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Conyers's Opening Remarks on Inquiry

By The Associated Press
Monday, October 5, 1998

Text of statement by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, at a hearing Monday on whether to begin an impeachment inquiry of President Clinton, as transcribed by Federal Document Clearing House.

Thank you, Chairman Hyde. And to my colleagues all, we meet today for only the third time in the history of our nation to consider whether or not to open an inquiry of impeachment against the president of the United States.

For more than 200 years, we have been guided by that brilliant legacy of our founding fathers and of our Constitution which generation after generation has helped us endure the difficult political and social questions that face us.

I am quite certain that the drafters of that document might shake their heads in puzzlement at the action that is proposed by the majority that we take here today.

By now, we're all familiar with the constitutional standard for impeachable offenses -- treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors.

One of our great founding fathers, George Mason, said that the phrase ``high crimes and misdemeanors refers to presidential actions that are great and dangerous offenses, or attempts to subvert the Constitution.''

Alexander Hamilton, in the Federalist Paper Number 65, wrote that: ``Impeachable offenses relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to society itself.''

Two hundred years later, this committee was called upon to consider the standard for impeachment of a president in 1974. And at the risk of dating myself, I remain the only member of the committee serving today who was there then.

Our staff issued a report in February of that year that has become a model for scholars and historians alike. The report concluded that ``impeachment is a constitutional remedy addressed to serious offenses against the system of government. And it is directed at constitutional wrongs that subvert the structure of government or undermine the integrity of office and even the Constitution itself.''

Those words are as true today as they were in 1974. An impeachment is only for a serious abuse of official power or a serious breach of official duties. On that, the constitutional scholars are in overwhelming agreement.

The failure to even articulate a standard of impeachment against which the evidence can be measured, a step the 1974 committee took prior to any investigation, is not only failure of this investigation into the president. The tactics of the investigation into the president have also, in my judgment, been an offense to the tradition of this great country and to the common sense of the American people.

Only yesterday we learned that Judge Starr may have himself misled the American people regarding his contacts with President Clinton's political adversaries and his coordination with Paula Jones' attorneys for over a year before he sought to investigate the so-called Lewinsky matter.

Then Mr. Starr, month after month, apparently leaked raw grand jury material to the press -- not for legal reasons, but only to embarrass the president of the United States, an act for which Mr. Starr, himself, is currently being investigated.

Then the Republican leadership directed this committee to dump tens of thousands of pornographic, raw, grand jury material on the citizens of this land, and denied the president any semblance of due-process rights in doing so.

Now, I believe the American people have a deep sense of right and wrong, of fairness and of privacy. And I believe this investigation has offended those sensibilities.

Who are we in this country and what is it that we stand for? Do we want to have prosecutors with unlimited powers, accountable to no one, who will spend millions of dollars investigating a person's personal life, who then haul before grand juries every person of the opposite sex the person has had contact with, who then record and release videos to the public of the grand jury questioning of the most private aspects of one's sex life.

Now there's no question that the president's actions were wrong. I submit to all of you that he may be suffering more than any of else will ever know.

But I suggest to you, my colleagues across the aisle, in every ounce of friendship that I can muster, that even worse than an extramarital relationship is the use of federal prosecutors and federal agents to expose an extramarital relationship.

Yes, there is a threat to society here, but it is from the tactics of win -- a win-at-all-costs prosecutor determined to sink a president of the opposition party.

Our review of the evidence, sent with the referral, convinces many of us of one thing: There is no support for any suggestion that the president obstructed justice or that he tampered with witnesses or abused the power of his office.

A couple of examples: The referral alleges that the president attempted to find Ms. Lewinsky a job in order to buy her silence, but the evidence, the Starr evidence makes clear that the efforts to help Ms. Lewinsky find a job began in April of 1996, long before she was ever identified as a witness in the Jones case.

And she herself testified that ``no one ever asked me to lie and I was never promised a job for my silence.'' Likewise, while the referral contends that the president tried to hide gifts he had given her, the evidence makes clear that Ms. Lewinsky and not the president initiated the transfer of those items to the president's secretary.

Finally, by alleging abuses of power by the president, the independent counsel has simply repackaged his basic allegation of lying about sex in a quite transparent effort to conjure the ghost of Watergate.

Finally, ... the president's statements under oath in the dismissed Paula Jones case were legally immaterial to the case and would have never have formed the legal basis for any investigation -- again raising the specter that this investigation may have been tainted with politics. This is not Watergate. It is an extramarital affair.

Americans know and want to finish this and 99 percent of the facts are already on the table. The investigatory phase will be far less significant than in previous congressional inquiries.

There are only a handful of witnesses that can provide us probative information, all of whom have been before the grand jury three, four, five and six times. It is unlikely that any of the witnesses will change their testimony.

In fact, much of this investigation, quite amazingly, turns on whether or how Mr. Clinton touched Ms. Lewinsky. It sounds like a parody, but it is not. It is what Speaker Gingrich and many Republicans are proposing with this resolution.

The open-ended Republican proposal will be seen exactly for what it is, if it's brought forward this morning, a means for dragging this matter out well past the upcoming elections. An open-ended impeachment inquiry threatens to subvert our system of constitutional government. There is no need for this investigation to be open-ended when we can, because of its limited factual predicate, close it down within six weeks.

Mr. Chairman, over the past weeks you and I have worked more closely together than in any other time of our careers. And I want to thank you for many untold efforts that you've made, including providing committee Democrats the Watergate rules of operation, which we sought.

We have worked in a bipartisan manner on some of the issues that have confronted us, and while your hands may have been tied by your leadership on others, you know as well as I that whatever action this committee takes, must be fair, it must be bipartisan for it to have credibility. The American people deserve no less and history will judge us by how well we achieve that goal.

Thank you very much.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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