THE IMPEACHMENT HEARINGS
Dec. 10 Opening Statements: Robert (Bobby) Scott (D-Va.)
By Federal News Service
REP. BOBBY SCOTT (D-VA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, as a member of the Virginia congressional delegation, I take great pride in the contributions of those from the commonwealth who have -- the contributions those from the commonwealth have made to ensure the viability of our constitutional form of government. Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Mason and others were Virginians who led the development of our constitutional form of government, and endeavored to protect and defend it.
In that great tradition, a former member of this committee, fellow Virginian Caldwell Butler, is someone I hold in very high regard. As a Republican, Mr. Butler faced the daunting prospect in 1974 of voting to impeach a president of his own party. After a fair process, he faced -- he was looking at overwhelming evidence of the president's guilt and had the courage under those circumstances to vote to impeach the president of his own party.
Unfortunately, Mr. Chairman, this party has neglected its sobering constitutional responsibilities and is engaged in an unprecedented, substantive and procedural abuse of Congress' impeachment powers.
Since the beginning, a number of colleagues and I have called for a fair, expeditious and focused process. Such a process would have first specified the allegations. It would have then established a standard for determining which, if any, of those allegations constituted an impeachable offense.
If any of the offenses were alleged which might constitute an impeachable offense, the process would then have determined, with a presumption of innocence, whether those allegations were true by using cross-examination of witnesses and other traditionally reliable evidentiary procedures. If any such impeachable allegations were determined to be true, then we would judge whether they had the substantiality to justify the removal of the president from office.
We did not proceed in such a logical, constitutionally reverent process. Instead, we dumped mountains of salacious, un-cross-examined and otherwise untested materials onto the Internet, then started sorting through boxes of documents to selectively find support for a foregone conclusion.
Our first step in a logical process should have been to look to determine whether or not, even if true, some of those allegations might constitute impeachable offenses. This committee has completely gutted our impeachment precedents.
We have been warned repeatedly that these allegations are nowhere near what is necessary to overturn a national election and to impeach a president. Despite these cautionary flags, this committee has turned a deaf ear to hundreds of years of precedent and to the Constitution that has kept this country strong and unified.
Mr. Chairman, we did have a hearing at which we considered the constitutional standard for impeachment. At that hearing, scholars told us that there is no constitutional authority to impeach a president simply because we dislike him or because we disapprove of his actions when those actions do not constitute treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. In fact, by proceeding with an inquiry based on allegations that do not meet that high standard, we have done irreparable harm to our system of government by establishing a dangerous and partisan impeachment-at-will precedent that will forever weaken the institution of the presidency.
The presidency was intended to be free from subversion by the legislature. Three separate and co-equal branches were envisioned by the drafters of our Constitution. And it is this reason that impeachment is limited to the constitutionally explicit treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. Impeachment was to be a mechanism to protect us against conduct as described by Professor Ackerman yesterday that constitutes a threat to the very foundation of the republic.
We know from the Nixon impeachment proceedings that it does not cover half-million-dollar income tax fraud. In fact, at our hearing we heard that all of the scholars agreed on one panel -- ten of them -- that "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors" does not cover all felonies. And so it was not intended to be a crafty way for Congress to be able to remove a president based on a standard of no confidence.
Furthermore, Mr. Chairman, at the hearing, when I posed the question of whether any of the witnesses on the hearing's second panel believed that the count involving invoking executive privilege should be considered an impeachable offense, the clear consensus on the panel was that the charge was not an impeachable offense. In fact, one Republican witness said, "I do not think invoking executive privilege, even if frivolously -- and I believe it was frivolous in these circumstances. But that does not constitute an impeachable offense."
In addition, scholars have refuted attempts by impeachment supporters to argue that the last three impeachments support lowering the impeachment standard to impeach President Clinton for, quote, "perjury", despite the fact that all of these impeachments involve judges and the effects that their actions is alleged to have had on their offices and the fact that two of the judges were actually in prison during their impeachment trials. Impeachment cases of Judge Clayburn (sp) and Judge Nixon were referred to several times as representing private conduct.
However, both of those were tried, convicted and were imprisoned for crimes when evidence was that Judge Clyburn (sp) had lied on his income tax return but not including funds received from bribes, and Judge Nixon for lying about contacting a prosecutor to influence a drug case of a business associate.
Mr. Chairman, if we are to impeach the president, it should be at the end of a fair process. But these decisions we have made in the last few weeks have been made on a strictly partisan basis. Campaign finance reform was put into play by the committee on a party-line basis, but news reports indicate that it was taken off the table by a strictly partisan phone conference without any discussion with Democratic members. Likewise, there was no involvement of Democrats in either the issuance or deadlines set in the 81 questions posed to the president. Neither has there been any discussion as to standard of proof to be applied, and no discussion about the apparent presumption that un-cross-examined testimony from witnesses questioned by one side would be sufficient to require the president to prove his innocence. Instead, without any process for determining which, if any, of the allegations, even if true, would be impeachable, we have wandered blindly through an inquiry without any specific allegations or scope.
The accused should have at least some reasonable notice of the charges against him. Mr. Starr started out with 11 allegations and came back with 10. Republican counsel said 15. Mr. Hyde a couple of days after that said we should have two or three, but didn't say what they should be. Some Republican members, including the chairman, essentially dropped one count or another because they did not seem to be significant. Others have been adding charges this very week.
Mr. Chairman, we finally have what are supposed to be the definitive allegations, the articles of impeachment, but they were not available to the president's counsel yesterday when he was asked to respond to the charges, and we had the spectacle this morning of watching the Democratic counsel try to defend the allegations without knowing the specifics behind the articles of impeachment.
Mr. Chairman, at the end of a fair, democratic process, the president might very well have been impeached by a bipartisan vote of this committee if substantial actual evidence had been considered. But instead of following a reasoned approach, we have subjected the committee to ridicule and scorn. And so here we are, on the verge of impeaching a United States president, overturning a national election, plunging our nation into constitutional crisis, in contradiction of everything the Founding Fathers labored to avoid, on a totally partisan basis.
And so, Mr. Chairman, I do not have the heartwrenching decision that former Congressman Caldwell Butler faced and found himself at the end of a fair process facing overwhelming actual evidence of guilt of the president and actual offenses which were clearly impeachable. I find myself facing allegations which most scholars agree would not be impeachable even if they were true, and allegations which are presented to us by way of contradictory, uncross-examined hearsay and dubious inferences. Under these circumstances, it is totally inappropriate to vote to remove the president from office.
I yield back the balance of my time.
REP. HYDE: Mr. Inglis, the gentleman from South Carolina.
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