Tuesday, December 15, 1998
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee, answered questions live today from her California district. Lofgren, who represents portions of Silicon Valley, voted against all four articles of impeachment and in favor of the censure resolution. The transcript follows.
Williamsburg, Mo.: I am a member on the armed forces and subject to the U.S. Code of Military Justice. If I was in the situation that Clinton has put himself into, the military would have booted me out in a heart beat. Why do you think that he feels that he as Commander in Chief is above the law that all members of the military is sworn to uphold?
Rep. Lofgren: I have no idea what the president feels or believes, but the issue for the Congress is whether we are going to uphold the Constitution as it requires. The impeachment may occur only if the president is guilty of treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors. What does this mean? Ben Franklin said that impeachment was a civilized alternative to assassination. The founding fathers' discussion was that impeachment could be used only when a president's conduct threatened to destroy the entire constitutional system of government.
Madison, Wis.: Isn't there a third test for impeachment? Even if the President has engaged in conduct which would be generally considered a high crime and misdemeanor, shouldn't Congress then have to consider carefully if there are not important pragmatic reasons not to impeach?
Rep. Lofgren: In this case, it's abundantly clear that none of the three reasons for impeachment is present, however, you're right; impeachment, even if there were grounds, is always discretionary. Virtually all of the scholars consulted by the committee agreed on that point.
Washington, D.C.: As a female, how can you not call for the head of this man who has clearly taken advantage of women who work for him?
Rep. Lofgren: My obligation as a member of the House of Representatives is to uphold the Constitution of the United States, and not to substitute my feelings of outrage to my duty to the Constitution.
Cincinnati, Ohio: As a member of the House Ethics Committee, what would be your stand on punishment for President Clinton were he a representative instead of president? Do you see the presidency as a position that needs protection from the legislative branch? Would you consider having a committee of White House Cabinet members on an executive branch ethics committee decide punishment for the president for future crimes he might commit?
Rep. Lofgren: The Ethics Committee review of members of the House has an entirely different standard than the impeachment clause of the Constitution. But for starters, on the Ethics Committee we would have obtained evidence.
Alexandria, Va.: On the subject of public opinion and polls: Isn't attention to popular opinion of how to handle the impeachment process like a heart surgeon taking advice from his patient on how to best conduct the surgery? You and your counterparts are the experts on matters political and constitutional. Why would any members of Congress attend to the emotional whims of a generally uninformed public?
Rep. Lofgren: First, the American public usually gets it right. Second, when the issue is overturning the government that the American people elected, there is a need for the country to be on the same page, or else you end up with the kind of comments I've been getting in San Jose, in grocery stores and on the street, where people tell me they think this is a Republican coup d'etat.
McLean, Va.: There is a huge amount of attention given to "moderate" Republicans as a vote draws near. Is there such a thing as a moderate Democrat who will accept his constitutional duty and ignore partisanship, i.e. objectively consider that voting for impeachment might be the RIGHT thing?
Rep. Lofgren: I have, every day, challenged myself to try and find out whether I was falling into the trap of party, and based on now nearly two years of research on the laws of impeachment, it's clear to me that I have not. The real issue would have been had the president engaged in a conspiracy to subvert constitutional government, would we be willing to impeach? I'd like to think and do believe that if such were the case, that I would and so would every other House member who loves his or her country.
Lancaster, Calif.: What in your opinion do you think will happen to the Republican Party in the year 2000 for ignoring the people who put them in office and continuing this mess?
Rep. Lofgren: I don't know. I heard from one right-wing Republican that their theory is that the American voters have a very short memory, that by the time the 2000 elections occur, this will be forgotten and they will not pay a political price. There are others who I am encouraging to vote, and reminding them that violence is not a suitable answer. So in the end, it's all of you who will decide it.
Morgan Hill, Calif.: Your local newspaper made a big deal out of your questions to Judge Starr. They characterized them as the "mystery questions." Why did you refuse to clarify your questions to Judge Starr? Were you actually asking him about the Gennifer Flowers/Bill Clinton tapes, but hoping he assumed you were talking about the Tripp/Lewinsky tapes?
Rep. Lofgren: I was not asking him about the Flowers tapes. I did have some information, received from a responsible source, to whom I had pledged confidentiality. I did receive some very complicated answers on late Friday night, which I've not actually had time to review very thoughtfully, but I plan to.
Houston, Tex.: The well-established definition of perjury is giving false testimony concerning a material matter with the willful intent to provide false testimony, rather than as a result of confusion, mistake, or faulty memory. Did the Judiciary Committee hear testimony regarding whether President Clinton's lies were material to the claims against him in the Jones case? If not, why?
Rep. Lofgren: We didn't hear any testimony on anything from actual witnesses. However, in addition to materiality and intent, there's also a requirement for an actual oath, which likely was not present in this case, and actual falsehood in addition to intent.
Urbana, Ill.: As a person who favors censure of the president, I have little reason to believe that the majority of Republicans in the House are voting their consciences; rather, they are voting by party lines. What can we as Americans do to help our president with this tragic, politically motivated ordeal? Also, what is your opinion on what the president should do to alleviate this impeachment problem (i.e. should he address the full House on this matter before the impeachment vote this Friday, resign, or fight the battle until the end)?
Rep. Lofgren: The answer to the first question is vote. Organize others to vote and don't forget what matters to you.
Millwood, Va.: I note that "Impeach Clinton" bumper stickers were displayed here in Virginia shortly after Clinton's first election. Do you think his enemies (Republicans) have been looking for a chance to do him in and are now acting in revenge against him with their high crime claim?
Rep. Lofgren: Yes.
Austin, Tex.: How can you reconcile the fact that the chief law enforcement officer of the United States has plainly lied to not simply misled the American people and a grand jury, but yet should not suffer the constitutional measures and judicial consequences?
Rep. Lofgren: The judicial consequences will be sorted out after his term is finished. As to the constitutional consequences, we should stick to the Constitution, unless we plan to amend the sections dealing with impeachment.
San Jose, Calif.: So what's your take on the vote in the House this week? Will the full House impeach? I know what the polls of Senators are saying, but what are Mr. Clinton's chances there?
Rep. Lofgren: I don't know. My best guess at this moment is that he is likely to be impeached. I cannot imagine how he would be convicted by the Senate.
Los Angeles, Calif.: I think you are very principled. Keep the faith!
What do you think of Dole's proposal?
Rep. Lofgren: Thank you for that nice comment.
New Milford, Pa.: With this lame duck Congress coming to a close, I find it unconscionable that they should vote on impeachment rather than the incoming Congress. Doesn't our legislative tradition over the last 50 years mandate that such actions be taken by the newly elected Congress?
Rep. Lofgren: Yes. That point was made by some of the experts who testified, but ignored by the Republican majority.
Rep. Lofgren: Amazingly enough, while this craziness has been going on in the House of Representatives, the president reached a Mideast peace agreement, settled the Northern Ireland troubles and managed to cope with the economic freefall in Asia. As I mentioned in a prior answer, I think presidents should not resign because extremists are trying to force them out of office. It's very different than the Nixon situation.
Bethesda, Md.: I understand the articles of impeachment bar the president from holding any future federal position. Is that within the impeachment power of the Congress?
Rep. Lofgren: It's not clear that it's within the power of the House to specify the punishment, though you're right, the articles do provide for that. The Constitution provides that a president who is convicted must be removed from office, may be barred from future office, but no other punishment is permitted. However, after removal, the president is subject to regular judicial proceedings (low crimes) in regular courts.
College Park, Md.: Whether or not you agree with impeachment, do you think the president should resign if he is impeached? Wouldn't Al Gore be able to do a better job of presiding, since he wouldn't have all these distractions surrounding him?
Rep. Lofgren: No, he shouldn't resign, because it would encourage extremists in the future to go after presidents for reasons that don't meet the constitutional standards so that they could oust a political enemy even without cause that met constitutional muster. I expect Al Gore to run for president. He'll probably win, but this isn't about just Gore and Clinton. It's about the voters and the presidency, and undoing the decision the voters made. That's not a decision that Congress is permitted to make unless the president's conduct is so destructive of the constitutional system of government that the country won't survive until the next election. That's not what's happening here.
That was the last question for Rep. Lofgren. Thank you very much for joining us, congresswoman. Please tune in to further discussion of impeachment with tomorrow's guests, Jesse Jackson, conservative columnist Arianna Huffington and Clinton minister J. Philip Wogaman.
Thanks for having me. I did research on impeachment for the first time in 1974 when I worked for Don Edwards, a member of the House Judiciary Committee at the time. So this is the second time, and it does come out to about two years of research on this issue.
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