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Dec. 11 Opening Statements: Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.)

  • More Transcripts From the Hearings

  • By Federal News Service
    Friday, December 11, 1998

    REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman and ranking member Conyers, first let me thank you for your service to this committee. Several colleagues on both the Democratic and Republican side of the aisle, I am here today at this point in history, not to further the political divide, not with a liberal label, a Democratic label, a Republican label, or a conservative label. Because that battle has been fought these last few weeks, and no one has emerged the winner.

    I come here not angry at my Republican colleagues, but with a heavy heart. I come bearing feelings of somberness and sadness. I am sad, not only because the House is considering articles of impeachment for the president of the United States, but because I recognize that we are doing it without clear and convincing evidence. Nor are we using the standard outlined by our framers of the Constitution: "The president shall be removed from office on impeachment for conviction of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors."

    Ironically, this is a sad moment, yet a historical one. It is sad because Congress has exercised its discretion to draft articles of impeachment which almost equal to if not greater than the power to declare war. In 1691, Solicitor-General Salmers (ph) told the British Parliament that the power of impeachment ought to be like Goliath's Sword, kept in the temple and not used but on great occasion.

    Where do we go from here? Yes, the president did mislead the American people, and he alone must respond to them. However, have the accusations of perjury been proven to warrant impeachment? No. Have the accusations of obstruction against the president to warrant impeachment? No. Have the accusations of abuse of power against the president been proven to warrant impeachment? No.

    By the response to the above questions, it is obvious that these articles of impeachment are not warranted, nor are they demanded based on what this committee has before it. Impeachment is final and nonappealable.

    At the very outset, however, let me apologize to the nation for being a party to a proceeding which has allowed an investigation to absorb the time and energies of this Congress. I know my fellow Americans across the nation hope that we will be able to quickly get on with the people's business. Our challenge today is not to damage the Constitution, not to distort its clear meaning when it states in Article II, Section 4, that the president of the United States should be impeached only on grounds of treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors.

    The private acts of William Jefferson Clinton, no matter how reprehensible, do not -- do not -- constitute the intent of the Framers by the above language, which suggests acts to undermine or subvert the government.

    What we have here, are not proven facts established by a court of law by the give-and-take of questioning witnesses to what happens through a legally constituted jury that has handed down a guilty verdict. All we have are mere allegations, brought to the Judiciary Committee by what appears to be a determined independent counsel.

    In perjury, the declarant must willfully offer testimony that the declarant believes is false before an individual can be convicted of perjury. No evidence presented by the majority has ever proven that the president believed that he said false items. In fact, the credibility of a major witness relied upon by the majority, was never tested in our committee.

    Mr. Schippers, the chief investigative counsel for the House Judiciary Committee, said "Ms. Lewinsky's credibility may be subject to some skepticism at an appropriate stage of the proceedings. That credibility will of necessity be assessed with the credibility of all witnesses in light of all the other evidence." That never happened.

    Mr. Schippers further charges the president with abuse of power. In committee, I raised the following question to Mr. Ruff, the president's lawyer: "Abuse of power requires the use of power. Did President Clinton in any way ask any of the members of his Cabinet to use the powers of their office to help cover up his affair with Monica Lewinsky?"

    His answer in part was "No, Congresswoman.

    The American people have heard the charges of perjury, obstruction of justice. And they certainly know when a president has abused his power, caused his Cabinet officers to use the powers of their office in a conspiracy to cover up anything. This did not occur.

    How can we even begin to consider the statements of the president to his own wife, to shield an inappropriate relationship that he had been having, as an abuse of power? That is what the independent counsel would have you believe. It is preposterous, and it short- changes the intelligence and perceptiveness of the American people.

    Now, let me briefly note the process in which we've engaged in since the referral was sent to this committee in September 19th, 1998. There have been, including today, under 10 hearings by this committee, that would decide the fate of this nation. There have been no fact witnesses brought by the majority, who, under our well-understood system of justice, bear the heavy burden of proving that an impeachable offense has indeed been committed. And we have seen Mr. Starr, holding the same role as Leon Jaworski in 1974, remove his hat of objectivity, and move from impartially referring the facts, to being an advocate for the president's impeachment.

    Even worse, we've literally seen the prosecutor in this matter, step away from his position as an officer of the court, and step into the role of the witness-in-chief against the president of the United States. And this occurred to the horror of Mr. Starr's own ethics adviser, Sam Dash, who resigned because of it. This perverts the role of the Office of Independent Counsel, and violates the rules of professional conduct that all lawyers and judges must abide by. Mr. Jaworski was so concerned about subpoenaed material from the House Judiciary Committee in 1974, that he was willing to contest it.

    Now, however, where do we go from here? In Dr. Martin Luther King's book "Where Do We Go From Here?", he talked about the limited gains that we have obtained in civil rights. He said, however, "conscience burned dimly. Justice of the deepest level had but few stalwart champions."

    We must find in this room today, more stalwarts for justice, more champions for justice, those with courage to do the right thing, in fact, an uncommon courage. Somewhat similar to Daniel Webster, who I raise today, in his March 7th, 1850 speech, when, in an attempt to hold this floundering Union together, he said, "Mr. President," he began, "I wish to speak today not as a Massachusetts man, not as a Northern man, but as an American, and a member of the Senate of the United States. I speak today for the preservation of the Union. Hear me for my cause." He was more concerned with avoiding the secession of the States. He wanted to maintain the liberty and the safety of the union.

    When he finished, there was no applause, but Daniel Webster did succeed. But he succeeded in the light of great vilification. I know of no deed in American history done by a son of New England to which I can compare this but the act of Benedict Arnold. Webster said, "Horace Mann is a fallen star, Lucifer defending from heaven." But Daniel Webster maintained his support for the union.

    So today I will join my colleagues and offer a censure resolution to bring the nation together, to heal the political schism, sharp as it appears. Rebuke, reprimand, condemn, censure the president; I believe censure is right, punitive and just. And we must have the courage to find that level of cooperation even in this committee. Those who will argue for impeachment want the ultimate act, removal of the president from office, and under these articles, a lifetime ban of the president ever being in public service again; appointed, voluntary.

    However, constitutional scholars have said there are no grounds for determining that Mr. Clinton's behavior subverted the Constitution. The punishment should fit the crime. Mr. Clinton has wounded his family and his country and admitted to an inappropriate relationship. Nevertheless, would deviance from traditionally moral acceptable patterns of behavior be sufficient grounds for impeachment? A rereading of the Constitution will suggest they had no such triviality in mind, but rather major offenses against the State. What actions have posed a threat to the security of the nation and its position in world politics? Need one answer?

    I would not have anyone draw the conclusion that the behavior of the president should be condoned. His own counsel said it was "maddening"; or that I would recommend this as a model for our youth of America. God help our parents and our religious institutions to be their guide. On the contrary, I join with millions of other Americans in condemning the president's behavior. Yet impeachment would not be grounded in the Constitution and -- has not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

    Wayne Owens, who served on this committee in 1974, said: "If you vote to impeach a president because he had an improper sexual affair then avoided full disclosure, you impeach on that narrow base of personal, not official, misconduct. You do untold damage to the Constitution and to the stability of future presidents."

    To those men and women, House members who are now searching their souls, with censure you stamp this president's legacy forever, but you maintain the stability of the institution of the presidency. In the "Gathering Storm," Winston Churchill recommended special kinds of behavior under special conditions; in war, resolution and in peace, goodwill. Because we are men and women of goodwill always wanting the best for our nation, when the dust of rhetoric and stage performance has settled and we would be able to sit down and reason together -- for together we possess the qualities of men and women called by J. Holland: God, give us men and women a time like this demands; strong minds, great hearts, true faith; tall men and women who live above the fog in public duty and private thinking.

    Mr. Chairman, we are morally bound to make our disapproval known. But we can best do it through censure, an act which would help us maintain constitutional integrity and to ensure that Lincoln's dream of the future will remain a constant reality: that we will continue to live in a nation where there is government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

    So today, Mr. Chairman, I vote no on the articles of impeachment and yes on censure, to heal this nation.

    I yield back.

    REP. HYDE: The gentlelady's time has expired.

    The gentleman from Tennessee, Mr. Jenkins.


    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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