THE IMPEACHMENT HEARINGS
Dec. 10 Opening Statements: Steven Rothman (D-N.J.)
By Federal News Service
REP. STEVE ROTHMAN (D-NJ): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
For four months now, this committee and the nation have struggled with issues at the very heart of our legal system -- perjury, the rule of law, and impeachment. I have strived to keep an open mind, to study the historical precedents, to listen carefully to all who have spoken, no matter their party or political views, and to conduct myself in a manner that my constituents, history and my children will respect.
Now I must make a decision. I do not believe anyone should impeach the president of the United States without first discovering the truth. But while Judge Starr chose to submit a report charging the president with perjury, abuse of power, and obstruction of justice, the majority in charge of this committee never called even one of the witnesses who were supposed to have known the events first- hand. We did not hear from one of these fact witnesses.
The college professors brought before were not fact witnesses. Those convicted of felonies brought before us were not fact witnesses. There was not one person who could testify to what had actually happened in this case. Instead, we were forced to rely on Judge
Starr's report, a series of portions of statements from a civil deposition, from people his staff chose to question before the grand jury, and Judge Starr's inferences and conclusions that he drew from all of these. None were ever cross-examined by the president's lawyers, even though there was a great deal of conflicting and ambiguous testimony given by each of those witnesses. David Kendall, Charles Ruff, the president's counsel, and Abbe Lowell, the minority counsel, in their oral and written responses, rebutted and refuted each and every one of the charges brought by Mr. Starr.
And so, with the facts thus in doubt, I firmly believe it was incumbent upon those advancing the impeachment of a sitting president of the United States to bring forth the fact witnesses, so that we on the House Judiciary Committee could hear them, see them, and most importantly, question them.
Having the right to question and confront witnesses is an integral part of the very foundation of our American legal system, as is placing the burden of proof on those who are making accusations. I continue to hear from my Republican colleagues who say, why hasn't the president produced evidence exonerating himself? Well, look back at your law books, my friends. The accused is not required to prove his or her innocence. To put the burden of proof on the accused, in this case President Clinton, not only corrupts the Congress's impeachment power, but subverts 200 years of American justice.
Some argue that the House Judiciary Committee does not have to delve into the whole case. We can just ship it along to the Senate and let them get to the truth. They talk as if we were passing a bill to determine what the national flower should be. But what we are debating here is the impeachment of a sitting president of the United States, twice elected by the people. It strikes at the very heart of our Constitution and the balance of powers that has served us so well for more than 200 years -- a balance of powers that has included a very high bar for the impeachment of a president, one which apparently the Republican majority now wishes to significantly lower. It is my opinion that a clear and convincing standard of proof must be met before the House Judiciary Committee and the House of Representatives can send an impeachment matter to the Senate.
In the Federal Papers, the Founders showed a very real fear that a Congress dominated by one political party could recklessly and for pure political benefit impeach the president of an opposing or the opposition political party without sufficient cause or proof, causing a terrible shock and disruption to the entire American political system.
That is why the framers set the bar for impeachment of a president so high. They rejected standards -- such standards as maladministration and failure to demonstrate good behavior. Instead, they chose treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors. According to most constitutional scholars, that phrase clearly meant offenses as serious a threat to the republic as treason or bribery.
The president is not above the law. When he leaves office, criminal charges can be filed against him. And at any time, he can be sued civilly for his actions. So the world knows and our children know that the rule of law applies to all of us, even the president. And he will have to confront the consequences of his own actions.
But our responsibility today is not to enforce the civil or criminal law. That is what the civil and criminal courts are for. Our job is to determine whether the facts in Judge Starr's case have been sufficiently proven, and if so, whether the Constitution then requires our president to be removed from office.
With no fact witnesses to prove the charges, with no opportunity to question them, with no opportunity to get to the truth, the prosecution here has not met its burden. Therefore, I am compelled, and I will vote against the article of impeachment against President Clinton based on Judge Starr's charges.
But that does not end this matter. We must address the fact that in January of 1998, President Clinton wagged his finger and volunteered to us on television that he never had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. The president was adamant, and demanded that we believe him. At that time, he had no reason to rely on the narrow definition of sexual relations he believed he was held to in the Paula Jones civil deposition. He was not telling us the truth. He lied to us.
While that lie does not rise to the level of treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors, the president's lie and his admitted adulterous behavior with Ms. Lewinsky in the White House demands our punishment.
Only by punishing him for this conduct will we be able to look our children in the eyes and tell them that even presidents will be punished if they lie and conduct themselves with dishonor. I will cast my vote with a heavy heart.
This is a sad moment in our nation's history. But I implore my colleagues to turn away from politics, turn away from shredding the Constitution with partisan shears, and from bringing our nation to the very brink of a constitutional crisis. Instead, turn and face history. Face the Founding Fathers, and face the facts. Impeachment was never meant to be a political tool, nor was it meant to be a punishment for immorality. I implore you to reject impeachment and to preserve our Constitution. We must punish the president without punishing our system of government, our people, or our great nation.
I yield back the balance of my time.
REP. SENSENBRENNER: The gentleman's time has expired.
That concludes the number of speakers for tonight. The committee stands in recess until 9:00 tomorrow. (Sounds gavel.)
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