In Uncharted Waters'
Federal Document Clearing House
Following are excerpts of opening remarks to the House Rules Committee yesterday by Chairman Gerald B.H. Solomon (R-N.Y.) and the ranking Democrat, Rep. Joe Moakley (Mass.), with comments by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) and that committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (Mich.):
. . . Today, ladies and gentlemen, the Rules Committee embarks on one of the most unfortunate and difficult tasks many of us have faced in public service certainly mine in the last 20 years. The committee must set forth a procedure by which the House of Representatives may fulfill its constitutional duties under Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution, which is "the sole power of impeachment." . . .
This is a responsibility that none of us take lightly when we swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States and we do not take it lightly now. . . . To whatever end these deliberations may lead us, it is imperative that the Rules Committee and ultimately the House House of Representatives adopt procedures which best allow for a fair, not only bipartisan, but nonpartisan, determination of the facts involved. . . .
Without question, in some senses, we are in uncharted waters. There has never been a report from an independent counsel detailing possible impeachment offenses by a president. Indeed, the independent counsel statute itself was an outgrowth of the Watergate era. However, we are guided very much by precedent and by history in this matter . . .
It is important that the American people learn the facts regarding this matter. . . .
The method of the dissemination and potential restrictions on access to this very, very critical information is outlined in the resolution before the Rules Committee today. . . . The resolution provides the Judiciary Committee with the ability to review the communication [from independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr] to determine whether sufficient grounds exist to recommend to this House and that's what they will be charged with to recommend to this House that an impeachment inquiry be commenced. . . .
It is important to note that this resolution does not authorize or direct an impeachment inquiry. . . . It is not the beginning of an impeachment process in the House of Representatives. It merely provides the appropriate parameters for the Committee on the Judiciary, the historically proper place to examine these matters, to review this communication and to make a recommendation to the House as to whether to commence an impeachment inquiry. That is what you are being charged with by this resolution.
If this communication from independent counsel Starr should form the basis for future proceedings, it is important for the Rules Committee to be mindful that members may need to cast public, recorded, and extremely profound votes in the coming weeks or months. It is our responsibility to ensure that members have enough information about the contents of the communication to cast informed votes and explain their decisions, based on their conscience . . . to their constituents. . . .
This is a very grave day for the House of Representatives, indeed it is a solemn time I think, in our nation. Today we will do what we are compelled to do under the Constitution not because we desire it, but because, my friends, it is our duty to do it. In order to most judiciously fulfill these constitutional duties, I encourage all of the members to approach this sensitive matter with the dignity and decorum which befits the most deliberative body in the world.
Speaker Gingrich spoke of it on the floor. I would encourage all members that they they control themselves. I, for one, am an emotional person. I've been known to speak out sometimes without using proper decorum. And I pledge I will not do that and I hope that no other member does. We need to treat the presidency with respect. We need to treat this body with respect. . . .
. . . Today, it's this committee's responsibility to decide how to release the information contained in the independent counsel's report to the public . . . as wisely and as fairly as possible. . . .
Regardless of whether you think we should release it all at once or bit by bit, I would ask as a matter of fairness that the president's counsel be given a chance to review the materials before they are released to the public.
Last fall, this Congress passed an ethics reform package, as you may recall, setting the standards for considering ethics charges against members of Congress. That package allowed congressional people accused of ethics violations to hear the allegations and to see the evidence 10 days before they were made public.
I think it's only fair that we allow President Clinton the same opportunity that we would give ourselves.
On a related issue, when the committee meets again next week on what authorities should be given to the Judiciary Committee, I believe we should look very, very closely to the Watergate hearings as a model. . . . There are certain precedents and procedures that must be followed and we should begin this process slowly and soberly. . . . I urge my colleagues to set aside their personal opinions and carry out the responsibilities set forth in the Constitution as carefully as possible. . . . Today we have a grave responsibility. So let us proceed reasonably and let us proceed fairly. . . .
. . . The American people deserve a competent, independent and bipartisan review of the independent counsel's referral. They've got to have confidence. We must be credible. . . .
I won't condone nor participate in a political witch hunt. If the evidence does not justify a full impeachment investigation, I won't recommend one to the House.
However, if the evidence does justify an inquiry, I will unhesitatingly recommend a fuller inquiry. . . .
. . . The House of Representatives is not the U.S. Postal Service. We are not a delivery system for Kenneth W. Starr. We cannot, we ought not, we should not release anything to anybody unless we know what it is we are releasing. This cannot be an, "Oops, I'm sorry. We didn't know."
And so inadvertently in our discussion we have now sanctified the first 445 pages that we are now going to release to the planet Earth. And nobody here has any idea of what is contained.
We do know that there are prosecutorial comments, that there are allegations, that there are assertions. Obviously, we haven't been five years and waiting for a report that would not contain these kinds of assertions.
But as to their validity and accuracy, . . . nobody knows. Nobody. We don't know.
And so I would hope that there may be sympathy within this hearing today to recognize that for us to dump the first 445 pages and then tell everybody about how carefully we're going to scrutinize the other several thousand pages does not comport to the lofty goals that we should, in my view. . . .
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