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Dec. 10 Opening Statements: Melvin Watt (D-N.C.)

  • More Transcripts From the Hearings

  • By Federal News Service
    Thursday, December 10, 1998

    REP. MELVIN WATT (D-NC): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. There is hardly a member of this committee who has spoken up to this point, either Republican or Democrat, who has not said something with which I agree. I want to pay special tribute to Mr. Scott and Mr. Boucher, because I associate myself with substantial parts of their statements.

    But I also want to associate myself with some of the comments that Mr. Gallegly made, because I believe, like Mr. Gallegly asserted, that without the rule of law we have anarchy in this country. When I was in the eighth grade one of my teachers looked at me and said, "You like to talk a lot. You must be going to be a lawyer." And there was no precedent in my family for it; I didn't really know what a lawyer was, but from that very moment I set out saying to myself and others that I wanted to be a lawyer. And later in life I did end up going to law school and I started to understand what the rule of law was all about and why it was necessary. And then I went back after law school and started practicing law and I practiced law for 22 years before I was elected to the Congress of the United States. And there I started to understand even more the importance of the rule of law.

    And I've seen the rule undermined in a number of different ways.

    I've seen it undermined by inequality of resources of people who come into the courtroom. I've seen it undermined by racism and bias and have even been called, by a judge in the court, "nigger." I've seen it undermined by the like of due process. I've seen the rule of law undermined by lying under oath. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it happens regularly in the courts of America, as at least one witness has said before this body.

    But there is not a single way that the rule of law is undermined that is more disparaging and more important than a disregard for the law and the established standards of the law: what does the law say? And that's why I was so outraged by the presentation by the majority counsel today, and I'd like to talk about four of the things that he said that I especially was offended by.

    At the bottom of page 36 and going over to page 37 of the majority counsel's statement, he said, "This is a defining moment, both for the presidency and especially for members of this committee; for the presidency as an institution because if you don't impeach as a consequence of the conduct that I have just portrayed, then no House of Representatives will ever be able to impeach again." He went on to say the bar will be so high that only a convicted felon or a traitor will need to be concerned. My friends, that's what the rule of law says, that you can convict, you can charge, you can impeach a president only when that standard is met.

    He said on page 27 of his written statement, "Whether the offenses of President Clinton are criminally chargeable is of no moment.

    This is not a criminal trial, nor is it a criminal inquiry. It is a fundamental precept that an impeachable offense need not be a criminal act."

    My friends, the Constitution of the United States defines the grounds for impeachment as "bribery, treason, or other high crimes or misdemeanors." What does "other high crimes or misdemeanors" mean if it does not mean a criminal act? What do the words mean? Are we going to disregard that?

    At page 26 of his statement, the majority counsel says, "This is not a trial. It is in the nature of an inquest. Any witness whose testimony is referred to in this proceeding will be subjected to full cross-examination of a -- if a trial results in the Senate. That is the time to test credibility. As it stands, all of the factual witnesses are uncontradicted and amply corroborated." I just absolutely disregard and reject that as the basis on which we should be proceeding.

    Think about what that means for future impeachment proceedings. Anybody who wants to start an impeachment proceeding and gets it into this committee and puts any evidence before us, we don't ever have to test the credibility of it. He couldn't possibly mean that, but that's exactly what he said the standard should be. I can't go along with that standard.

    Finally, on page 36 of the majority counsel's statement, he said these words, which I vigorously agree with: "One of the witnesses that appeared earlier likened the government of the United States to a three-legged stool.

    The analysis is apt because the entire structure of our country rests upon three equal supports: the legislative, the judicial and the executive. Remove one of those supports, and the state will totter. Remove two, and the structure will either collapse altogether or will rest upon a single branch of government. Another name for that is tyranny." He's absolutely right. And where we are today is that we are trying to remove the executive of this country. We are about about to tie up the judiciary and its chief justice in an impeachment trial in the Senate of the United States.

    And so the majority counsel would apparently have the legislative branch be the only standing leg of the stool. I don't believe that's what was intended. I reject that as a notion. And I beg of us not to take that authority and give it to the legislative branch. Let's continue to have a three-legged stool as a part of our government.

    Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

    REP. HYDE: Thank you.

    The gentleman from Virginia, Mr. Goodlatte.


    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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