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'We Are Not Here to Pass Judgment'

 
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Tuesday, October 6, 1998; Page A8

Following are excerpts from yesterday's opening statements by some of the members of the House Judiciary Committee on the question of whether to refer a resolution of impeachment inquiry to the full House.

Hyde | Conyers | Frank | McCollum | Schumer
Gekas | Coble | Scott | Barr | Wexler | Graham

Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.):

. . . On September 11th the Office of Independent Counsel transmitted materials to the House of Representatives that, in his opinion, constituted substantial and credible evidence that may constitute grounds for impeachment of the president of the United States. ... Today it's our responsibility and our constitutional duty to review those materials referred to us and recommend to the House of Representatives whether the matter merits a further inquiry. Let me be clear about this; we are not here today to decide whether or not to impeach Mr. Clinton. We are not here to pass judgment on anyone. We are here to ask and answer this one simple question: Based upon what we now know, do we have a duty to look further or to look away?

We are constantly reminded how weary America is of this whole situation, and I dare say most of us share that weariness. But we members of Congress took an oath that we would perform all of our constitutional duties, not just the pleasant ones. ...

This will be an emotional process, a strenuous process, because feelings are high on all sides of this question. But the difficulties ahead can be surmounted with good will and an honest effort to do what is best for the country. ... We are going to work expeditiously and fairly. When we have completed our inquiry, whatever the result, we will make our recommendations to the House. We will do so as soon as we can, consistent with principles of fairness and completeness. ...

The 20th century has been referred to often as the American century. It is imperative we be able to look back at this episode with dignity and pride, knowing we have performed our duty in the best interests of the entire country. In this difficult moment in our history lies the potential for our finest achievement: proof that democracy works.

Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.):

. . . For more than 200 years, we have been guided by [the] brilliant legacy of our Founding Fathers and of our Constitution, which, generation after generation, has helped us endure the difficult political and social questions that face us.

I am quite certain that the drafters of that document might shake their heads in puzzlement at the action that is proposed by the majority that we take here today. By now, we're all familiar with the constitutional standard for impeachable offenses – treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors. ...

Two hundred years later, this committee was called upon to consider the standard for impeachment of a president in 1974. And at the risk of dating myself, I remain the only member of the committee serving today who was there then. Our staff issued a report in February of that year that has become a model for scholars and historians alike. The report concluded that 'Impeachment is a constitutional remedy addressed to serious offenses against the system of government. And it is directed at constitutional wrongs that subvert the structure of government or undermine the integrity of office and even the Constitution itself.'

Those words are as true today as they were in 1974. An impeachment is only for a serious abuse of official power or a serious breach of official duties. ... The failure to even articulate a standard of impeachment against which the evidence can be measured, a step the 1974 committee took prior to any investigation, is not only failure of this investigation into the president; the tactics of the investigation into the president have also, in my judgment, been an offense to the tradition of this great country and to the common sense of the American people. ...

Now, I believe the American people have a deep sense of right and wrong, of fairness and of privacy, and I believe this investigation has offended those sensibilities. ... Do we want to have prosecutors with unlimited powers, accountable to no one, who will spend millions of dollars investigating a person's personal life, who then haul before grand juries every person of the opposite sex the person has had contact with, who then record and release videos to the public of the grand jury questioning of the most private aspects of one's sex life?

Now, there's no question that the president's actions were wrong. I submit to all of you that he may be suffering more than any of us will ever know, but I suggest to you, my colleagues across the aisle, in every ounce of friendship that I can muster, that even worse than an extramarital relationship is the use of federal prosecutors and federal agents to expose an extramarital relationship.

Yes, there is a threat to society here, but it is from the tactics of a win-at-all-costs prosecutor determined to sink a president of the opposition party.

Our review of the evidence sent with the referral convinces many of us of one thing: There is no support for any suggestion that the president obstructed justice, or that he tampered with witnesses or abused the power of his office. ... This is not Watergate; it is an extramarital affair. Americans know and want to finish this. ...

The open-ended Republican proposal will be seen exactly for what it is if it's brought forward this morning: a means for dragging this matter out well past the upcoming elections. An open-ended impeachment inquiry threatens to subvert our system of constitutional government. There is no need for this investigation to be open-ended when we can, because of its limited factual predicate, close it down within six weeks. ...


   

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.):

. . . The question we have to deal with and the question that will be presented in our resolution is this: Do we look into what Kenneth Starr has referred to us, or do we get into an open-ended effort to find something somewhere that can justify continuing this process?

Kenneth Starr has given us a very incomplete report. For more than four years, he's been studying the Whitewater matter, the FBI files, the travel office and other matters. He began this year, more than three years after the start of his operation, to look into Monica Lewinsky. Now he gives us the most recent thing he's looked into and we have silence on the others. I think that's clearly because Mr. Starr, reflecting his bias, follows the principle that if you don't have anything bad to say, don't say anything at all.

But that ought not to be the cue for this committee. What we have is this problem, and I think as we've talked about it, there is a fear on the part of many who want to destroy Bill Clinton, who didn't like the '92 election, who didn't like the '96 election, and would like to undo it – there is a fear that the matters in the Starr referral do not carry enough weight to justify an impeachment. ...

The chairman said we shouldn't look away, we should look further. I agree. What we shouldn't do, however, is adopt a resolution which says, 'Let's look around. Let's see what we can find. Let's see if we can find something in Whitewater and the FBI files and the travel office and the campaign finance office. ...

Some of my colleagues agree with my friend from Michigan that even that doesn't justify going further. The problem, however, for many of us is we did create a statute and appoint an independent counsel. I don't think much of the job he's done, but . . . I think we have to look at what he said. But let's look at what he said; let us not turn this into an impeachment inquiry in search of a high crime. Let's look at what Mr. Starr charged the president with and decide. ...

Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.):

. . . This is not about jaywalking, it's not about driving under the influence. Those are not major crimes for which any president would be impeached. But I would suggest to you that what it's about is whether or not we can sustain the constitutional form of our government without going forward at this point. ...

There are serious questions that have been posed here. If it were proven that the president of the United States committed the felony crime of lying under oath in a deposition in a sexual harassment case, or if it were proven that the president the United States committed the felony crime of lying to a grand jury under oath, or if it were proven that the president of the United States obstructed justice by trying to encourage someone to file a false affidavit or encouraging other matters that would conceal the evidence from a court or a grand jury – if that were the case, if those were proven – would it undermine our system of justice if the president of the United States were not impeached or removed from office?

And I would submit that indeed it would undermine our system . . . because when you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, when you take an oath, when you become a witness in a court, you are doing what is necessary to make our system of justice work. ...

When people believe that the president of the United States can lie, commit perjury, and get away with it, what are they going to say the next time they have to go to court – and thousands of them do every day in this country – and they're expected to tell the truth when they get on the witness stand or face the crime of perjury?

. . . Even if . . . that is all that's proven, that's enough for us to impeach and enough for him to be thrown out of office.

Rep. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.):

. . . After a careful reading of the Starr report and other material submitted by the Office of Independent Counsel, as well as a study of the origins and history of the impeachment clause of the Constitution, I have come to the conclusion that, given the evidence before us, there is no basis for impeachment of the president. I believe that, given the evidence before us, the only charge possible against the president is that he lied to the grand jury and at the deposition about his extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky. Even assuming the facts presented by the OIC thus far to be true, that crime does not rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors cited in the Constitution.

It is my view that the president should be punished and that Congress should quickly reach consensus on a suitable and significant punishment. Then we should move on and get back to solving the serious problems like the deepening economic crisis abroad and issues close to home, like education, health care and security for seniors.

. . . It is the charges of obstruction of justice and abuse of power where I believe that Ken Starr seriously overreached. He knew that if this case was only about sex and lying about sex, that it would not be found impeachable by Congress. So he made allegations that simply could not be supported in a court but allowed him to release a salacious report. This casts serious doubt about his impartiality. ...

I'd support a Motion of Censure or a Motion to Rebuke, as President Ford suggested yesterday, not because it is politically expedient to do but because the president's actions cry out for punishment and because censure or rebuke, not impeachment, is the right punishment.

. . . This investigation, now it its fifth year, has run its course. It's time to move on.

Rep. George W. Gekas (R-Pa.):

. . . The House of Representatives acts as a gigantic grand jury, to which referral will be made by this committee, the Judiciary Committee, acting as a kind of prosecutor-investigator body to evaluate the evidence with which to make presentation to the grand jury.

And then the grand jury, this grand House of Representatives, would evaluate the evidence and say, in one way or another, yes, there is sufficient evidence to allow the trier of fact to conclude that certain offenses, impeachable offenses, have, indeed, occurred.

. . . I have difficulty with [Starr's] conclusion that this assertion of executive privilege on the part of the president was unlawful. But that is not for me to conclude and to come to a firm termination of thinking, simply because I have doubts about it. ... That is why I have to inquire further. ...

And so it is on the question of perjury. ... To allow . . . a witness [to] pervert the entire process, the rights of everyone concerned, by giving false testimony, by committing perjury, crushes down against that courthouse and it collapses because of that one fatal flaw that could arise in any single case, whether it's a traffic ticket or murder in the first degree.

If we cannot, as American citizens, recognize the necessity for a strong perjury statute and its enforcement, then we are our own worst enemies in what we feel has to be the furtherance of establishing and maintaining justice in our country.

So I am not yet satisfied that there's guilt or innocence with respect to the perjury allegations, but, by darn, it is worth a fuller inquiry by this body.

Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.):

. . . Many say, 'Conclude this matter immediately.' We do not have the luxury of doing so if we properly discharge our constitutional duty. An inquiry, not necessarily an impeachment but an inquiry, of impeachment must inevitably follow.

. . . It is my hope that our fellow Americans will be understanding as we continue this process and, hopefully, conclude same sooner rather than later. Constituents send mixed messages, as each of you know. Calls last week: One said if I . . . don't vote to impeach the president, never to come back home; a second call said if I don't conclude this hearing today – as if I could do that – she'll never vote for me again, implying that she had voted for me previously. Yet a third call, my friend, 'I hope Coble dies a painful death from prostate cancer.' Now, I'm not going to be intimidated by that third call. The first call I'm going to weigh very soberly. But finally . . . it is we, after we examine the facts and evidence thoroughly, it is we who must exercise our best judgment.


   

Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott (D-Va.):

The question before us . . . is not whether we like or dislike or condone or condemn certain behavior. ... [It is] do any of the independent counsel's allegations rise to the level of impeachable offenses?

If so, we should investigate those allegations. On the other hand, if we continue to focus on charges that, even if true, do not constitute impeachable offenses, we will continue on a partisan charade simply to embarrass the president and divert attention from the other important issues before Congress and this committee.

. . . I am not aware of any constitutional scholar who believes that all of the allegations before us are impeachable offenses, as intended by our framers of the Constitution. In fact, half of the leading authorities interviewed by the National Law Journal said that not only did none of the allegations reach that level, but also said that the question wasn't even close.

And so it is in that light that we have to ask – that we ask to consider the standards of impeachment before we go further. ... But instead of taking the first initial step in a rational process, we have spent the first three weeks releasing thousands of pages of personal information, including salacious details of intimate sexual contact, and rumors and innuendo without ever determining whether or not the documents were relevant to allegations we will be investigating. ...

As a result of our failure to follow a reasoned approach, any decision we make as a result of this process may have already suffered a devastating erosion of public confidence. I hope this is not the case. But, Mr. Chairman, what is wrong with a fair and reasoned approach? If the president deserves to be impeached, he will be impeached at the end of a fair process, just as he will be impeached at the end of an unfair process. The only difference is that the product of a fair process will have legitimacy and respect, while the product of an unfair process will forever lack credibility and support. ...

Rep. Robert L. Barr Jr. (R-Ga.):

Imagine a place where a dictator, a king, a prime minister or a president could walk into your home at any time and force you to accede to any demand, however unreasonable. ... The system of rule by law under which we live stands as a stark exception to the historically prevalent notion that a ruler can take whatever he wants, whenever he wants it from any subject.

As we so quickly, however, forget in times of stability and prosperity, our system is a fragile one, a brief flicker of light in an otherwise dark march of human political history. If we drop our guard, even for a moment, and allow a president to demand citizens gratify his personal desires and let him place himself in the way of laws designed to prevent such conduct, that light will be greatly dimmed, if not snuffed out. ...

The facts of the case before us are not complex. Bill Clinton, first as governor and then as president, using power entrusted to him, coarsely demanded personal favors from individual citizens. When one of those citizens refused, our Supreme Court voted unanimously to allow her access to the courts. Yet instead of apologizing, Bill Clinton continued to abuse his office to smear that citizen's name and block her access to justice. Instead of telling the truth to the court and a grand jury, the president lied. Instead of cooperating with the court, he obstructed its efforts. At this very moment, government and private employees are working under his direct orders to block this committee's efforts.

We are witnessing nothing less than the symptoms of a cancer on the American presidency. If we fail to remove it, it will expand to destroy the principles that matter most to all of us. ...

Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.):

. . . Many of our colleagues have referred to our role here today as the most important work a member of Congress can perform. I sincerely hope not. This may be the most attention that this committee will ever receive. This may be the biggest news story in which we will ever play a part. But God help the nation if this is the most important work we will ever do in Congress.

Our work today is not about providing health insurance for more Americans. It is not about peace in the Middle East or ending genocide in Kosovo. It is not about saving Social Security, reducing class sizes for our children, or improving the quality of life for even one single American. I am not proud of what we are doing here today, and I would like to tell you why.

I am not proud of the personal conduct of the president that has cheapened our national discourse, confused our children, disillusioned our idealists and empowered our cynics. While I'm very proud of this president's accomplishments, I am not proud of his moral lapses in judgment.

I am not proud of this prosecutor, Ken Starr, who has turned government in upon itself, distorted our system of justice in a politically inspired witch hunt that rivals McCarthyism in its sinister purpose, that asks mothers to betray daughters, Secret Service officers to betray their highest charge, and lawyers to betray their clients, dead or alive, all in search of a crime to justify five years of work and more than $40 million of taxpayers' money.

I'm not proud of the political attack culture in Washington that stops at nothing to destroy to the lives of public servants and spawns the likes of Linda Tripp, whose concept of friendship I would not wish on my worst enemy.

Nor am I proud of those in the media who have fueled this indecent explosion and left objective journalism in its wake.

Now I'd like to tell you what I am proud of.

I'm proud of this document, the Constitution of the United States of America. I am proud of the Founding Fathers who authored it and envisioned a standard for removing a president high enough to prevent it from ever being used for political purposes to overturn the will of the people. ... I am proud of the millions of Americans who have sifted through mounds of disturbing material to reach the common-sense conclusion that this behavior does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense and who have asked us, in a loud and clear voice, to move on to the nation's real business.

I am also proud of the basic decency of the American people, who intuitively understand that morality is a complex equation, that good people sometimes do bad things, that moral people sometimes commit immoral acts. None of us should be defined only by our mistakes.

Finally, impeachment is not about adultery; it is rooted in a constitutional standard that has met the test of time. It is about subversion of government. The president had an affair. He lied about it. He didn't want anyone to know about it. Does anyone reasonably believe that this amounts to subversion of government?

Does anyone reasonably believe that this is what the Founding Fathers were talking about? . . . I plead with this committee to end this nonsense. We have real work to do for the people who sent us.

Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.):

. . . The truth is, I have no clue what I am going to do yet. Now, I can tell you that and look you in the eye and honestly mean it; I don't know if censure is appropriate, we should just drop it, or we should throw him out of office. Nobody knows yet in my opinion who have really got an open mind about this thing. Is this Watergate or 'Peyton Place'? I don't know.

Let me tell you, if I followed the polls, I know what I would do. In my district, people have no use for this president; none, zero, zip. Eighty-two percent of the people in one part of my district want to throw him out of office. If I followed the polls, I could sit up here and rant and rave and become governor at home. I don't want to be governor that way. I want to be a good congressman who, 30 years from now, not just 30 days from now, people thought did the right thing. And the right thing is to take this seriously. ...

Nobody can tell me yet whether this is part of a criminal enterprise or a bunch of lies that built upon themselves based on not wanting to embarrass your family. If that's what it is, about an extramarital affair with an intern, and that's it, I will not vote to impeach this president no matter if 82 percent of the people home want me to, because we will destroy this country.

If it is about a criminal enterprise where the operatives of the president at every turn confront witnesses against him in illegal ways, threaten people, extort them, if there's a secret police unit in this White House that goes after women or anybody else that gets in the way of this president, that is Richard Nixon times 10, and [I] will vote to impeach him.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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