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Dec. 11 Opening Statements: Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.)

  • More Transcripts From the Hearings

  • By Federal News Service
    Friday, December 11, 1998

    REP. HYDE: I certainly thank the gentlelady. I wish that was the ultimate opening statement, but it was but the penultimate. I have my opening statement which I have not delivered, and if you will indulge me, I will now make my opening statement.

    Perjury is not sex, obstruction is not sex, abuse of power is not about sex. It's important to understand that none of the proposed articles include allegations of sexual misconduct. The president is not accused of marital infidelity because such conduct is essentially private.

    But when circumstances require you to participate in a formal court proceeding and under oath mislead the parties and the court by lying, that is a public act and deserves public sanction. Perjury is a crime with a five-year penalty.

    Now, what all this boils down to is what do we think of the oath? Is it a ceremonial formality, or does it mean something? We were told there are three pillars to the rule of law: an honest judiciary, an ethical bar, and an enforceable oath. And this is why the president's lying under oath is so serious. It is an assault on the rule of law. It cheapens the oath. It is a breach of promise to tell the truth. It subverts our system of government.

    Now, the Democrats have what really amounts to the so-what defense, well articulated in yesterday's Wall Street Journal op-ed page, where a pundit states "Mr. Clinton's behavior has been disgraceful, but it hasn't involved actions against the state." Okay. A compendium of prominent Democrats who agree the president lied under oath is long and distinguished, and I have it here. But all of them insist the president's lies do not rise to the level of impeachment.

    I suggest impeachment is like beauty: apparently in the eye of the beholder. But I hold a different view. And it's not a vengeful one, it's not vindictive, and it's not craven. It's just a concern for the Constitution and a high respect for the rule of law.

    Now, to the charge that we have produced no witnesses whose credibility could be tested by cross-examination. Well, we had Monica Lewinsky's testimony under oath, her immunity grant in jeopardy if she lied. We accepted her heavily corroborated testimony. I hate to bring up the stained dress again. But we didn't feel the need to bring her in for more testimony. But if the Democrats had the slightest qualm about her credibility, why didn't they invite her to testify, or take her deposition to have her credibility tested? Betty Currie. We had her testimony under oath. Vernon Jordan. We had his testimony under oath. If there were any questions, why, the Democrats could have called them as witnesses. But all we got from them was a covey of professors, no fact witnesses. We based our facts, the ones we were willing to accept, on 60,000 pages of sworn testimony, deposition transcripts, grand jury testimony, all under oath, and all available to the Democrats. If they doubted this testimony, there were free to take depositions or produce them as witnesses. They did not. So I wonder about the complaints that they didn't get a chance to test the credibility of the witnesses.

    Now, as a lawyer and a legislator for most of my very long life, I have a particular reverence for our legal system. It protects the innocent, it punishes the guilty, it defends the powerless, it guards freedom, it summons the noblest instincts of the human spirit.

    The rule of law protects you and it protects me from the midnight fire on our roof or the 3 a.m. knock on our door. It challenges abuse of authority. It's a shame "Darkness at Noon" is forgotten, or "The Gulag Archipelago," but there is such a thing lurking out in the world called abuse of authority, and the rule of law is what protects you from it. And so it's a matter of considerable concern to me when our legal system is assaulted by our nation's chief law enforcement officer, the only person obliged to take care that the laws are faithfully executed.

    Now, we suffer from an abundance of details, but it's clear we have, as the National Journal said, not an occasional minor garden- variety perjury, but multiple acts of perjury. We have calculated lawlessness which takes us for fools and chips away at our legal system. Lies about sex are one thing; lies under oath by the nation's chief law enforcement officer are another.

    Why do we bother to argue the facts? So many of you -- certainly not all -- but so many of you have pleaded nolo contendere. So our debate is whether multiple violations of a solemn oath deserve censure or removal. Incidentally, where did you get your facts on censure; from the Starr report?

    What concerns me most deeply in sorting out the many arguments here is the significance of the oath. When the president performs the public act of asking God to witness his promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, that is not trivial. Whether it's a civil suit or before the grand jury, the significance of the oath cannot and must not be cheapened if our proud boast that we're a government of laws and not of men is to mean anything. I submit it means everything. It was purchased for us by the lives of countless patriots, some of whom are resting across the Potomac River in a cemetery, but all of whom put the nation's good ahead of their own.

    A few words about fairness. I have been relentlessly accused of being unfair. I can only say I have tried. I have tried and I have tried. We have labored under an artificial time constraint, but one that I adopted back before the election, when the spirit of the age was "Get this over with. Get this behind us.

    The country doesn't want this to be dragged out over the next coming year." I bought into that. I agreed it was in the interests of the country, the president, and the Congress to move this along as fast as we could. And I believed we could finish it by the end of the year. That was naive, and there are so many thing left undone because of time constraints.

    But now that the election is over, and now that the Democrats -- and by the way, we did not want to do anything just before the election, for fear of being accused of trying to politicize our activities, so we held back -- but now that the Democrats have picked up some seats, we hear the phrase "lame duck Congress." Well, we can't have it both ways. We're trying to finish this decently, honorably, fairly, within time constraints, because I don't want this to spill over into next year. I don't want this to be an endless process. I think it's in the interests of the country to finish it, and we have tried our level best. And I have tried to grant every request the Democrats have made. Maybe we haven't succeeded, but I have certainly tried.

    Now we seek impeachment, not conviction nor censure. Those are decisions for the other body, the Senate. We merely decide if there is enough for a trial. The accusatory body should not be the adjudicatory body. Barbara Jordan pointed out it was a wise decision not to have the House that charges be the one that tries. That doesn't mean we don't take our responsibility seriously, but it means we have a different role.

    Now we're told an impeachment trial would be too divisive and too disruptive, that it would reverse two elections. We're not reversing any election. Bob Dole will not end up president of the United States if there is an impeachment. We are following a process wisely set down as a check and balance on executive overreaching, by our Founding Fathers.

    This vote says something about us. It answers the question, just who are we, and what do we stand for? Is the president one of us, or is he a sovereign? We vote for our honor, which is the only thing we get to take with us to the grave.

    I yield back the balance of my time.

    Now that concludes the opening statements, mercifully. Before we recess for 30 minutes, I want to explain the procedure which we will follow when we reconvene.

    Pending is a resolution exhibiting articles of impeachment and a motion to favorably report the resolution. Under a previous order of the committee, the second reading of the resolution has been dispensed with.

    We will proceed with the amendment process article by article. Therefore, when we return, Article I -- when we return from this recess, Article I will be open for amendment. After all amendments to Article I are completed, we'll have a final vote on Article I. If any article is adopted, the original motion shall be considered as adopted and any approved article of impeachment will automatically be favorably reported to the House. We will then consider the remaining articles and follow the same procedure. If there are no amendments to any articles but members wish to be heard on that particular article, they'll be recognized to strike the last word. So you will have an opportunity to speak.

    And with that announcement --

    REP. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman?

    REP. FRANK: Parliamentary inquiry, Mr. Chairman, just for clarification.

    REP. HYDE: The gentleman will state his parliamentary inquiry.

    REP. FRANK: I believe I understood it, but I want to make it clear because I wasn't sure. There will, therefore, only be one vote on an article, and if an article on its first reading gets a majority vote, there will be no need to re-vote; there will not be a subsequent vote re-ratifying that?

    REP. HYDE: Right. That's my understanding.

    REP. FRANK: So we'll in effect be treating these as if they were four separate things to be reported to the House?

    REP. HYDE: Exactly.

    REP. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman?

    REP. WATERS: Mr. Chairman?

    REP. HYDE: Who's -- Mr. -- Mr. Scott?

    REP. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, I'd like to ask the status of the responses from Mr. Starr. One of the amendments that I have to offer depends pretty much on his answer.

    REP. HYDE: (Confers off mike.) We'll, I'm advised we have phoned them and they are working on the answers. We will re-phone them during the recess --

    REP. SCOTT: Thank you.

    REP. HYDE: -- and see if we can't move it along.

    Ms. Waters?

    REP. WATERS: I'd like to ask unanimous consent to insert into the record a letter to me, and perhaps to others, from Alan Dershowitz, an expert panelist who testified here, relative to an exchange that took place between Mr. Barr, Mr. Dershowitz and Mr. Higginbotham, and a copy of the article that Mr. Barr -- Mr. Dershowitz was referring to as it relates to Mr. Barr.

    REP. HYDE: Is there any objection? Hearing none, so ordered.

    REP. WATERS: Thank you very much.

    REP. HYDE: All right --

    REP. CONYERS: Mr. Chairman?

    REP. HYDE: -- the gentleman from Michigan.

    REP. CONYERS: A unanimous consent request for a letter from William Alden McDaniel (sp), Jr., Esquire, to Congressman Bob Barr, a copy to me, with attachments, I liked to have --

    REP. HYDE: Is there any objection?

    REP. FRANK: Mr. Chairman, can we just get Mr. Barr's receptionist to send us some of this stuff directly? It might save some committee -- (laughter).

    REP. BARR: What?

    REP. HYDE: He wants to know if your receptionist would send this material directly to him?

    REP. BARR: To the gentleman from Massachusetts?

    REP. FRANK: (Inaudible.)

    REP. HYDE: I think it was a facetious request. (Laughter.)

    REP. BARR: Oh.

    REP. HYDE: I will treat it as such and ignore it. (Laughter.)

    REP. BARR: Mr. Chairman, I'd -- (laughter) --

    REP. HYDE: All right. Without objection --

    REP. BARR: Mr. Chairman?

    REP. HYDE: Yes, go ahead.

    REP. BARR: I'd like unanimous consent to insert into the record a letter I have sent to all members of the committee in response to the materials being circulated by Mr. Dershowitz.

    REP. HYDE: That shall be done without objection, too.

    And the committee will stand in recess for 30 minutes.



    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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