THE IMPEACHMENT HEARINGS
Ranking Democratic Rep. John Conyers's Opening Remarks
Thursday, November 19, 1998
Rep. Conyers: Mr. Chairman and my colleagues on the Judiciary Committee, we meet today for only the third time in the history of our nation to take evidence in an inquiry of impeachment against a president of the United States.
Today's witness, Kenneth W. Starr, wrote the tawdry, salacious and unnecessarily graphic referral that he delivered to us in September with so much drama and fanfare. And now the majority members of this committee have called that same prosecutor forward to testify in an unprecedented desperation effort to breathe new life into a dying inquiry.
It is fundamental to the integrity of this inquiry to examine whether the independent counsel's evidence is tainted, whether conclusions are colored by improper motive; in short, it is relevant to examine the conduct of the independent counsel and his staff, where their behavior impacts directly on the credibility of the evidence in the referral.
For example, the committee must understand whether Mr. Starr improperly threatened witnesses if they did not provide incriminating evidence against the president of the United States; whether Mr. Starr's partisan interests affected the collection and presentation of evidence; and whether Mr. Starr himself violated the law by leaking uncensored grand jury material to humiliate the president.
Mr. Chairman and members, contrary to the views that have been expressed by Chairman Hyde, that you expressed in letters to me this week as well, these are not collateral issues at all. They go to the very heart of Mr. Starr's referral. To turn a blind eye to these is to continue an unfair and partisan process.
Now, no one defends the president's conduct, but even Republican witnesses at our hearing only last week testified that even if the alleged facts are proven true, they simply do not amount to impeachable offenses. The idea of a federally-paid sex policeman spending millions of dollars to trap an unfaithful spouse, or the police civil litigation would have been unthinkable prior to the Starr investigation. Let there be no mistake, it is not now acceptable in America to investigate a person's private sexual activity, it is not acceptable to force mothers to testify against their daughters, to make lawyers testify against their clients, to require Secret Service agents to testify against the people they protect, or to make book stores tell what books people read.
It is not acceptable for rogue attorneys and investigators to trap a young woman in a hotel room, discourage her from calling her lawyer, ridicule her when she asked to call her mother. But the record suggests, I'm sorry to say, that is precisely how Kenneth W. Starr has conducted this investigation.
An independent counsel must do justice both in the specific matter he's investigating and to the system of justice as a whole. While an independent counsel can and should pursue a case with vigor, I and many others believe that Mr. Starr has crossed that line into obsession. And when I talk about obsession, sir, I wonder why Mr. Starr encouraged Linda Tripp to continue to betray and entrap her young, unsuspecting friend, and to allow her to continue her illegal tape-recording without court approval.
And when I talk about obsession, I wonder why Mr. Starr ignored his ethical obligations and failed to disclose his involvement in the Paula Jones case, which could have disqualified him from this point of the investigation.
Is it just coincidence that even before he was appointed independent counsel Mr. Starr was already in contact with lawyers for Paula Jones? Is it just coincidental that Mr. Starr, until recently, drew a million dollar a year salary from his law firm that represents the tobacco industry, which is fighting President Clinton's effort to deter teen smoking? Is it just a coincidence that this independent counsel accepted a prestigious job at a university funded by one of the president's most persistent and vocal critics, Richard Mellon Scaife?
Is it just a coincidence that the independent counsel failed to provide this committee with important exculpatory evidence in his referral, casually glossing over the central part of Monica Lewinsky's testimony, when she clearly stated that, quote, "No one promised me a job; no one asked me to lie," unquote, about her relationship. Perhaps Mr. Starr will persuade us not to be concerned about these matters, but he surely carries the burden of showing us and the American people that these things did not affect his fairness nor his impartiality.
Nor do I understand why Mr. Starr declined to provide the Democratic members of the committee with copies of documents that we've repeatedly requested. Mr. Starr even says that the president should be impeached because he invokes privilege, but he is quick to raise the privilege argument when questioned about his own conduct, and did so this week when Democrats sought documents concerning his conduct.
Over the course of this investigation, the independent counsel complained publicly and still does, that a lack of cooperation was impeding his investigation, and yet he has now afforded members of the committee the same treatment about which he has complained. This causes us to question Mr. Starr's motives and to lack confidence in his referral.
His conduct over the past week has only reinforced my doubts. On Friday, Mr. Starr shipped two new boxes of documents to us, and announced an indictment dating back to events occurring before Bill Clinton was even president, pre-1992.
On Tuesday, the same day that our Republican colleagues suggested that they might want to expand this impeachment inquiry contrary to the chairman's stated desire to close it down, Mr. Starr shipped four new boxes of documents to us. And last night, we learned that Mr. Starr now sees it fit for this committee to consider Whitewater or other alleged improprieties that he didn't see fit to mention in his referral. The sense of desperation in the face of a failed impeachment inquiry is palpable.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, I would be remiss in my duties if I did not observe that to date our committee process has not been bipartisan nor fair. All this committee has done since September 9 is to, in a partisan manner, dump salacious grand-jury material on a public that doesn't want it. It was you, Mr. Chairman Hyde, who said this process could not proceed unless it was bipartisan.
We need to do better than 11th-hour unilateral decisions to subpoena witnesses having little to do with the underlying referral. We need to do better in offering the president a full and fair opportunity to participate in these hearings.
We have many questions about the way you have conducted your investigation, Mr. Starr. Fairness dictates that the committee and the American people learn whether you have created a climate for the purpose of driving a president from office, who has twice been elected by the people of this great nation.
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