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The Plain English Guide, Impeachment Edition

Impeachment Hearings

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  • By Gene Weingarten
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, December 9, 1998; Page D1

    In our continuing ardor to heed Vice President Gore's call for a return to "plain English" in official communications, we present another special edition of Plain English Watch. We have taken lines of testimony from yesterday's House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing and translated them into "plain English."

    Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), administering the oath to a panel of witnesses:

    "Do you solemnly swear or affirm that the testimony you're about to give to this committee is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?"

    Plain English version: "Do you, as Bill Clinton did, solemnly swear or affirm that the testimony you're about to give is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God, and are you also lying sacs of pus?"

    Greg Craig, White House special counsel, in his opening remarks:

    "The time has finally come for the president to make his case and to give his side of the story. Over the next two days, we will present to this committee, to the Congress, and to the country as a whole, a powerful case based on the facts already in the record, and on the law . . ."

    Plain English version: "The time has finally come for the president to make his case and to give his side of the story. Unfortunately, the president had a dental appointment and could not attend . . ."

    Hyde, introducing Prof. Samuel Beer, who would speak forcefully, if at times somewhat vaguely, against impeachment:

    "Professor Samuel H. Beer is the Eaton Professor of the Science of Government, emeritus, at Harvard University. He has written and lectured and taught about the American system of government for over 65 years."

    Plain English version: "Professor Samuel H. Beer is apparently 175 years old."

    on Clinton's veracity:

    "Mr. Chairman, I am willing to concede that in the Jones deposition, the president's testimony was evasive, incomplete, misleading, even maddening, but it was not perjury."

    Plain English version: "The president prowls the countryside by moonlight and feasts on the flesh of the dead, okay? Whatever you want, we'll admit, so long as it does not technically constitute a felony."

    A colloquy between Hyde and former attorney general Nicholas Katzenbach, who testified that certain types of perjury are more serious than others:

    Katzenbach: "If, for example, the president were to swear falsely that he had no knowledge of a CIA plot to assassinate the speaker . . ."

    Hyde: "Mr. Katzenbach, could you wind up, because your 10 minutes has expired?"

    Plain English version: "Mr. Katzenbach, could you wind up, because frankly you are beginning to weird us all out."

    Princeton University Prof. Sean Wilentz, lecturing members of Congress against hypocrisy and sophistry:

    "If you understand that the charges do not rise to the level of impeachment, or if you are at all unsure, and yet you vote in favor of impeachment anyway for some other reason, history will track you down and condemn you for your cravenness. Alternatively, you could muster the courage of your convictions. The choice is yours."

    Plain English version: ". . . It's entirely yours. Either history holds you down and force-feeds you white-hot coals and staples your eyes shut and flogs you with thorns, or you get to bask forever in the soothing balm of eternal acclamation."

    Craig, responding to a question about how the president could have been overtly evasive in his deposition in the Paula Jones case without having violated his oath to tell "the whole truth":

    "He tried, I think, to answer accurately in a very narrow way. . . . I think we could defend that in any court in this country."

    Plain English version: "Judge Ito's court, for example . . . "

    Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), questioning Katzenbach on the possible effects on the nation of an impeachment trial:

    "Can you give us your insight into what the implications for a trial might be for the economy? . . . Would you then say it's not inappropriate to weigh that the stock market may have an implication – our economy, especially high-tech, is oriented towards exports, that that might fall apart – in the balancing of whether to move forward?"

    Plain English version: "Also, might not an impeachment trial distract the Denver Broncos in their glorious march to a perfect winning season?"

    Craig, responding to questions about whether the president or Monica Lewinsky was telling the truth about certain disputed details of their sexual contact; these details could be central to proving whether the president lied in his deposition:

    "She said he did, and he says he did not with respect to that one aspect of their activity. That is key to the perjury issue, which I think would be tried on the floor of the United States Senate, if this were referred over."

    Plain English version: "Vote to impeach, and here's what you get: one hundred United States senators, including the Honorable Strom Thurmond, sitting stone-faced as Monica elucidates for them in that chirpy little voice precisely who touched whom, and precisely where, and at what stage of undress, while precisely what utterances were being squealed. And you think the Clarence Thomas hearings made you look bad?"

    Prof. Beer, arguing that the issue is far greater than a minor factual dispute over what the president did or did not do with Monica Lewinsky:

    "Does the national interest require removal of the president? It's not a little detailed question, it's a great big broad question."

    Plain English version: We'll just go with the Perfesser's version.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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