and in the House, Mr. Frank, you think that's a, you think that's an appropriate issue for the next election?

Rep. BARNEY FRANK: Well, for the first time Mr. Canady and I disagree on this show and I would have to say to my good friend Charles, you wish. In fact, it comes with no grace for the Republicans to say that this shouldn't be an issue. The Republican Congressional campaign committee bought TV ads in October of this past year trying to make this an issue. They wanted to make it an issue. They tried to use it against Democrats. It did not work. Indeed, it backfired. Having tried to use the impeachment process as an issue against Democrats in October of '98, they have very little standing to complain if it is used against them in the fall of 2000. I think it's a very legitimate issue.

TED KOPPEL: Mr. Canady, you get a quick chance to respond and then we'll have to wrap up.

Rep. CHARLES CANADY: Well, of course the voters have every right to take into account the positions that people took on this issue when they vote in the next elections. That's, that goes with the turf and Mr. Frank is right to that extent. But I don't think that the next elections will be a referendum on the impeachment and the trial of President Clinton. It may play a role in some races in a minor way, but I think if I had to predict I'd say it's not going to play a big role in the next elections. That's my prediction.

TED KOPPEL: We'll see. Thank you all. I appreciate it. Mr. Frank, Mr. Canady, good of you to come in.

Rep. CHARLES CANADY: Thank you.

TED KOPPEL: So what's in our immediate future? David Gergen and George Stephanopoulos, when we come back.

(Commercial Break)

TED KOPPEL: As we have throughout our coverage of the impeachment process, we're joined again by David Gergen and George Stephanopoulos.

Huge opportunity here, guys. You get to determine whether the last comments on this historic day are uplifting, profound or simply banal.

George...

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, Former Senior Clinton Advisor, ABC News Political Analyst: (New York) Speaking of banal...

TED KOPPEL: I'll start with you. As you know this man, I'm speaking now of the President of the United States, is he in fact capable of turning the other cheek and, I mean, genuinely forgetting about all the hurts of this past year?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Not fully. I mean I think that, you know, in some ways he's the ultimate existential man. He'll have a moment where he feels fully contrite and full of forgiveness. The next moment he'll be thinking about how to get revenge. I mean that's just the way he is and the way he always has been. My guess is he'll probably try to do both. The question is can he succeed at it and I don't think he can.

TED KOPPEL: Well, actually let me rephrase your answer into a question for David. How does he succeed not at that but how does he succeed in these final two years?

DAVID GERGEN, Former Presidential Advisor: (Washington) Well, I think that's the big decision that he's going to have to make, Ted. I think he's got a serious, serious dilemma on his hands in this sense. If he wants to govern and go down as a president who is going to have productive legislative accomplishments, in my opinion he's going to have to work with the Republicans and compromise in the direction of the Republicans on Social Security, on Medicare and on education. But to do that, he would have to abandon his Democratic base and I think after this impeachment fight, given all the other insults and humiliations he feels he suffered at the hands of the Republicans, I don't think there's any chance he's going to do that. His head will tell him, his head will tell him to work with the Republicans. His heart and soul now belong firmly to the Democrats.

TED KOPPEL: Well, not just his heart and soul. Doesn't he owe the Democratic, I mean the Democrats have stood by him through thick and thin, both in the House and now in the Senate, not a single vote wavering in the Senate. Is this a man who pays his political debts, David?

DAVID GERGEN: Well, I think he will feel he has to but I think he now feels bonded with them in a way he never has during his entire presidency. You know, the days of Dick Morris and triangulation when he was trying to, you know, to stand above both parties and be himself, I think those days are gone.

TED KOPPEL: Interesting question, George, because, you know, when David says stick with the Democrats, this is not really a president who's been all that close to his party over the last six years.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: No, in fact he's been willing to abandon them at various times. But I think that this is what President Clinton would call a false choice. He firmly believes and the Demo, and the White House firmly believes that the Republican Party is in such bad shape in the Congress right now that they're going to have to move the President's way on Medicare, on Social Security, on education. Maybe they're wrong, but I think where David is correct is that, you know, Democrats who heard the President up at Winter Green yesterday when he met with the House Democrats heard what they thought was a blood oath from the President not to abandon them. He also will not be able to abandon them because he has to look out for Vice President Gore's interests and his campaign in the year 2000. So he is going to stick with the Democrats.

DAVID GERGEN: Yeah, but see, Ted, where I think the Democrats are, I think those Democrats are misreading the political landscape is to think that the Republicans will come their way. The Republicans who fell on their sword over impeachment, who fell on their sword over their basic principles and have taken such a hit politically are not going to throw away those principles now.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And what the White House would say, David, to that is that they're willing to fall on their sword one more time and hurt themselves. They're banking on the Republicans finally acting rationally.

DAVID GERGEN: There is no way the Republican Party is going to agree to a plan to have the government invest $600 billion, $700 billion in the stock market. The Republicans are not going to agree to a plan that allows the federal government to, from a Republican standpoint, to federalize local education.

TED KOPPEL: Let me slip in another subject here before we're all out of time and you've alluded to it, namely the subject of Vice President Gore. Is Bill Clinton going to end up being an asset to the vice president or more of an albatross? George?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's going to be tricky and I think, you know, the vice president's most problematic statement in the last six months is the day the President was impeached. He said that Bill Clinton would be one of our greatest presidents ever. I think that kind of hyperbole, loyal though it may be, might come back to haunt him.

TED KOPPEL: There is an element, David, of Hubert Humphrey and Lyndon Johnson here, isn't there?

DAVID GERGEN: There, that's what we thought a few months ago, Ted. I think that Bill Clinton now is going to be a great asset to Vice President Gore and the other big person who may be a great asset, we'll know in the next couple of weeks, is if Hillary Clinton decides to run for the Senate then that decision has to come soon now and I believe the President would very much like her to run. That's what I'm hearing from sources close in.

TED KOPPEL: That looked like a rueful smile, George. What did that grin mean?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: I think Mrs. Clinton is having a lot of fun playing around with this Senate seat. I still think there's no way she's going to run.

TED KOPPEL: All right, on that note and who knows, we'll, we may have an answer to that very soon, let me thank you both for your loyal and interesting and sometimes even charming commentary on what is a very difficult case. Good to have you with us again. I'll be back in a moment.

(Commercial Break)

TED KOPPEL: Sunday on This Week With Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, the lead impeachment manager, and White House Chief of Staff John Podesta.

That's our report for tonight. I'm Ted Koppel in Washington. For all of us here at ABC News, good night.



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