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Dec. 10 Opening Statements: John Conyers (D-Mich)

  • More Transcripts From the Hearings

  • By Federal News Service
    Thursday, December 10, 1998

    REP. JOHN CONYERS (D-MI): Thank you very much.

    Mr. Chairman, my colleagues, and to the House itself; we stand poised on the edge of a constitutional cliff, staring into the void below into which we have jumped only twice before in our history. Some encourage us to take this fateful leap, but I fear that we are about to inflict irreparable damage on our nation if we do.

    This inquiry began with the tawdry, salacious, unnecessarily sexually graphic referral delivered to us by an occasionally obsessive counsel in September, with so much drama. And since that time, our proceedings in this committee have been marked by one partisan vote after another, beginning with the majority decision to release literally every shred of paper received from Mr. Starr, onto the Internet.

    Although we have been able to reach accord on some matters, in too many respects this inquiry has been a textbook example of how not to run an impeachment inquiry. Time after time, we, the minority, have suffered the indignity of learning from the newspaper or television about important investigative or procedural decisions made by the majority. We learn about the decision to take depositions five minutes before the majority issues a press release to the world. One day, they decide to expand our investigation to campaign finance matters, and the next day we read that the subject is off the table. Just yesterday, even while the White House counsel was concluding his testimony, the majority released its articles of impeachment, articles so vague that they would be dismissed by most courts in the country.

    So much for fairness. So much for bipartisanship.

    It's often said that power is best defined through its exercise. Well, all too often, the majority members of this committee have ruled this committee however they see fit. And I am sorry to say that we've fallen far short of carrying out our constitutional duties.

    The majority have simply rubber-stamped the un-cross-examined, untested, double hearsay, yes, triple hearsay and conclusions of the independent counsel without conducting any factual investigation of its own. Not one fact witness came before this committee.

    Faced with the failure of the process that they championed, the majority members this week adopted a new line of attack and tried to blame the president for not calling fact witnesses. My friends across the aisle, please let me remind you that it is you who are trying to overturn the results of two national elections, you who are attempting a legislative takeover of the executive branch, and you, not the president, who have the burden of coming forward with evidence to sustain your actions.

    On November 3rd our citizens sent yet another message to all of us: Stop the investigations, stop the partisanship, stop this impeachment inquiry. But the majority members of this committee have not heard the message, and now I want to address myself to those members in the House, not Democrats, who are undecided about what to do when this matter reaches the floor. And I want to talk to you about why I would hope and pray that they would vote against impeachment.

    There's no question the president tried to hide an extramarital relationship from the glare of his family and political opponents and lied to the American people in his January 21st press conference regarding this relationship. That was wrong. But it doesn't constitute perjury.

    And by the way, undermining the rule of law may or may not be impeachable. All lies are not perjury. Perjury may or may not be impeachable.

    If our hearings have made anything clear, it is that the distinction between personal misconduct and official misconduct has constitutional significance. Most Americans believe that their personal sex life is personal and should not serve as a basis for a wide-ranging criminal investigation of themselves or any citizen, and yes, not even the president. It should not serve as the foundation for overturning the will of the American people to a twice-elected, popular and successful president.

    The majority of our constitutional scholars have concluded that an offense is not impeachable unless it is political in nature. Our government functions under a principle of separation of powers. Under our constitutional system of government, if the president misbehaves in a way that does not impact on his official duties, the remedy still lies in the voting booth and not in a legislative take-over of the executive branch.

    And so to my Republican friends in this Congress, I beg you to consider the effect of a vote for impeachment on these facts.

    The Congress shut down the government before, and the results were disastrous for our citizens and for the majority party. A vote for impeachment is a vote for another government shutdown. That is because the matter would tie up the Senate, take the chief justice out of the Supreme Court, away from his duties, while he presided over the trial of the president; tie up the members of this body, as they prosecuted the case in the Senate. Even worse, it would needlessly increase the division and polarization of our nation. Please, my friends, think about the subject matter of this trial that you are being asked to send to the Senate.

    This morning we heard a detailed analysis from the minority counsel of why the majority's case against the president is factually unsupportable:

    Article I of the majority's Articles of Impeachment charges the president with lying in a grand jury, but the article fails to specify the particular statements on which the majority relies. This startling lack of particularity would be laughed at in most courtrooms around the country. It's simply irresponsible to charge the president with offenses without having the courage to lay one's cards on the table and identify precisely which specific acts constitute the alleged offenses. And remember further, with respect to the alleged grand jury perjury, the president admitted to his improper relationships before the grand jury.

    Article II of the majority's articles charge the president lied during his deposition in the Paula Jones case. But as we saw with our own eyes, even skilled attorneys and a judge could not agree on what the definition of "sexual relations" in that case meant.

    The failure of the Jones attorneys to provide the president with a precise definition, to ask follow-up questions when they knew from what Linda Tripp -- to ask -- shows a profound lack of candor on their part and reveals that deposition for the shell game that it really was, an entrapment. Surely, the president cannot be held accountable in an article of impeachment for that.

    Article III of the proposed Articles of Impeachment charges obstruction of justice.

    But we know by now that the search for a job for Ms. Lewinsky began long before she showed up on the Paula Jones witness list. We know --

    REP. HYDE: The gentleman's time has expired. Could you close in a few -- you know, a few minutes, you know?

    REP. CONYERS: Yes, sir. I will.

    REP. HYDE: Good.

    REP. CONYERS: We know that when the president spoke to Bettie Currie, she was not expected to be a witness in any case, and therefore could not have been tampered with. We know that the president didn't encourage Ms. Lewinsky to file a false affidavit. I won't even quote her one more for the 100th time, that she didn't ask anyone to lie or get promised a job for her silence.

    And finally Article IV, and I thank you for your indulgence. The majority's article charges that the president abused his power by lying to aides and to the public and by asserting perfectly legal privileges in court.

    My friends, the president misled his aides and the country not to affect testimony but because he didn't want anyone to know about his relationship. And really, how can the assertion of well established privileges in a court case result in the impeachment of a president? It can't. It just can't.

    And I ask unanimous consent that the remainder of my statement be entered into the record. I thank the chair for his indulgence.

    REP. HYDE: Without objection.

    The gentlemen from Florida, Mr. McCollum.


    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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