THE IMPEACHMENT HEARINGS
Dec. 11 Opening Statements: Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.)
By Federal News Service
REP. ASA HUTCHINSON (R-AR): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
For over 25 years Bill Clinton has been a state and national star. President Clinton carried my state of Arkansas in the last election, he ran for the seat of Congress that I now hold, and has served my state as attorney general and governor.
During these hearings, his negatives have been emphasized, but I am mindful that there are many qualities of Bill Clinton that I admire, and, of even greater significance, that people of my state admire. When he was elected president, it was a unique opportunity for a small state not likely to be repeated.
There is no question but that all of this impacts him and his family and when he expresses regret for his actions and requests forgiveness for his conduct, I have no hesitation in saying he should receive our compassion and encouragement. For those reasons, among others, this is not a pleasant experience for me.
What I have discussed are personal issues of profound significance, but my responsibilities require me to consider the legal and constitutional consequences to the conduct in question. We on the committee are not jurors, but I am reminded of the instruction a judge gives to juries: you are not to be guided by your sympathies or prejudice, but by the facts and the law. In my judgment, that describes the duty of this committee, so let us look at the facts.
The evidence has been established through sworn testimony under oath, corroborated in many instances by documentary evidence, from computer disk to telephone records. The sworn testimony includes that of Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky, Betty Currie, Vernon Jordan, and others. The testimony establishes a pattern of false statements, deceit, and obstruction. By committing these actions, the president moved beyond the private arena of protecting embarrassing personal conduct and his actions invaded the very heart and soul of that which makes this nation unique in the world, the right of any citizen to pursue justice equally.
The conduct obstructed our judicial system and at that point became an issue, not of personal concern, but of national consequence. The clarion call for justice in this land was established in the Preamble to our Constitution which states, "We, the people of the United States, in order form a more perfect union," and then it says, "to establish justice, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." The second purpose stated for ordaining the Constitution was to establish justice.
It is not for the president or his lawyers to determine who can or cannot seek justice, and if the president lied under oath in a federal civil rights case, then he took it upon himself to deny the right of a fellow American, in this case a fellow Arkansan, equal access to relief in the courts. The president's lawyers have declared such a lie to be a small one, a small consequence, and therefore not impeachable. But I cannot see how denying the rights of a fellow citizen can be considered of small consequence.
Now speaking of the facts, it has pointed out that the grand jury testimony of the various witnesses has not been subject to cross examination. That is true. However, each of these witnesses are strongly sympathetic to the president: Vernon Jordan, his personal advisor and long-time friend; Betty Currie, his employee; and Monica Lewinsky, who resisted for months providing any statement to the independent counsel and who would be subject to prosecution for any false statement.
Of greatest significance, though, is the testimony of the president himself. The president's own words and admissions, combined with a dose of common sense, support the charge that the president lied under oath. The evidence not only shows the president giving perjurious statements, but he continues his assault on the judicial system by soliciting and encouraging false statements by others. This is evidence of an effort to obstruct justice.
And that leads me to the second argument raised by the president's lawyers; even if the president lied under oath, even if he obstructed justice under these facts, that does not constitute an impeachable offense. Let me address that argument.
Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers said that, "Impeachment must relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to society itself." Justice Story said, "Impeachment should be reserved for great injuries to the State."
I believe the damage to the State and to the integrity of government occurs when those in high office violate a court oath and the constitutional oath to assure the faithful execution of the laws.
One of the president's own witnesses, former Congressman Wayne Owens, stated in 1974 that for an action to be impeachable conduct, quote, "It must be a violation of a principle of conduct which members of the House determine should be applied to all future presidents and established as a constitutional precedent," end quote.
I believe Mr. Owens is correct. I have no trouble in setting a benchmark that future presidents cannot willfully and repeatedly lie under oath in an official judicial proceeding without jeopardizing their office. On the contrary, I have a great deal of trouble in lowering the standards to say to future presidents, "Lying under oath, no matter how often and now matter how intentional, is considered acceptable conduct."
As the Supreme Court said in the "United States vs. Holland," quote, "Perjury, regardless of the setting, is a serious offense that results in incalculable harm to the function of the legal system, as well to private individuals," end quote. In my judgment, perjury goes to the heart of our judicial process and our very system of government and constitutes a "high crime and misdemeanor."
What happens if we fail to act? It appears to me that we quietly embrace and even aid in the gradual subversion of our core belief that we are a nation of laws and that all of us regardless of wealth or power, deserve equal treatment in the eyes of the law.
The next offense presented on behalf of the president is that independent counsel Kenneth Starr did not conduct the investigation properly, and therefore, we should not move forward.
There have been many criticisms of Judge Starr, some justified and some without merit. In hindsight, I would have preferred that the attorney general had appointed a different independent counsel on the Lewinsky matter, that Judge Starr had been more actively involved in interviewing the witnesses, that he had not engaged in outside representation, and that he had been less of an advocate and more of a conduit of the facts.
But let me assure everyone that I have engaged in an independent review of the facts. And despite these criticisms, the president had a decision to make when he testified in the civil deposition and in the grand jury; he could tell the truth, or he could lie.
The Supreme Court has said in the United States v. Manduano (sp) that the defendant was free at every stage to interpose his constitutional privilege against self-incrimination, but perjury was not a permissible option. The court rejected the defendant's argument that his testimony because it was obtained in violation of his rights could not be used in the criminal prosecution. The conclusion is that allegations of misconduct on the part of the government is not an excuse for perjury.
It is reminiscent of every criminal case that I have prosecuted to hear the president's lawyers attack the prosecutor, blame this committee, criticize the process, and refuse to take responsibility. I concede his lawyers that tactic. But I have also urged him to show me compelling facts rebutting the long trail of evidence suggesting that the president lied under oath and obstructed justice. This they have not done to my satisfaction.
The final argument of the president is that to go forward with an impeachment trial would traumatize the country. First, as usual, I believe that the trauma is overstated. But more importantly, the strength of the Constitution is understated. I believe our Constitution is strong, and we need to follow it and trust it. It will work as the Founding Fathers designed it. As Barbara Jordan (sp) stated in a similar time in 1974, my faith in the Constitution is whole. It is complete. It is total. I share that belief.
In the next few days I will cast some of the most important votes of my career. Some believe these votes could result in a backlash and have serious political repercussions. They may be right. But I will leave the analysis to others. My preeminent concern is that the Constitution be followed and that all Americans, regardless of their position in society, receive equal and unbiased treatment in our courts of law. The fate of no president, no political party, and no member of Congress merits a slow unraveling of the fabric of our constitutional structure. As John Adams said, we are a nation of laws, not of men.
Our nation has survived the failings of its leaders before, but it cannot survive exceptions to the rule of law in our system of equal justice for all. There will always be differences between the powerful and the powerless. But imagine a country where a Congress agrees the strong are treated differently than the weak, where mercy is the only refuge for the powerless, where the power of our positions govern all of our decisions. Such a country cannot long endure. God help us to do what is right, not just for today, but for the future of this nation and for those generations that must succeed us.
REP. HYDE: I thank the gentleman.
The distinguished gentleman from Wisconsin, Mr. Barrett.
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