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Rep. Rick Boucher Questions Starr

  • More Transcripts From the Hearings

  • By Federal News Service
    Thursday, November 19, 1998

    REP. RICK BOUCHER (D-VA): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

    Mr. Starr, while you ere not a witness to the facts which are at the base of your investigation, and also your September referral to the House, I note that for a number of years you served as the solicitor general of the United States and in that capacity represented the United States government in a variety of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

    I know a number of those cases during that period involved constitutional issues. So in my opinion, that experience well qualifies you to answer questions on some of the broad matters of constitutional dimension that it will now be the responsibility of this committee to consider.

    Since your referral was received by the House in September, there has been a great deal of discussion about the importance of the rule of law and about the importance of the principle that no individual, including the president of the United States, should be above the law.

    It's also been suggested by some that the rule of law is only observed, and that principle only honored, if it is found that the president has committed a criminal offense while in office, he must then be impeached and removed from office.

    But my readings on the Constitution suggest that impeachment was never intended to be a punishment for individual misconduct; instead, it was intended to protect the country. It was designed to advance the public interest and to remove a chief executive whose conduct was so severe that it fundamentally impairs the functioning of his presidential office. Punishment for the individual can occur in the normal course and through the normal functioning of the criminal- justice process.

    So I have three questions for you. I'll pose these, and then you'll have the balance of the time in which to provide your answer:

    First, Mr. Starr, do you believe that the president would be vulnerable to the criminal-law process for whatever crimes, if any, he may have committed while in office, after he leaves the office? Would he be subject to the criminal-law process after he leaves the office, assuming that the statute of limitations for that particular conduct has not expired at the time that an indictment is brought?

    And in answering that question, I would refer you to the provisions of Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution, which states as follows: "Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States. But the party convicted shall, nevertheless, be liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment and punishment according to law."

    And I would assume from that language that there would be no doubt that the president would be subjected to the normal criminal- justice process once he leaves office, and I would appreciate your concurrence or if you choose difference with that conclusion.

    Secondly, am I correct in assuming that the federal criminal statute of limitations for the perjury and the other offenses that are stated in your September referral, is five years and, therefore, that the statute will not have expired by the time this president leaves office in the year 2001?

    And third, if you agree that the president could be subjected to the regular process of the criminal law upon his normal departure from office in 2001, just as any other person could be subjected to that process? Would you not also agree that in subjecting the president to the criminal law process, the rule of law itself would be well served, and that would also well serve the principle that no person, including the president, is above the law?

    So there are three questions that I have for you. First, is a president subject to criminal prosecution when he leaves office for offenses committed while in the office? Secondly, would there be sufficient time, within the statute of limitations, for a prosecution of the perjury and other offenses suggested in your referral of September after the president leaves office? And third, does not that process well serve as a complete assurance that the rule of law will be fully observed?

    Your answers, please.

    MR. STARR: As to question one, I agree with your reading. I think the plain language suggests exactly that, that the framers did intend for there to be separate proceedings. And I also agree with your comment -- if I could just add this -- that it was not intended to be a sanction in the sense of the criminal law serving the deterrent purposes and the like that the criminal law, at its best, is designed to serve.

    I also would answer yes to your second question in terms of our -- my reading, I should say, of the statute of limitations.

    In terms of rule of law values, I certainly think that there is strength in the proposition that no person should be above the law. But I would also say that there is a fundamental fairness question in my mind, charged, as I am as an independent counsel, with opining in any way that could be interpreted as sort of a call as to what the appropriate disposition would be of a particular matter.

    I know what my duty is. One may disagree with my reading of my duty, but it was to send you this. And then, I think, in terms of fundamental fairness to all the individuals involved, one simply has to assess that after this body has done its duty and reached its judgment.

    But it would be, I think, wrong to answer that it would be right to vindicate the rule of law for criminal charges to be returned. I think that before we -- let me be very -- may I, Mr. Chairman?

    REP. HYDE. Please. Go ahead.

    MR. STARR: Before we ever seek an indictment, we engage in not only -- and I would hope any prosecutor's office would do that -- a very careful assessment of the facts, the elements of the offense and the like. We go through each of the elements. We look at the witnesses and the documentary evidence and the like. And then we have to satisfy, following Justice Department standards, is it more likely than not that a fair-minded jury would convict based on these facts, with the witnesses -- and we take the witnesses as we find them -- beyond a reasonable doubt. Those are judgment calls that I hope that you will excuse me in terms of fairness in not speaking so directly to in terms of your third question.

    REP. HYDE: The gentleman's time has expired.

    The gentleman from California, Mr. Gallegly.

    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

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