THE IMPEACHMENT HEARINGS
Dec. 11 Opening Statements: Bob Barr (R-Ga.)
By Federal News Service
REP. HENRY HYDE (R-IL): (Bangs his gavel.) The committee will come to order, please. A quorum being present, we will resume hearing opening statements, and the chair now yields to the gentleman from Georgia, Mr. Barr, for a 10-minute opening --
REP. BOBBY SCOTT (D-VA): Mr. Chairman?
REP. HYDE: The gentleman from Virginia.
REP. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, before Mr. Barr starts, we had previously agreed to try to be as timely as possible if we're going to have amendments, to let the other side know, and have the common decency of an opportunity to respond. I have been drafting amendments, but we haven't had, because of the time schedule, an opportunity to caucus to determine which if any of those amendments that I have, actually have support. So I just wanted to notify you I may have amendments, and we'll get them to you as soon as we possibly can.
REP. HYDE: The Chair would announce that at the conclusion of opening statements, we'll have a 30-minute recess, and you folks can caucus, and we can caucus, so that can be more fully discussed.
REP. SCOTT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
REP. HYDE: Very well. Mr. Barr.
REP. BOB BARR (R-GA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, it is morning in America, literally and figuratively. Children all across this land are now sitting down in their classes, having been led in the pledge of allegiance to our flag by dedicated teachers in classrooms large and small. Adorning the walls of those classrooms are pictures of great American heroes, such as George Washington.
When asked to name the single most important gift America had given the world, Daniel Webster replied, "The integrity of George Washington." How many of us have wondered, as a child, holding a shiny new quarter in our hand, why the profile of George Washington adorns more coin and paper money than any other national figure? Integrity.
However, as we stand here today on the threshold of a new millennium, dazed by scandal and riddle with doubt, we are forced to confront the reality that, in the words of Mark Halperin, writing in the July 2nd, 1998 Wall Street Journal, in an essay lamenting the decline of statesmanship, quote, "We have only what we have."
When I look out at this audience, Mr. Chairman, I see -- we all see -- America. We see Americans young and old, black and white, proudly natural-born and naturalized, and just as proudly rich and poor; citizens, and likely hopeful citizens, all drawn to American by something that makes generation after generation of boys and girls want to grow up in America, something that makes citizens of all other lands yearn desperately to come to our shores, and become our fellow citizens.
What is it that sets us apart, that draws people to America, and keeps them here? Anyone who lives in this country, who visits America, quickly learns there is indeed something extraordinarily special about this place. It's something that all of us as Americans feel when we return to our shores from travel abroad. While there are indeed many things that make our nation unique, in the final analysis, everything that is special and unique about our country, is built on and protected by one principle: the rule of law.
Unfortunately, like many of the phrases in our national debate, the phrase "rule of law" has been so oft-repeated we risk losing on our grasp on exactly what we mean when we say it. What is the rule of law? The rule of law finds its highest and best embodiment in the absolute and unshakable right each one of us has to walk into a courtroom, and demand the righting of a wrong. It doesn't matter what color your kin is, what God you pray to, how large your bank account is, or what office you hold. If you are an American citizen, no one should stand between you and your access to justice.
President John F. Kennedy put it this way: "Americans are free to disagree with the law, but not to disobey it. For a government of laws and not of men, no man, however prominent and powerful, and no mob, however unruly or boisterous, is entitled to defy a court of law. If this country should ever reach the point where any man, men, or group of men, by force or threat of force, could long defy the commands of our courts and our Constitution, then no law would stand free from doubt. No judge would be sure of his writ, and no citizen would be safe from his neighbors.
This, though, is the fundamental American right that President Clinton tried to deny a fellow citizen, Paula Jones. It could just as easily have been anyone here in this room, in the audience, or on the committee. It could have been your husband, your wife, your child, your neighbor. It just happened to be Paula Jones.
Whether one agrees with Paula Jones' case or not, is irrelevant. What is very relevant, is that when she tried to exercise her indisputable right to take her case to the court, the highest official in our nation tried to take that right away from her, that same public official who as governor, tapped her on the shoulder and had her escorted under the watchful eye of troopers to a hotel room, and crassly demanded personal favors of her.
Later, when Ms. Jones tried to walk into a courtroom, that governor, now the president of the United States of America, slammed the door in her face, and it very nearly remained locked tight. In a society based on justice under law, such an egregious wrong cannot be ignored. We in this Congress on this committee, absolutely cannot ignore it.
Even more troubling, is the evidence that this administration has used its power to do exactly the same thing to others. Need we remind America of the 900-plus FBI files brazenly and illegally misused by the White House? Anyone not possessing an infinite capacity for self- delusion knows, whether they're willing to say it or not, that the president perjured himself on multiple occasions, and committed other acts of obstruction of justice. It is also glaringly evident he enlisted others, from Cabinet officials to political operatives, in this endeavor, and that this endeavor continued into this very room.
While reverence for parallels with the Nixon impeachment is seductive but inappropriate, there are some points worth noting. In the Nixon case, for example, lying to Congress and to the American people in just such a manner, provoked a separate article of impeachment. Is the danger of such an attack on our constitutional processes any less dangerous today?
Sadly, I believe the case we are discussing today is but a small manifestation of President Clinton's utter and complete disregard for the rule of law. Throughout his presidency, his administration has been so successful at thwarting investigations and obstructing the work of Congress and the courts, that it may be decades before history reveals the vastness of his abuse of power, or the extent of the damage it has wrought.
President Clinton apparently subscribes to the same theory Richard Nixon articulated in a 1977 interview with David Frost. Nixon said "When the president does it, that means it is not illegal." That was dead wrong then, and it is dead wrong today -- wrong, that is, unless one subscribes to the principle that the president is not only above the law, but that he is the law.
For his conduct and his arrogance, William Jefferson Clinton has thrown a gauntlet at the feet of the Congress. Today, it lies at the base of this very dais. It remains to be seen whether we will pick it up.
Throughout our history, there have been other times when a principle of equal justice under law was widely questioned. It happened when some Americans tried to deny other Americans access to justice based on their skin color. It happened when Japanese- Americans were imprisoned in barbed-wire stockades based on misguided fears. It happened in Watergate, when a president abused his power in an effort to thwart political enemies.
However, in each of these critical junctures, Americans great and small rose to the occasion. Justice, although sometimes delayed, did prevail. However, in each of these instances, good finally did prevail over evil, the rule of law survived, and we pulled back from the slippery slope -- political slope, that is -- that ends in tyranny. And in each of these cases, America was guided by the law and the Constitution, not polls or focus groups.
You know, as children, all of us believed certain things with all of our hearts. We knew there was a difference between good and evil.
We knew it was wrong to lie, and equally important, that if we got caught, we would be punished. We knew that honesty and fairness were as much a part of why we respected our parents, pastors, and teachers, as we assuredly knew they were part of why we pledged allegiance to our flag.
What happened to these simple things that we all knew in our hearts just a few short years ago? Why do so many adults now find it so hard to call a lie a lie, when as parents, teachers, and employers, we have no such hesitancy? Why do so many now resist the search for the truth and accountability, when we do so day in and day out, in our lives at home, in business, in school, and in our religious institutions?
In the short time I've served in Congress, I've learned that this place, this city, has an incredible power to complicate the simple. This staggering ability to muddle simple issues is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that much of the president's defense has hinged on defining common words in ways that shock most Americans who think they have a rather firm grasp on the meaning of words, such as "lie," "alone," "is," "perjury."
But of course, for the president's defenders, words' history, and the records therefore, are nothing more than leaves on a sidewalk in the fall. They're irrelevant items to be swept lightly away whenever one wants to walk from Point A to Point B.
Where does all this leave us? What do we have? Do we have, in Mark Halperin's words, only what we have? I say no. We are not locked in a strange parallel universe in which up is down, is becomes was, and being alone is a physical impossibility. We are not living in an alien world, we are living in America. We are living in an America in which we know that felons are prosecuted and are not allowed to remain in office. We live in an America in which rights prevail, wrongs must be righted, and indeed, we have to stand up today, tomorrow, and forever, for the rule of law, the Constitution, and accountability; vote articles of impeachment which are the one tool given us by our Founding Fathers, to do precisely that, in precisely this circumstance, with precisely this president. Thank you.
REP. HYDE: The gentleman's time has expired. The gentlelady from Texas, Ms. Jackson Lee.
Copyright © 1998 by Federal News Service, Inc. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold or retransmitted without the written authority of Federal News Service, Inc. Copyright is not claimed as to any part of the original work prepared by a United States government officer or employee as a part of that person's original duties. Transcripts of other events may be found at the Federal News Service Web site, located at www.fnsg.com.