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Text of Congressional Leaders' Comments

By The Associated Press
Wednesday, September 9, 1998; 1:07 p.m. EDT

Text of news conference with congressional leaders after a meeting to discuss independent counsel Kenneth Starr's expected report.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.: We had what I think was a very productive and very candid discussion about how the House should proceed in a bipartisan manner with the report which we now believe Judge Starr will be sending up.

We made a number of decisions, which I'll let different members discuss in detail.

Our strong belief is that the public has the right to know, that both members and the public should expect that they will have access to the report and that the Judiciary Committee should then have all of the other raw materials, which need to be reviewed because we don't want any innocent people. ... There may well be an enormous amount of grand jury information and many innocent people's lives could be harmed unnecessarily.

We think the only way this can work for the good of the nation is for it to be seen as a constitutional process that requires judgment that is based on fact and in which there is a very serious effort to work together and to try to find ways to work that.

Let me yield now to Mr. Gephardt.

House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo.: We have had a productive meeting. We talked about a lot of different issues that we face. I do believe that we have made a good start at making this a nonpartisan effort. We intend to communicate a lot through this process.

I think it's important that we use the precedents that the House has used in the past, in particular in the Watergate process, for the way reports were received and the way the matter was handled.

This is a very large and important responsibility of the Congress. I told the speaker in a letter on, I think, Friday that next to declaring war, this may be the most important thing that we do so we have to do it right. We have to do it objectively, fairly and in a nonpartisan way. And I feel we have a good start here today, and we will continue to work as hard as we possibly can to do this in the right way for the Constitution and for the American people.

Gingrich: Let me, if I might, I'm going to yield to all five members. Mr. Armey and. ...

House Majority Leader Richard Armey, R-Texas: I'll be very brief. This is a constitutional responsibility. And quite frankly, from my point of view, it's awesome.

I had hoped never to have to prepare a responsibility of this magnitude. This is a serious business. It is -- to me, it comes under the category of honor, duty. And I will expect this to be handled in a professional manner, an objective manner and in a manner that is respectful of the magnitude of the task.

I will have an anticipation that there will not be partisan tirades or partisan tricks on either side of the aisle. And I would have to say to any member who believes that this is a time for partisan antics, more is the pity for you. You've lost the sense of the duty and the honor of this position you have, and that's the expectation I will hold for all members of Congress in this matter.

Gingrich: Chairman Hyde.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill.: Well, there's a well-known cliche: This is a lousy job, but somebody has to do it. That applies unfortunately to us. No one looks forward to this traumatic journey that we're about to enter on.

We did agree this morning, and we're going to do our level best, as much as humanly possible, to work in a bipartisan fashion, because we all agree, any impeachment cannot succeed unless it is done in a bipartisan or nonpartisan way.

It takes a two-thirds vote in the Senate. And that necessarily involves Democrats as well as Republicans.

We can't change the facts. We can only produce the facts in an orderly fashion and give the members an opportunity to vote.

Edmund Burke years ago was asked whether he represented his own feelings or whether he represented his constituents' feelings. And he answered that every member of Parliament -- and that goes for us members of Congress -- owe our highest fidelity to our constituents, but we don't owe our conscience to anybody.

And so this is an exercise in individual conscience, and we ask for God's help and blessing. And I pledge to work with Mr. Conyers as much as humanly possible to do this in a bipartisan fashion so that the country will in the end be proud of us and say that we vindicate our system of government.

Gingrich: Mr. Conyers.

Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., House Judiciary Committee: I believe that this is a very important beginning requested by the minority leader to help us come together on how we're going to proceed. And what we've agreed is how we're going to begin to write the rules in anticipation of a report.

And I want to commend the speaker and Henry Hyde and the majority leader for agreeing to rectify the staff imbalances. If we cite past history, we might not come up with one-third, two-thirds, but with that agreement, I think we can move forward.

Now we are not planning for an impeachment. We are inquiring into whether or not Article II, Section 4 has been violated and is worthy of consideration of whatever it is Mr. Starr sends up.

We're taking every human effort to control what is the most prevalent disease inside the Beltway -- that's the leaks.

We think that a lot of people might be unnecessarily hurt by material or information that could be in somewhere in some part of the reports, the addendums, the supplemental materials.

And so we're torn between keeping this thing under lock and key or making it available to our colleagues. And I think that we're working out a way to accommodate the process. And so I'm pleased to have been invited to this meeting.

Q: Mr. Speaker, you indicated that you're expecting a report from Independent Counsel Starr based on what?

Gingrich: On news reports.

Q: You have had no contact with him whatsoever?

Gingrich: We've had no contact -- my office has had no contact that I know of with the independent counsel.

Q: (off microphone) no executive summary, what if he, in fact, sends the whole thing up as one document? What are you going to do then?

Gingrich: I think, at that point, we would frankly be very cautious about how to, if you're talking about -- let me draw a distinction. I believe that it's very likely, since everybody's talked about him writing something, that something exists in writing. OK? Whatever that something is. And my colleagues may want to comment in a second.

I believe that -- personally, I believe that whatever that document is, inevitably and legitimately, the American people should have access to. Certainly, all of our members will want access; then the senators will want access.

You all are so effective that it's inconceivable there could be 535 people with access and you wouldn't get pieces of it.

So we think it is, frankly, more legitimate and more in the spirit of what we've tried to do in making the Congress available to the people through the Thomas system for everyone to have access.

However, my understanding is there is a possibility that there is a second collection of materials, which may be extremely voluminous, which includes a great deal of grand jury material, some of which may, frankly, impugn or hurt totally innocent people who have no reason to be involved in this process.

My hope would be that Chairman Hyde and Mr. Conyers would work together in a bipartisan way, that the Judiciary Committee would be empowered to review that material, and frankly, take out extraneous references, extraneous individuals, protect innocent people, and would do so in a truly bipartisan spirit.

Now, the details of how we write this will be written jointly with an effort to engage both the Democrats and Republicans on both the Rules Committee and Judiciary on a pretty expeditious basis, because we, frankly, don't know how soon we may get this document and we want the House to be prepared. Let me just say, as a technical issue, in the absence of having passed a resolution, everything would be received by the sergeant at arms. The sergeant at arms would maintain it under armed guard, and no one -- not the speaker, not the leaders, not the chairman or the ranking member -- no one would have access to that material until the House has passed a resolution.

Gephardt: Let me also say that we have a precedent, again, in Watergate that seems to be one that we should carefully consider and try to follow. It worked. It was bipartisan. The Congress acted in a judicious manner and did what I think most people thought was a nonpartisan piece of work. And it was done well.

I also urge all of us to not jump to conclusions. I've said this many times.

We don't have any facts. We have whatever has been in the newspaper, but that may or may not be the full set of facts. It is very important for us not to jump to conclusions.

Finally, it's been said many times that this is a political process now. I would urge us all to remember that it is not just a political process.

This is a process that has precedent. It is described in our Constitution, and has certain standards and features that we must follow.

It is not a -- this is not a matter of having another election or taking polls. This is a matter of doing this faithfully, as it should be done, and in an objective and fair manner, and letting members, in a sensible way, be acquainted with the facts that are available, and then making a judgment.

Gingrich: I don't want to prejudge that. But I would hope as soon as possible, which could not be earlier than Friday and might be next week.

Conyers: Mr. Speaker and the majority leader have made it clear that any presumptions of guilt by anybody in this is strictly off-grounds. I am heartened by the fact that we're going to make certain that there are not offhand or prejudgmental remarks about the chief executive or anybody else that's involved in this.

This test is really a historic one. Can we -- partisans, Republicans, Democrats, philosophies all over the place -- can we really come together, set aside our political garments and really undertake to examine the facts.

Now a report is not the final word on anything. A report is a report. How was it done, is it probative, is it accurate are all the kinds of things that we will want to be carefully looking at.

Q: (off microphone) an accompanying report from the White House being looked at, at the same time?

Gephardt: I believe the president should be able to respond and his lawyers should be able to respond to this report. I would like for there to be a time for them to do that before the report is made public. That may or may not be possible. We're still talking about it.

But I believe the president deserves the opportunity at the earliest possible moment to be able to put his version, their version of the facts in front of the American people, depending on what is sent by the independent counsel.

Q: Given the fact -- notwithstanding your comments about (off microphone) -- you know, efforts to make this nonpolitical, there is an election coming up, where control of the House. ...

Gingrich: I know you've been away for a while. Look. I don't want to talk about politics in this case.

Q: Can you ignore the fact, sir, can you ignore the fact that. ...

Gingrich: Yes.

Q: ... there is an election...

Gingrich: Yes.

Q: (off microphone) can ignore them?

Gingrich: Yes.

Let me just say this again, John, because I think it's important for all of them to understand this. Dick Gephardt has said it very well. There are very few things in our entire life comparable in importance to the responsibility we have under the Constitution. We should not move a day sooner because there's an election. We should not move a day later. We should not make a judgment in favor because of the polls. We should not make a judgment against.

And I agree with what Dick Armey said. We will counsel every member, and as speaker of the House, I will insist on the decorum of the House from all members in both parties. And we need to pursue this.

This a very serious constitutional question and should be dealt with, with the greatest of concern, and I think with the greatest and deepest sense of patriotism.

And I would deeply oppose people making the narrowest of partisan assumptions of about how we're going to produce this.

And I would encourage you in the press to try to understand just how serious what you're covering is and just how much it transcends both the narrowest of scandals and the narrowest of partisanship.

Q: (off microphone)

Gephardt: The president had a meeting with our leadership. It was an emotional meeting. And he apologized to us directly for what had happened. He talked about it meant to him and his family, and it was an emotional meeting.

We told him that we wanted to deal with all of this, as I've said, in absolutely the right way -- and we intend to do that -- and that we should not jump to conclusions and we should not make assumptions; and that this is a moment, as the speaker has said, when we need to call to the highest in our nature in terms of doing something that is right for the American people and right in the Constitution.

I think the president believes that as well.

I -- we also have a duty to carry on the business of the country, and we talked about that as well. We need to deal with the issues of the people at the same time, and we intend to do that as well.

Gingrich: Thank you all very much.

Gephardt: Thank you.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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