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Rep. Bobby Scott Questions Starr

  • More Transcripts From the Hearings

  • By Federal News Service
    Thursday, November 19, 1998

    REP. BOBBY SCOTT (D-VA): Mr. Chairman, I have to first note that the witness today -- Mr. Chairman, I first have to note that the witness today is the prosecutor in the case. Most prosecutors begin their presentations in court with an admonition that what they say and what defense counsel says is not evidence -- evidence will be heard from witnesses. As Mr. Conyers has said in his opening remarks, we -- many of us have questions involving prosecutorial misconduct, illegal leaks, conflicts of interest, questions which are relevant to our oversight responsibility of the Justice Department and independent counsel, but irrelevant to the question of shall the president be impeached, which is the issue of today's hearing.

    And so I'd hope we don't have to discuss the unfairness and absurdity of basing an impeachment of the president of the United States on a presentation from the prosecutor and a review of written statements, many of which were not under oath, and none of which were subject to cross-examination. So the fairness of these proceedings continues to be an issue. Fairness was an issue when we didn't give the president an advance copy of the report so his response could appear on the Internet along with the allegations. Fairness was an issue when we voted to begin the inquiry of impeachment before we had had the hearing on what constitutes an impeachable offense. Fairness was an issue when we were denied the opportunity to take depositions so that we could properly prepare for today's hearings -- and you can see how difficult it is to get the -- use the five minutes effectively when you don't know what the answers are. Fairness is an issue when the scope of the inquiry was expanded one night before the evidentiary hearing. So fairness has always been an issue.

    Mr. Chairman, I do want to thank you and Mr. Canaday for finally convening a hearing on the history and background of impeachment, so at least we now have a framework in which to review the allegations before us. That hearing was necessary because we heard from 400 historians and received a letter from 400 constitutional authorities, another letter from 200 constitutional law professors which warned us that not one of Mr. Starr's allegations constituted an impeachable offense.

    We heard discussion today about the rule of law. At the hearing we heard that the Constitution restricts our legal authority to impeach the president to those offenses which constitute treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors. At the hearing we dealt with issues such as the historic difference between the impeachment of judges and impeachment of presidents. We addressed the question of when perjury can constitute an impeachable offense and when it should not constitute an impeachable offense. And we worked to evaluate a standard for impeachment and specifically considered whether commission of a crime, which would violate the presidential oath to faithfully execute the laws, whether that could be an appropriate measure.

    At the hearing, the entire first panel of witnesses, the majority of which were invited by the Republicans, agreed with the phrase -- agreed that the phrase "treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors" does not cover all felonies, and that is that the Constitution does not give Congress the authority to remove a sitting president based on the standard that he committed a crime and therefore failed to faithfully execute the laws.

    Remember, as my colleague from Virginia said, that the president will be subject to criminal prosecution after he leaves office. But they all agreed that we do not have the legal authority to remove the president based on Mr. Starr's suggestion that he failed to faithfully execute the laws. And so the rule of law restrains our impeachment authority to consideration of treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors, and that therefore at the hearings both Democrats and even many Republican witnesses raised serious questions about our constitutional authority to use any or all of the charges as a basis for presidential impeachment.

    Mr. Van Alstyne, a Republican witness, described the allegations as "low crimes and misdemeanors," and further said that the impeachment pursuit of Mr. Clinton "may well not be particularly worthwhile." When I asked the entire second panel about the Starr referral count 11-A, executive privilege, the clear consensus on the panel was that the executive privilege was not an impeachable offense. For example, Mr. Cooper, a Republican witness, said that "I do not think that invoking executive privilege, even frivolously -- and I believe it was frivolous in this circumstance -- but I do not believe that that constitutes an impeachable offense."

    And so some said that none were impeachable offenses, but there was a clear consensus that at least some of the allegations are too flimsy to pursue. This sentiment was reflected by majority counsel's presentation last month, which left out some of the allegations; Mr. Chairman's public suggestion that we should focus on two or three allegations, and several Republican members of this committee --

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

    REP. SCOTT: May I have about 30 additional seconds, Mr. Chairman?

    REP. HYDE: Thirty seconds? Without objection.

    REP. SCOTT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Several Republican members of this committee who have publicly raised questions about some of the allegations. Because of the confusion over which allegations are actually worth pursuing, it is absurd to participate in fact-finding when some allegations may well be dropped even if they're determined to be true.

    That's why I joined the ranking member, Mr. Conyers, in a letter requesting that we call an end to the confusion and determine which, if any, of the allegations before us, even if true, might constitute an impeachable offense. Unfortunately, that request was denied and now we have the situation in which we have an open-ended, never-ending committee in search of high crimes and participating in the spectacle of having the prosecutor serve as our witness.

    Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

    REP. HYDE: Are you awaiting an answer, or are you -- was that rhetorical?

    REP. SCOTT: Rhetorical.

    REP. HYDE: It was rhetorical.

    REP. SCOTT: (Inaudible) -- was rhetorical. (Laughter.)

    REP. HYDE: Do you have anything you need to respond to that, do you feel?

    MR. STARR: No, I think I understood Mr. Scott's presentation.

    REP. HYDE: Very good. It was an interesting lecture. (Laughter.) The gentleman from South Carolina, Mr. Inglis. I wonder if you'd be kind enough to yield to me very briefly.

    REP. INGLIS: Certainly, Mr. Chairman.

    REP. HYDE: Yeah. I just want to sort of respond to what my friend from Virginia said. I don't characterize your office as an independent prosecutor. You're not a prosecutor. You're independent counsel. As a matter of fact, you have just given the president a pass on Filegate, on Travelgate, on all sorts of things; Whitewater. And so, as far as I'm concerned, that's what an independent counsel should do -- find where people are guilty, find where they're not guilty, and announce it. Let the chips fall where they may.

    Insofar as judges, we impeach judges for perjury. We impeached Judge Claiborne. I participated in that all the way through to the Senate floor. We impeached him for perjury. We impeached Judge Nixon for perjury. Now, when you say judges are different, they have a different standard, I direct you to the Constitution that says, "The president, vice president and all civil officers" -- that's judges -- "shall be removed from office on impeachment for and conviction of treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors."

    I can tell you, in the Judge Nixon case and in the Judge Claiborne case, it was perjury. Now, if perjury could get a federal judge off the bench -- and the country can survive with a corrupt judge here and there -- how much more one worries about the one man who is head of the executive department, the whole executive department, commander-in-chief and all of that. So I just think that's a response that I would like to make to the gentleman.

    REP. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman --

    REP. HYDE: And I thank Mr. Inglis for yielding to me.

    REP. SCOTT: Would the gentleman yield for 30 seconds?

    REP. HYDE: Mr. Inglis has the time.

    REP. SCOTT: I would ask unanimous consent that his time be restored after the 30 seconds.

    REP. HYDE: You want 30 seconds? If the gentleman doesn't mind, we'll --

    REP. SCOTT: And I would ask that his full time be restored so he'd have his full five minutes.

    REP. : He never started, anyway.

    REP. SCOTT: Mr. Chairman, I think one of the questions that we dealt with was the circumstances underlying the behavior. For example, some of the allegations -- some of the people that were convicted or impeached for perjury, the perjury was lying about bribes and other serious and grievous abuse of their official powers. So I think I would like to continue the discussion, which I can't do in 30 seconds, but I think that was the reason we had the hearing, to flush out all of those underlying situations.

    REP. HYDE: All right, I thank -- Mr. Inglis, you'll get five minutes. Thank you.

    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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