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Dec. 10 Opening Statements: Lamar Smith (R-Texas)

  • More Transcripts From the Hearings

  • By Federal News Service
    Thursday, December 10, 1998

    REP. LAMAR SMITH (R-TX): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

    First, I want to acknowledge the thoughtful statement made by the gentleman from California who just spoke.

    Mr. Chairman, our Constitution tells us the president, vice president and all civil officers of the United States shall be removed from office on impeachment for and conviction of treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors. To impeach, which lies only within the power of the House, means to accuse or charge with a crime. Only the Senate can actually convict and remove from office.

    As a distinguished Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee said during the Nixon impeachment proceeding, "It is wrong, I suggest, it is a misreading of the Constitution for any member here to assert that for a member to vote for an article of impeachment means that that member must be convinced that the president should be removed from office. The Constitution doesn't say that. The powers relating to impeachment are an essential check in the hands of this body, the legislature, against and upon the encroachment of the executive. In establishing the division between the two branches of the legislature -- the House and the Senate -- assigning to the one the right to accuse and to the other the right to judge, the framers of this Constitution were very astute. They did not make the accusers and the judges the same person." End quote

    After consideration of all the evidence presented, I am convinced it is sufficient for the House to charge the president with several wrongful actions.

    I feel the evidence shows that the president committed perjury by lying under oath, obstructed justice, and abused the power of his office.

    Both historical precedent and current practice support the conclusion that perjury is a high crime and misdemeanor. The Constitution applies that same phrase both to the president and to all civil officers of the United States. Several federal judges have been impeached and removed from office for perjury; that is why the president can be too. Also, bribery and perjury are equivalent means of interfering with the justice system. The Federal Sentencing Guidelines include bribery and perjury in the same guideline.

    Some of the president's defenders would like to change the subject and talk about anybody else but the president, and about anything else except the allegations of lying under oath, obstruction of justice, and abuse of office. Such efforts are an affront to all who value truth over tactics, substance over spin, principles over politics.

    Judiciary Committee members will be consistent if they follow the precedent established in 1974. Individuals from both parties agreed with a Democratic congresswoman from Texas when she said, "The president engaged in a series of public statements and actions designed to thwart the lawful investigation by government prosecutors. Moreover, the president has made public announcements and assertions which the evidence will show he knew to be false. These assertions," she said, "are impeachable."

    By any common-sense measure, the president did not tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, as his oath required, when he testified before a judge and then before a grand jury, as several Democrats on this committee now admit. We should not underestimate the gravity of the case against the president. When he put his hand on the Bible and recited his oath of office, he swore to faithfully uphold the laws of the United States -- not some laws, all laws.

    As committee witnesses have testified, many people have gone to jail for doing what the president did -- lying or knowingly making false statements after swearing in court not to do so. However, others have not been punished for failing to tell the truth. So if the president were just an ordinary person living in the United States, it is not certain that he would be found to have committed a crime. What then, makes this a case that rises to the impeachment level?

    I think there are two factors: the repeated and deliberate nature of the lies, and the uniqueness of the office of the presidency.

    It was determined by the independent counsel that, quote, "On at least six different occasions from December 17th, 1997 through August 17th, 1998 the president had to make a decision. He could choose truth, or he could choose deception. On all six occasions the president chose deception, a pattern of calculated behavior over a span of months."

    During this time not only did the president tell a judge and then a grand jury less than the truth, he also told lies to the American people, the news media, members of Congress, his cabinet, and senior White House advisers. One of his own former advisers commented, "President Clinton turned his personal flaws into a public matter when he made the whole country complicit in his cover story. This was no impulsive act of passion. It was a coldly calculated political decision. He spoke publicly from the Roosevelt Room. He assembled his cabinet and staff and assured them that he was telling the truth. Then he sat back, silently, and watched his official spokespeople, employees of the U.S. government, mislead the country again and again and again," end quote.

    The president himself, when he was a law professor in Arkansas, defined an impeachable offense this way: "I think that the definition should include any criminal acts, plus a willful failure of the president to fulfill his duty to uphold and execute the laws of the United States. Another factor that I think constitutes an impeachable offense would be willful reckless behavior in office."

    The president consciously and persistently made an effort to deceive, give misleading answers, and tell lies. He made statements and engaged in actions designed to impede the investigation of the independent counsel. We already know the president still might be deceiving us today were it not for physical evidence that forced him to change his story.

    As to the uniqueness of the office the president holds, he is a person in a position of immense authority and influence. He influences the lives of millions of Americans. He sets an example for us all. A sixth-grader from Chisholm (sp) Middle School in Round Rock, Texas recently wrote me. She said, bluntly, "He has lied to the American people.

    And although I realize what he lied about has nothing to do with him running the country, then what else would he lie about? He let us down. Kids that think he is a role model now are heartbroken."

    The president sets an example for adults, too. When he took the oath of office, he swore to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. The president has rightly been called the number-one law enforcement officer of the country. As such, he has a special responsibility to take care that he not commit any crime, particularly such a serious one as perjury, a felony for which a person can go to jail for up to five years.

    When someone is elected president, they receive the greatest gift possible from the American people, their trust. To violate that trust is to raise questions about fitness for office. My constituents often remind me that if anyone else in a position of authority -- for example, a business executive, a military officer of a professional educator -- had acted as the evidence indicates the president did, their career would be over. The rules under which President Nixon would have been tried for impeachment had he not resigned contain this statement: "The office of the president is such that it calls for a higher level of conduct than the average citizen in the United States."

    The president has a higher responsibility for another reason. The Arkansas rules of conduct for attorneys state that lawyers holding public office assume legal responsibility going beyond that of other citizens because they know how important the rule of law is to a stable and civilized society. And the president doesn't hold just any public office, he holds the most powerful one in the world.

    For these two reasons, the president's premeditated and repeated efforts while under oath to tell less than the truth, and the special responsibility that comes with holding the highest office in our country, that I feel the president's actions have reached the level of impeachable offenses.

    I have been surprised by the assertion of the president's defenders that we should not impeach him for his actions because it would set a precedent.

    Mr. Chairman, I notice that I'm out of time, but I've never asked for unanimous consent for additional time before, and if I could, I'd like to have another minute, perhaps to offset the compliment I issued to the gentleman from California.

    REP. SENSENBRUNNER: Well, reluctantly, without objection, the gentlemen is given another minute.

    REP. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. If our actions send a message that future presidents should not lie under oath; should tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, as President Clinton swore to do when giving testimony before a judge and then a grand jury; that future presidents should uphold the law as President Clinton swore to do when he took the oath of office as president; that future presidents should not obstruct justice, as President Clinton did for seven months as he admittedly deceived the American people and those associated with the investigation; if these are the precedents Congress sets, if these are the standards future presidents then live by, we'd need not fear our actions.

    This will not be an easy task. In fact, it is a difficult ordeal for all Americans, but we will get through it. We are a great nation and a strong people. Our country will endure because our Constitution works and has worked for over 200 years. As much as one might wish to avoid this process, we must resist the temptation to close our eyes and pass by. The president's actions must be evaluated for one simple reason: the truth counts.

    As the process goes forward, some good lessons can be reaffirmed. No one is above the law, actions have consequences, always tell the truth. We the people should insist on these high ideals. That the president has fallen short of the standard doesn't mean we should lower it. If we keep excusing away the president's actions --

    REP. SENSENBRUNNER: The gentleman's time is -- (off mike) -- expired.

    REP. SMITH: -- we as a nation will never climb upwards because there will be no firm rungs.

    REP. WATT: Mr. Chairman, I ask unanimous consent that the -- (off mike) -- to allow the gentleman to complete his statement.

    REP. SENSENBRUNNER: Without objection.

    REP. SMITH: I'm almost finished and I appreciate the indulgence of my colleagues. Now, let me quote another insightful letter from a student in that same sixth grade class. "As everyone knows," it begins, "President Clinton is going through hearings about lying under oath and tampering with the evidence. Perjury, especially in front of a grand jury, is unacceptable. These many months of investigation could have been avoided if President Clinton would have told the truth in the beginning."

    She concludes her letter with words I will use to conclude my remarks, quote, "I know you are being bombarded with letters, each with different opinions, but this is a big issue. Now it is up to you and your fellow congressmen to decide to the best of your ability what should happen next.

    Please take into consideration what I have stated and make a decision that would be the best for America's future."

    That, my colleagues, to me says it all, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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

    The chair would ask the members to please try to time their statements to fit as closely to the ten minutes that were announced by the chair and agreed to by unanimous consent as possible.

    The gentleman from Virginia, Mr. Boucher.


    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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