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Dec. 10 Opening Statements: Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)

  • More Transcripts From the Hearings

  • By Federal News Service
    Thursday, December 10, 1998

    REP. CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

    When the Founding Fathers designed the government of this country, they realized that there would be rare and crucial times in history when it would be necessary to break into the regular order of how our government works to pull the nation out of crisis and, in fact, save the republic.

    He pulled the nation out of crisis and, in fact, saved the republic. They devised the process of impeachment for these times, to be used rarely, and only in times of national crisis.

    Several weeks ago, the notion that we would be on the verge of actually using the hammer of impeachment to remove the president for just the third time in 200 years was unthinkable. Now we're only one day from possibly passing a resolution to remove a duly elected president from office. And the actions that we take tomorrow far transcend the conduct of Bill Clinton and will have profound consequences on the future of this country.

    If we vote articles of impeachment, I fear that we will be setting a precedent that could seriously weaken the office of the presidency, whether the president is removed from office or not. In my judgment, we will be substantially lowering the bar for removing a sitting president so that we will be in danger of all too frequently investigating presidents and seeking to remove them from office, this as we enter a century which demands a strong and focused President of the United States. And what would we be removing him for? Sex, and lying about sex.

    Today we have four charges before us against the president: two perjury counts, obstruction of justice, and abuse of power. I would venture to say that if the obstruction and abuse charges were brought before an impartial jury of randomly selected American citizens and tried by competent lawyers on both sides, the president would be acquitted by a 12-0 margin. Neither case is supported by the evidence.

    Regarding obstruction of justice, the level of exculpatory evidence exonerating the president concerning the job search, the gifts, and the president's conversations with Ms. Currie is overwhelming and convincing. And the abuse of power charge does not pass the last test. Indeed, the charge itself is at least as much an abuse of prosecutorial power as the actions of the president in this count. And perhaps the most Kafkaesque of all the charges is that when the president misled his staff, under no oath whatsoever, by denying an extramarital affair he was committing a crime.

    So this case, this impeachment, boils down to two perjury charges. I agree that the president's testimony was misleading, maddening, evasive, prevaricating, and designed to shed as little light as possible on his embarrassing personal behavior. I've said so since September, that the president lied in his testimony and to the American people, but that he did so about a sexual relationship, not about matters of governance.

    The Republicans want the American people -- or most Republicans -- want the American people to equate lying under oath about sex with lying under oath about matters of state. In their wisdom, most Americans can easily see the distinction. The American people know that being evasive about an extramarital relationship is worlds apart from being evasive about matters that go the core of running this republic. That is why there is such a huge gap between what the majority on this committee want and what the majority of Americans want.

    Yesterday, former prosecutor Sullivan stated the average citizen would not be tried and would not be punished for committing such acts as the president is accused of. However, the president is not an ordinary citizen. He has to be held to a higher standard. He should be sanctioned, not as a political denouement, but because we cannot let posterity believe that a president who so misleads under oath can be allowed to avoid punishment.

    So the question before us is not whether to punish the president, the question is the magnitude of the punishment. The question is, What punishment fits his actions? I agree with the majority of Americans that impeachment would be wrong. A strong censure motion such as the motion before this committee, signed and acknowledged by the president, is the appropriate punishment. It would be a miscarriage of justice to impeach the president over a private affair or about lying about that affair.

    And that is not simply my subjective view. That is what the Founding Fathers intended when they put the impeachment clause in the Constitution. That is what they intended by spelling out the terms of bribery, treason and other high crimes and misdemeanors in Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution.

    In September when I first saw the president's testimony on tape, it angered me. When I saw it today, it angered me again. While the president may not have committed perjury, he misled in such an artful way that I could see why people -- liberals and conservatives, Democrats, Independents and Republicans, men and women -- would be angered and disappointed in the president.

    But I was also angered and disappointed by the Ken Starr referral. It was unbalanced, it was full of prosecutorial and partisan zeal, it was intentionally salacious, it lacked the seriousness and gravitas of a document that would guide this Congress on the crucial question of impeaching the president.

    It raised obvious questions about Ken Starr's partiality and veracity. I believe that because Starr knew that a case solely about sex and lying about sex would never pass muster with the American people, that he leveled the unsupportable charges of obstruction of justice and abuse of power. And many House Republicans, because of their hatred of President Clinton, were only too eager to accept the OIC's case without question.

    The four articles before us, with rare exception, seem like a rubber stamp of the Starr Report. And this is a very sad indictment of what should be a very solemn and judicious process, and it leads us to today.

    The American people may wake up Sunday morning to find out that this committee has passed articles of impeachment on the president. The American people may wake up next Friday morning to discover that the House of Representatives has indeed impeached the president. You know, I think the American people still don't believe that we're foolish enough or partisan enough to do this. I think the American people are waiting for us to come to our senses and end this political game of chicken. But to the American people I say that the House may very well do the unthinkable. If the vote were held today, I believe the House would impeach the president by a thin margin. I don't think many from the other party are willing to buck the siren calls of the radical right.

    I read one columnist who said that impeachment won't really tie things up for -- not for too long. The Senate will never convict, and it will be over in a few weeks. Well, let's not delude ourselves. If the House impeaches, we will tie up all three branches of government for months and months, the House Judiciary Republicans will prosecute the case with all of the zeal that we have seen thus far, the president will call witness after witness because he can and because to defend himself, he must. The Supreme Court chief justice will hear the case in the Senate, the Senate will be paralyzed from legislating, and it will poison relations between the House and the Senate, between the Congress and the White House, between Democrats and Republicans for a long time after the trial is over. And all the while, the crushing problems around us -- in Iraq, in the Middle East, with the world economy, with health care, with education, with Social Security -- will fester. Clearly, if the president's actions were so egregiously wrong that they went to the heart of the continuance of the republic, we would have no choice but to move forward, even with the risk of all these problems being ignored.

    But now the majority wish us to go through this ordeal simply about an extramarital relationship and lying about it.

    To the members of this committee, to the members of this House; before we act, remember this is not simply about President Clinton. It's not about the opportunity of the moment to tarnish a president who has frustrated you and maddened you. It's about the careful balance, designed by the Founding Fathers, that has served our country well for over 200 years. Don't upset it without the most careful deliberation and the strongest of reasons. We may never be able to put the genie back in the bottle. God-willing, please let history, justice, wisdom be your guide.

    REP. SENSENBRENNER: The gentleman's time has expired.

    The gentleman from North Carolina, Mr. Coble.


    Copyright © 1998 by Federal News Service, Inc. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold or retransmitted without the written authority of Federal News Service, Inc. Copyright is not claimed as to any part of the original work prepared by a United States government officer or employee as a part of that person's original duties. Transcripts of other events may be found at the Federal News Service Web site, located at

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