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 TIME on politics Congressional Quarterly CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and Congressional Quarterly
Investigating The President

Transcript: Hyde, Conyers statements to the House Rules Committee

September 10, 1998

REP. HENRY HYDE: I have a prepared statement that I would like to deliver, at least a part of it, but before...

REP. GERALD SOLOMON: Without objection the entire statement will appear in the record.

HYDE: Thank you, sir. Before I do that though I would like to cut to the chase on the one issue that seems to be in contention. Let me say Mr. Conyers and I not only are working in a bipartisan, nonpartisan way, but we're working with colleagiality. We both understand the solemnity, the gravity, the seriousness of this endeavor, this mountain climb that we're beginning and we understand if we do it well the House of Representatives will be enriched and strengthened and our country will be proud of this institution.

If we don't do it well, if we fall into partisan bickering we will disgrace this institution and we're not about to do that, God willing. So, Mr. Conyers and I are getting along very well and we're going to make every effort to continue to do that.

Now, as to the one issue that there is some concern about. We are guided by the letter sent to the Speaker and Mr. Gephardt by the independent counsel dated September 9th. One of the lines in the letter says "many of the supporting material contain information of a personal nature that I respectfully urge the House to treat as confidential."

Now the package sent over from the independent counsel consists of -- it's a referral. One three ring binder of 445 pages consisting of an introduction, 25 pages; a narrative, 280 pages; and a statement of grounds or charges, 140 pages. That is the document that we propose upon adoption of this resolution to disseminate to the public and to the world.

Also sent over were appendices. Those are six 3-ring binders of 2600 pages; contains information on the Paula Jones' case, telephone logs, and other material. We are informed that that is part of what the independent counsel was referring to as matters of a personal nature that he respectfully urged us to treat as confidential.

In addition, there is another element called, "everything else." That consists of grand jury transcripts, audio tapes, and videotapes. So, the appendices and everything else requires some sensitivity in dealing with.

Now, Mr. Conyers and I are mindful that people's reputations are at risk here. We think it appropriate and decent that we go through the material included in the appendices and everything else, to winnow out irrelevancies, material that does not relate to the core issue, and will unduly damage innocent people.

We have no idea of the bulk, the complexity, any of that. But it is our proposal and it is the proposal of this resolution to immediately get out to the public the introduction, the narrative and the statement of the grounds -- that's 445 pages -- and then give us some time. You have generously given us two weeks to review this other material. The bias is to release it all. The urge is to release it all. But mindful of people's reputations, we pray for the flexibility to give us time to review it, inventory it and winnow out matters that we think are more harmful than helpful.

We would like the trust of the body to trust Mr. Conyers and myself and our staffs to do the right thing. We are not withholding anything from anybody that goes to the grand issue, the macro issue here. But we're trying to do it in a decent, responsible way.

Now, how is that going -- how is that review propose to take place? Mr. Conyers and I thought, and still think, that it would be more expeditious if he and I had that responsibility and were permitted to designated some of our staff who, by dividing the labor, can do this fairly quickly, make the inventory and make recommendations to us. We, then, report back to you folks, and tell you what we've found and what we propose to do, again, with our bias, not only a bias but our directive under this rule, to disseminate everything to the people.

But try to protect innocent people. Now there is a controversy. Other members of the committee want to do that too. They want access to this. It is very hard for Mr. Conyers and I to tell a member of the Judiciary Committee, we're going to look at it, and you can't. I understand that. But, it is an effort of practicality to try and limit the circle of people so that the privacy may be preserved. I can live with either system. But, I do prefer and Mr. Conyers and I both agree, to limit access to these things inasmuch as we're mandated to deliver them anyway. We will deliver them to the people, but we want to try and protect innocent reputations.

Now, whether -- if that is the will of this committee, if that's the will of the House fine. If it is not, and you want the whole committee to do that, that's OK too. I can live with that, but I just want to go on record as saying that Mr. Conyers and I prefer to have a small limited group do this quick inventory and with or without.

Now, that said, if you will indulge me, I do have a few things to say, and I'll try to be brief. I may not be brief, but I'll be quick.

SOLOMON: Take as much time as you want.

HYDE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, as we all know, this meeting begins a process of immense consequence, a process that our Constitution thrusts on the House of Representatives. The solemn duty confronting us requires that we attain a heroic level of bipartisanship. And we conduct our deliberations in full, fair and impartial manner.

This may prove to be a lofty challenge, but I believe the gravity of our responsibilities will overwhelm the petty partisanship that infects us all. Because of that requirement, let me say I intend to work closely and have been working closely with my Democratic colleagues on the committee, in particular the ranking member, Mr. Conyers. I want to commend everyone for pursuing this matter in such a professional and nonpartisan manner.

And I want to mention Mr. Gephardt. We have had two meetings with him. He has been conciliatory and helpful, as has the speaker. And I think one good aspect of this otherwise dreary prospect has been the understanding of the need for us to work together. And so far, so good.

The American people deserve a competent, independent, and bipartisan review of the independent counsel's referral. They've got to have confidence. We must be credible.

Politics should be checked at the door, party affiliation secondary and America's future must become our only concern.

I won't condone nor participate in a political witch hunt. If the evidence does not justify a full impeachment investigation, I won't recommend one to the House.

However, if the evidence does justify an inquiry, I will unhesitatingly recommend a fuller inquiry.

But in exercising this responsibility, the committee -- our committee -- will not take at face value the assertions or conclusion of any particular party.

It is not the responsibility of the independent counsel under the statute to declare this impeachable or that impeachable, it's to report to us activities, actions, elements that may be impeachable and we will make that decision. We understand that.

We will undertake a full, fair, independent review of the evidence and we will arrive at our own conclusions. In any impeachment proceeding, the House does not determine the guilt or innocence of the subject. We function like a grand jury -- we determine there is sufficient evidence to charge and executive branch officer with high crimes and misdemeanors.

Thus, the Senate must try that official on those charges.

We haven't reached that point, and no one should jump to conclusions nor assume the worst. At this stage, we don't know what information the independent counsel has sent to the House. But given the gravity of this situation, we must act now. The Rules Committee must lead. And I certainly appreciate your willingness to address this task expeditiously.

Our first challenge is to ensure that the American people are given what is rightly there's: information, if any there is, that may constitute grounds for impeachment of their duly elected president, while ensuring that the House's constitutional duty to conduct a full, fair and independent review is not jeopardized.

Mr. Chairman, I agree with the considered judgment of Speaker Gingrich and Minority Leader Gephardt that the full House should authorize the immediate release to the public of the introduction, the narrative and the statement or rationale of the grounds.

This initial release, insofar as practicable, would not include raw evidential material that might contain information about individuals unrelated to this investigation.

The resolution should grant to the Committee on the Judiciary the authority to release this latter material, if release is warranted, after the committee has had a chance to review this material. Because of the material, the resolution should contain a presumption of release and a date certain for the Judiciary Committee to report its findings and plans for ultimate release.

This referral belongs to the American people. They have a right to know its contents. They have patiently waited as rumors and speculation have substituted for fact and information.

It's time we move this process ahead in the public release of the referral will further this goal. Mr. Chairman, we're not yet beginning a full impeachment inquiry, but I want to take a moment to address the issue of impeachment.

Constitutional scholars disagree as to what an impeachable offense is, but there are some principles we should keep in mind. Now Peter Redino (ph) when he was Chairman of the Judiciary Committee during the Nixon years and Mr. Conyers was privileged to serve on that Committee -- another great argument against term limits, I might say parenthetically -- had a review of the Constitutional impeachment authority and had a very good staff of lawyers do a fine review of it and I have attached that as an appendix to my statement, so I won't read it now.

SOLOMON: Without objection, that will appear in the record as well.

HYDE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. A word, if I may, in conclusion about the significance of the oath each of us swore to uphold when we became members of Congress. We raised our right arms and said I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

That I will bear true, faith, and allegiance to the same that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I'm about to enter, so help me God.

Traditionally, an oath means a solemn calling on God to witness the truth of what you're saying. We all know well the story of Sir Thomas Moore who was beheaded in the Tower of London for refusing to take the oath of supremacy that acknowledged Henry the Eight as head of the church of England.

In the great drama of his life, a man for all seasons, Sir Thomas tells his daughter, "when you take an oath, you hold your soul in your hands and if you break that oath, you open up your fingers and your soul runs through them and is lost." I believe with all my heart that each of us took that oath of office seriously.

That we will so conduct ourselves that when this ordeal is over, we will have vindicated the rule of law and brought credit to this institution in which we are so privileged to serve. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

SOLOMON: Well thank you, Mr. Hyde for those eloquent remarks. And now we will go to the other equally distinguished member of the Judiciary Committee, John Conyers and John you may take whatever time you want, your entire statement will appear in the record without objection.

REP. JOHN CONYERS: Thank you, Chairman Solomon and members of the Committee. I want to thank Henry Hyde, the Chairman of Judiciary for along with the speaker, at our meeting of 24 hours ago -- it seems like a lot longer than that now, in which I was very pleased to hear the speaker make a couple of observations that bear repeating here.

He said that, "I will take stringent action against any member who speaks in an unseemly fashion against the President of the Unites States off or on the floor."

He didn't say that for the benefit of democrats or the public. I think he said it because he believed that this should be the kind of environment in which the materials of the independent counsel be brought to us.

He also pledged that he realized the value of bipartisanship and that without it, any politicalization of these hearings squander the great mandate that we have in the Congress, all of us.

And so we meet here this evening for the very first test of the Fairness Doctrine that all of us in that meeting yesterday morning in the Speaker's office pledged ourselves to. And so I want to ask you all to concern yourself with me as to whether we're going to meet the fairness test or not.

Now, there is an initial question that I cannot leave this hearing without putting forward. And that is the very simple fact that the House of Representatives is not the U.S. Postal Service. We are not a delivery system for Kenneth W. Starr. We cannot, we ought not, we should not release anything to anybody unless we know what it is we are releasing. This cannot be an, "oops, I'm sorry, we didn't know."

And so inadvertently in our discussion we have now sanctified the first 445 pages that we are now going to release to the planet Earth.

And nobody here has any idea of what is contained.

We do know that there are prosecutorial comments, that there are allegations, that there are assertions. Obviously, we haven't been five years and waiting for a report that would not contain these kinds of assertions.

But as to their validity and accuracy, Mr. Chairman and members, nobody knows. Nobody.

We don't know. And so I would hope that there may be sympathy within this hearing today to recognize that for us to dump the first 445 pages and then tell everybody about how carefully we're going to scrutinize the other several thousand pages does not comport to the lofty goals that we should, in my view.

Now there is one other small detail -- and it's probably semantical -- but this is not the beginning of an impeachment inquiry. The chairman, very accurately, made that clear.

For those of you who think we are going into an impeachment inquiry, there are several possibilities. One of them -- as you may be profoundly disappointed or relieved that nothing like that ever happens because every word, every sentence, every assertion, every allegation in all of the thousands of pages, the 17 boxes included, are going to be carefully reviewed and scrutinized.

Now, there is as likely as any other scenario a possibility that there isn't anything that comes within 500 miles of an article of impeachment in any of this material. Maybe. We don't know.

And so what the independent counsel has done is his duty under the law that was written in the Judiciary Committee, that he deliver these materials -- whatever they may say, whatever views he may have. And that is his duty and privilege to send them to us.

It does not indicate that we go from there.

As a matter of fact, there has to be a vote in the Judiciary Committee after we inquire into this whether we hold executive sessions or whatever methods yet to be determined that we resort to, how we will come to a conclusion of what it is we're to do. And so, I think it's very important that that be understood.

Now, I refer to the dean of House of Representatives in a very personal way. I have known John Dingell and his family long before I came to Congress. And I agree that we should make, as he does, that we should make all the materials available as immediately as possible. I do not share the view that we should not look at anything, because Kenneth W. Starr, a person with whom I have had from the floor of the House, many discussions. I've never had the pleasure of meeting him. And it may not be unlikely that we may have to meet him before these proceedings are through.

But, he said two things in his transmittal letter. One, this is not a report. This is a referral. And he said this referral contains confidential material and material protected from disclosure by Rule 6(e) of the Rules of Federal Criminal Procedure. He additionally said that many of the supporting materials contain information of a personal nature that I respectfully urge the House to treat as confidential.

Ladies and gentleman, what he has told us is that we have to review everything to make sure that we observe the conditions that he has set when he sent the letter of transmittal. That's not my theory, that's his statement. And I think that if there's any way we can review the fact of getting out the 445 pages, every member in every one of the 270 million people in America have waited into the fifth year for this report.

Now, can somebody explain to me what danger will befall a member of Congress if we adhere to what the independent counsel himself has told us to do that we review the 445 pages?

We're not looking to excise anything. We could look at those in less than a 24 hour day period and hopefully there's nothing objectionable. I'm not looking for reasons to delete or excise. But I have the same concerns that have been so skillfully and eloquently articulated by Chairman Henry Hyde.

And so I'm urging that we do two things. That we consider the agreements that we have made already between the speaker and the minority leader and the chairman and the ranking member. That we appreciate that as this rule is written we are not comporting to the agreements that have already been entered into. I'm sorry, I wish I could say it in some other way.

This -- if we start off with a broken promise I can tell you quite frankly what I fear. I would like the first vote that we have on this subject to be as bipartisan as possible. That is my hope. I want to support the rule. I want it to be on record.

If we decide that the president of the United States is not to receive the 10 Day Rule to find out what's going on before everyone, that he doesn't even get the 2 Day Rule and now we've had them asking for a one hour rule.

They -- I mean what are we here for. I urge my colleagues with the greatest sincerity that I have -- as equal to the statements that you have all made about your recognition of the gravity of this matter. But to tell the president of the United States that he can find out what the charges on the Internet seems to me to forget the -- I don't call it generosity that was given to the speaker of the House before the Ethics Committee in which he got seven days to respond. We give this to everybody as a matter of courtesy.

I can't tell my constituents that want to know what happened that the president doesn't need to know.

He can read it the same time you read it. I think this -- I think this is a breach of fairness. And I would hope that you would consider it in the spirit in which I'm sharing it with you.

The fact of the matter is that fundamental fairness is the guide to what we're going to be doing here.

Now, fairness isn't something that is just good and moral and decent. Fairness also leads to a wider understanding of the issues that are before us. After all, we're going to hear the other side, and they are entitled to hear the other side. And so I think that this problem can be resolved. I hope that it is resolved so that -- that the members here that have been proud to indicate this as an example of the system working will help us lead to the fairness that will make the system work.

Because if the first vote is not bipartisan, I think it sends a signal that is not what we desire. It doesn't say that we were -- or I don't predict dire consequences. But I think that the history of the beginning of this, Chairman Solomon -- and you've served here for a couple decades -- this is a historic moment for those members who may not be serving any longer.

And I'd like to -- I'd like to say as many good things about you and your career as you've benefited us with your kindness and your confidence as we appeared here today.

And I thank you for the time very much.


Thursday September 10, 1998

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