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Dec. 10 Opening Statements: Barney Frank (D-Mass.)

  • More Transcripts From the Hearings

  • By Federal News Service
    Thursday, December 10, 1998

    REP. BARNEY FRANK (D-MA): After many years of investigations by every possible investigative tool of the federal government, congressional committees, the FBI under the command of the independent counsel, we have the following charge against Bill Clinton: He had a private, consensual sexual affair and lied about it. Let's be very clear that that is what we are talking about.

    That seems to many people an insufficient basis for an impeachment. Indeed, among those who implicitly acknowledge that it's an insufficient basis for impeachment are all of those who have been trying so desperately to come up with something else. And I must say, after this committee subpoenaed and then unsubpoenaed all the people in the Kathleen Willey case, and subpoenaed and unsubpoenaed the people in the campaign finance case, I was disappointed to have Mr. Schippers begin today by an entirely inappropriate invocation of unnamed and unspecified further crimes which he claims he is still investigating. And to wave them at this point in the proceeding as if they somehow justified acting, when he is able to produce nothing to substantiate that, is irresponsible prosecution.

    Mr. Schippers began by saying, "Oh, there's more out there." Well, why do people say there's more out there? Responsible people don't like to be in the position of making empty threats like that. It's not fair to anybody to say, particularly after five years and more of multiple investigations, "Oh, but there may be more out there." At some point we have to come to a vote.

    Now, people have said, "Well, we're in a hurry." The majority's been in control of this process. If you thought there was more out there, you could have waited. We have waited and waited and waited. And I think what we have is an implicit acknowledgement that impeaching the president because he admitted lied to try to cover up a private, consensual sexual affair was a mistake.

    Indeed, the previous speaker made a very important point I agree with. He said that the president and Monica Lewinsky, long before they knew about her potential role in the Paula Jones suit, agreed that they would try to cover this up. I agree. That goes contrary to the assertion that this was an effort to somehow frustrate justice in the Jones case. The president was understandably embarrassed. He had private sexual activity that he wanted to conceal, and he lied about it. And that is a subject, as an expert on which, I fully understand. The fact is that that's all we have.

    Now, we also have Mr. Schippers saying that -- and I thought this was also very unusual -- please do not be cajoled into considering each event in isolation and treating it separately. That's what people always do in conspiracy charge cases, he says. But of the four counts, only one could be described as a conspiracy count. Three of the four deal only with sole acts of Bill Clinton.

    What Mr. Schippers is saying is, "Please, believe that I have a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts" -- because they understand that the sum of the parts is not impeachable. The sum of the parts is, and the whole is, Bill Clinton gave into a sexual affair that he shouldn't have had and lied about it.

    Now, that's it. Should that be impeachable? I feel strongly that it should not be.

    In the first place, the notion that this sort of lying always brings the harshest sanction is simply not true. And people have said, "Well, are you going to say that just because everybody does it, it's all right"? No. That's never true.

    It is true, however, when people who have given one punishment in one case and then want to give a much harsher punishment in a very similar case, make that argument, it's legitimate to say they are motivated by something other than what they admit.

    We heard people suggest that if the president is not impeached, this will undermine morale in the military and lead to an outbreak of lying in the military. Well, I think our military is of sterner stuff than that. I think when George Bush pardoned the secretary of Defense because he had been indicted for perjury, that the military shrugged it off. I don't think that had a negative effect. I think when we have had lying alleged in other cases by the president and others in national security cases, that didn't have a negative effect on the military.

    The fact is that previous cases of lying have called forth, not only lesser condemnation, but congratulations from some of the members of this committee. And that leads me to believe that what we are talking about with impeachment is an effort to get rid of a president who has been inconvenient, not a consistent application of a principle.

    As far as the alleged offenses are concerned, I do believe the president lied when he said he wasn't alone with Monica Lewinsky. I also believe that when you are given a deposition in a civil case and are asked things that are not relevant, it is not in our interest to pursue that.

    Now I will say to some of my friends on my side, we should be examining -- and I have been in the minority on my side from time to time in talking about curtailing the reach of private lawsuits. I think we do run into a problem where unlimited discovery, in the case of unlimited right to bring lawsuits, can lead to problems.

    I am not going to give the ultimate punishment to the president of the United States because he tried -- in a private lawsuit to which this issue was not relevant -- and I believe that a purely consensual affair was in fact irrelevant to the Paula Jones case -- I believe that this is not something that rises to that level.

    As far as the grand jury is concerned -- and that, I think, is the heart of the argument, that he committed perjury in the grand jury -- I know Mr. Schippers goes beyond Mr. Starr in his allegations of grand jury perjury.

    And I think -- it's unpersuasive that Mr. Starr was somehow being soft on the president. But he does it in part because the central charge that Mr. Starr made for grand jury perjury is that the president, having acknowledged an inappropriate sexual affair, having acknowledged that there was sexual contact between Monica Lewinsky and himself, short-changed us on the details.

    The president stands charged with being insufficiently graphic. He did not talk about what he did in reciprocation. And that is not a basis for impeachment. What is it, in my judgment, is a basis for censure. And I now want to talk about the difference between the two.

    I alluded to my own personal life before for a reason. I am struck by those who have argued that censure is somehow an irrelevancy, a triviality, something of no weight. History doesn't say that. There are two members of this House right now who continue to play a role, who were reprimanded for lying: myself and outgoing Speaker Gingrich. We both were found to have lied not under oath, but in official proceedings, and were reprimanded.

    I would tell you that having been reprimanded by this House of Representatives, where I'm so proud to serve, was no triviality. It is something that, when people write about me, they still write about. It is not something that's a matter of pride. I wish I could go back and undo it. I don't think Speaker Gingrich's political problems subsequent to his reprimand were unrelated to the fact that he was reprimanded. I am, indeed, surprised that members who share my reverence for this institution, my reverence for democracy, my deep abiding faith in what Thomas Jefferson eloquently called a decent respect for the opinions of mankind, for all of us who are in this business of dealing with public opinion and courting it and trying to shape it and trying to make it into an instrument for the implementation of our values, to be dismissive of the fact that the United States House of Representatives or Senate might vote a condemnation as if that doesn't mean anything. Members know better. I cannot think of another context in which members would have argued that a censure, a solemn vote of condemnation, would not have meant very much. Certainly, former Senators Thomas Dodd or Joseph McCarthy would not have believed that for a minute.

    We have one last point. The Founding Fathers could have consigned impeachment to the court. They could have said, if there was an accusation of impeachment, the court would try it.

    The did, after all, recognize it a quasi-judicial by bringing the chief justice in.

    They didn't. They said it will be done by Congress. Those who say there should be no political element fly in the face of the Founding Fathers. They knew that if you asked 535 politicians to decide something, politics would be essentially there. And it ought to be. We are talking her about democracy, about whether or not an act of misbehavior was so grievous as to justify overturning the most solemn decision ever made by the American people, a presidential election.

    We're not debating whether or not this was right or wrong. It was wrong. But is it so wrong, so outrageous, that it must be overturned? I do not believe it is, and if I could have 30 second, Mr. Chairman, I would note a particular problem with that; reality, from time to time, ought to be addressed.

    We have a very close vote coming. There are, by my count, six members of the House of Representatives on the Republican side and one on the Democratic side who were defeated in the November election, either for reelection or for another office, who were replaced by someone of the opposition party. For the most solemn democratic decision possible to be made by the American people to be narrowly reversed by a margin less than the number of people who were defeated in the last election in which impeachment was an issue and were replaced by people who had the opposite opinion is an absolute derogation of democracy.

    It is simply not sustainable that people who lost their right to represent the people in the last election, the people who had a directly opposite view on this question ought to be the deciding votes.

    Censure is the appropriate response, and I hope the Republican leadership will not allow partisanship to keep the American people from seeing the decision they want and have a right to have made, censureship of this president.

    REP. HYDE: The distinguished gentleman from Pennsylvania, Mr. Gekas.


    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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