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Dec. 11 Opening Statements: Christopher Cannon (R-Utah)

  • More Transcripts From the Hearings

  • By Federal News Service
    Friday, December 11, 1998

    REP. CHRIS CANNON (R-UT): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And as I begin may I just thank you for your steady hand on the tiller of this committee. You've done so through personal criticism, a roiling debate, and alliances. And I appreciate your steadiness there.

    REP. HYDE: I thank you.

    REP. CANNON: We are at a defining moment in our history. What we do here will set the standard for what is acceptable for this and future presidents.

    I believe profoundly that the behavior of this president is unacceptable because I agree with John Jay, one of our Founding Fathers, who said, "When oaths cease to be sacred, our dearest and most valuable rights become insecure."

    Let me just repeat that. "When oaths cease to be sacred, our dearest and most valuable rights become insecure." I believe that, whatever current critics may allege, John F. Kennedy loved and wanted to preserve this most extraordinary constitutional system of ours, as he said. And President Kennedy had something appropriate to say about presidential responsibility and oaths.

    Please allow me to share a comment by President Kennedy regarding oaths. And would you please direct your attention to the video monitors.

    (Videotape is played.)

    John Jay and President Kennedy were looking at the world from a similar perspective. I invite you to consider the context from which they were speaking. Our dearest rights, to which Jay referred, are set forth in the Declaration of Independence. They are the unalienable rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness -- commonly referred to as the right to property -- with which we are endowed by our Creator. In other words, these rights are of divine origin. But they are subject to mortal abuse. The purpose of government to Jay and to Kennedy is to make those rights secure against abuse.

    What does the sacredness of oaths have to do with the security of our rights? President Kennedy thought that if a president were not to fulfill his obligations, the obligations of his oaths, that he would begin -- that is, the president, any president he suggested -- that he would begin to unwind this most extraordinary constitutional system of government. He was not, and we are not, talking about separation of powers. We're not talking about the other constitutional concepts, like the delegated powers, the reservation of powers to the states. Kennedy and Jay are referencing something more fundamental. They are talking about the glue that holds our system together.

    Now, our system can take a lot of abuse. It is resilient. It can handle strong, spirited debate. It can even handle violent conflicts like the Civil War. But attempts to make a sacred oath flexible is like introducing solvent into system that is glued together; the whole system comes apart. President Kennedy knew this. He was questioned: "Can you tell us about the outlook for your civil rights program? And, sir, why are you pushing it so vigorously?"

    Kennedy responded: "I know that this program has not gotten a lot of support here in Florida." He's talking to an antagonistic audience.

    They're angry at him because he's doing something that those people didn't want to do. This was a robust debate over civil rights.

    And he continues -- Kennedy continues: "I think you gentlemen should recognize the responsibility of the president of the United States. His responsibility is different from what your responsibility may be. In this country, I carry out and execute the laws of the United States. I also have the obligation of implementing the orders of the courts of the United States. And I can assure you that who's ever president of the United States, he will do the same, because if he did not, he would begin to unwind this most extraordinary constitutional system of ours. So I believe strongly in fulfilling my oath in that regard." And that regard means if he didn't fulfill his oath, the system would begin to unwind. It's inexorable.

    We have heard much comparing this matter with Watergate. Nixon is said to have abused citizens through the IRS, the CIA, and the FBI. We do not have before us allegations that this president has done the same, though the popular press reports many abuses. We can and should not -- cannot and should not pass judgment on those accusations in these deliberations. That judgment may be for history.

    But we do want the president and those around him and future presidents and those around them to know that we will not allow weakness of character, willfulness, or any other trait of a president to undermine the sacredness of oaths, because Kennedy and Jay are right. Some -- I'm sure come current commentators, even Democratic partisans and presidential supporters, before the president committed the acts of perjury that we now confront -- Alan Dershowitz, George Stephanopoulos, and others warned the president that he would be impeached if he lied to the grand jury. It did not occur to them that it could be otherwise, because I believe -- because I believe -- they love this system of government like Jay and Kennedy and like me, members of this committee, members of Congress, and millions of Americans, as well as the millions worldwide to whom America is the beacon of hope and the example of freedom to which they aspire.

    There are some, who call themselves Americans and who understand these principles, who cover them over with facile arguments because they want to preserve their power. I'm not going to deal here with the facts of the case. They're compelling enough that even Democratic members of this committee and witnesses called by the president have acknowledged that the president lied under oath. If any one has a serious question, I refer you to Mr. Schippers' excellent report. The fact is, the unwinding of this extraordinary constitutional system is inexorable if the president presents an example of perjury. To Kennedy, it was self-evident, and the tape of his words bears repeating.

    Would you please look at the monitors?

    (Technical adjustments.) REP. HYDE: Did he yield his time?

    REP. : This is counting against his time --

    REP. : Mr. Chairman, I would move that this not count against his time. (Soft laughter.) REP. HYDE: Does Mr. Watt concur?

    REP. : (Laughs.)

    REP. MELVIN WATT (D-NC): I do. REP. HYDE: He does. Very well.

    REP. : (Laughs.) REP. HYDE: I feel safe, then, in not counting it against his time.

    REP. : (Laughs.)

    REP. CANNON: I would -- I have another sentence or two after we see this, but I'd yield back, except that I think this is extraordinarily important -- to see what a president who all of us look to, from different perspectives, as a great man, who was a man who believed -- REP. HYDE: I'll bet this worked last night when you tried it out.

    REP. CANNON: Oh, it absolutely did.

    REP. : Probably three or four times. (Laughter.)

    (Off-mike cross talk, technical adjustments.)

    REP. : Press the button that says "play." REP. HYDE: This always happens. This always --

    (Off-mike cross talk, technical adjustments.)

    REP. : There it is.

    REP. : There it is.

    REP. CANNON: We shall do it by rewinding, I suppose, here.

    REP. : (Off mike.)

    REP. CANNON: What's that? Time to give another speech? (Chuckles.)

    (To staff.) They need to fast-forward that, Greg, because this is the --

    STAFF: (Off mike.)

    REP. CANNON: Okay. There.

    MR. : Simple things --

    (Off-mike cross talk, technical adjustments.)

    REP. CANNON: Okay. There. Are you -- (off-mike cross talk) -- this is just a way to get really extraordinary attention on what I think is an important statement here. (Chuckles.)

    REP. : (Laughs.)

    REP. CANNON: It -- play now.

    (Videotape is played.)

    REP. CANNON: Thank you for your indulgence.

    I submit that in the spirit of our Founding Fathers and John F. Kennedy, that our first duty is to provide for the security of the fundamental rights of Americans.

    To properly perform that duty, we must vote to impeach the president. Thank you.

    REP. HYDE: Thank the gentleman. The gentleman from California, Mr. Rogan.


    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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