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Transcript: Democratic Judiciary Committee members on Starr material release

September 18, 1998

REP. JOHN CONYERS: I'm happy to stand here with Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Bill Delahunt because this is not a happy day for constitutional process.

As the only member of Judiciary who has served on the Watergate inquiry, I want to tell you how different it is. And the Constitution has not been served.

In my view, we're dealing with a politicalization of a question which should have been given the full scrutiny of the Judiciary Committee. Now in 1974, we kept the records for seven weeks going over them before there were any releases. This time, we've dumped process and fairness on its head and, instead, we've released material without hardly having an opportunity to take out the offensive parts, the pats that would injure people, the parts that are unfair.

And in all of this process, the president, his lawyers have had no access to any of the 2,600 pages to date. The only thing that I think that we can come to you and say was fair was the fact that we agreed to release the votes on every subject that we voted on in executive session.

The problem is that we are trying to have a citizens jury on material that are coming from the prosecutor. There is a legitimate need for us to go through the allegations of Kenneth Starr and make certain that they are -- that they are responded to by the president, that they are known about through other than the leaks that have come in the press.

So I am very disappointed at the way that we have proceeded. We're making a huge information available and the information is sexually explicit. It is offensive. It is obscene. It does not build up any kind of case one way or the other. And I think it is a politicalization of a process that we're going to continue to fight for the fairness, not only toward the president, but that Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution be examined.

We're now jumping the gun. We're jumping the gun for political purposes. I object to it. And I'm going to continue my fight in opposition to this kind of process.

I would like now to yield to Congressman Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts.

REP. BILL DELAHUNT: You know, I'll be very brief. I think it's very important that we talk about process, because it's my opinion that unless the process is fair, it's deliberative and it's thorough, that whatever conclusions the committee on the Judiciary and/or the House of Representatives reach, they will not be accepted by the American people.

You know, to echo what the ranking member just said about his experience on Watergate and what is occurring as far as this particular process is concerned, this is not about defending the president. This is about defending the Constitution and defending a concept that every American understands, which is fundamental fairness.

And there is a precedent here. And that precedent is the Watergate hearings. And as the ranking member indicated, there were seven weeks of closed hearings -- closed hearings -- before any information was disseminated to the public. And the president not only had his representatives there, but they were entitled to cross- examine witnesses. That did not occur here. That has not occurred.

Again, I spent more than two decades as a prosecutor, representing about a million people in Massachusetts. This is not a process that can be considered fair. This is about fairness. This is not about defending the president. This is not about partisanship. This is about the integrity of this institution. That's what this is about.

CONYERS: Thank you. Maxine Waters, please.

REP. MAXINE WATERS: Thank you very much. If those of you who have been around here in the past few days to hear the debate after we first came out of the Rules Committee about whether or not we should release material when we were discussing the 445 pages, the Congressional Black Caucus warned everybody that they should keep their eye on whether or not this is going to be a fair process. And we vowed that we would be the fairness cop.

The Republicans at that time were telling everybody that they were going to be bipartisan, that they were going to cooperate. This was the most partisan procedure that I've ever been involved in. They literally took the power of their majority votes, and they literally voted us down on every important vote that we took in the Judiciary Committee.

I am really, really worried about all of this. But a lot of good points have been brought out by Democratic members who tried time and time again to reason with our Republican colleagues.

We're worried about the grand jury process.

What you have here is a complete violation of the secrecy of the grand jury process. And we just got into a situation where we've set precedent.

Let me just say, no sitting president of this country has ever had their video or audio tapes released in any proceedings. And this is something that everybody should be concerned about, as you look at the history of this nation and whether or not we can have fairness in these kinds of proceedings.

CONYERS: We got rolled, but we're still fighting. And one of the best fighters in the committee is the gentleman from Massachusetts, Barney Frank.

REP. BARNEY FRANK: I think it's time for us to talk to the architect of the Capitol. There's a wall between 2141, the Judiciary Committee, and 2154, the Committee on Governmental Affairs and Oversight chaired by Mr. Burton. And sadly, the difference between the two committees is a lot less than it used to be.

This is a total complete piece of partisanship. I've had members ask me -- I just went over to vote and members said, well, where do you go next? The answer is no one knows because this Judiciary Committee has not paid any attention to setting up a fact-finding process to determine who's telling the truth and who wasn't where there are disputes.

The committee has done nothing to determine how you decide what's impeachable or even how to decide how to decide.

Their entire energy dictated by Republican strategy has been to put out unilateral attacks on the president. And remember, what we've got now are the assaults on the president and the attacks and the criticisms in the allegations -- some of which will be true, some of which won't be -- but with no process for debating them.

We had our meeting, the Republican leadership clearly had decided they had the votes. At one point, one of the Republicans explained that there hadn't been much debate because they knew they had the votes and they didn't have to pay much attention to what we said.

There is, of course, grave irony in these people claiming to be the great defenders of openness and then insisting on conducting their process in secret when there wasn't any reason for all but about 5 percent of that to be done secretly.

But here's the fundamental issue. They have obviously decided the Republicans want to impeach the president. They are frustrated that the public does not yet appear to support that.

Many of us fear that what we should be doing is setting up a procedure to address the important questions of what's impeachable and what the facts were. Not one ounce of the committee's time has been spent on that. I guess time doesn't have ounces. Not one second.

What the committee has done is simply turn itself into a transmission belt for attacks on the president and nothing else.

And sadly, they have so politicized this process that we're a lot worse off as a nation than we were a couple of weeks ago. And we are -- at this point, cannot tell you what happens next except that if anybody else wants to say something bad about the president, they'll be glad to transmit it, unrebutted, with no chance for the president to look at, to the public.

There is one other thing, by the way now. You can go back to your stations with regard to the grand jury.

We've always kept the grand jury secret, in part, because the grand jury is not an equal procedure. Trials are equal. Both sides get into the trial.

In the grand jury, it's one side.

Now we have given the prosecutor the total dominance on the grounds that it wasn't going to be made public. They've now decided to take everything about the grand jury, including a videotape of the president, where it's one sided, where only his attackers dominate by phrasing their questions, and make it public.

They've said they were going to treat the president like everybody else. Remember what that means. If you're treating the president like everybody else, you're treating everybody else like the president, can't be any different.

And so we have apparently now set the precedent that everybody can expect that there will be a total destruction of grand jury secrecy. And you might want to go back to your stations and check this -- those of you who are here with the TV -- because ambitious prosecutors will now be timing juicy prosecutions for sweeps week.

You'll probably now find yourselves involved in a very symbiotic relationship with the district attorneys of this world because they will now say, hey, what can I serve them up. Want to tell you -- by the way, we've always said, with regard to the president being treated like everybody else, that if you're the target of the grand jury, you don't have to testify.

We now have Kenneth Starr using as a charge against the president that he refused an invitation to testify. So it is the most one- sided, biased process. And along the way, they have forgotten our obligation to decide how do you do an impeachment, how do you decide the fact finding, what's an impeachable offense.

It's just become a partisan assault on the president.

CONYERS: One of our members was a lawyer here during Watergate, working for Congressman Don Edwards of California. Now she's a member of the committee, Zoe Lofgren of California.

REP. ZOE LOFGREN: Thank you. Actually, I was not a lawyer here. I had finished my first year of law school when I worked for a member of the committee in 1974, Congressman Don Edwards.

However, I was here. I did have a chance to observe what was going on at that time, and I have found myself thinking, during these last several weeks a lot about the Constitution and how Congress discharged its obligations to the Constitution 24 years ago and how our behavior today compares to the performance then.

I will have more to say this afternoon. We have, however, been placed under a gag rule, members of the committee. As you I'm sure know, the motions and the votes taken will be released, and when they are, you will see I think that until 4:30 yesterday there wasn't any discussion whatsoever about salacious material, none.

And you will also see that many of us tried to get the proceedings open to the sunlight, open to you and to the American people. And once again, you will see that that also was defeated on a party-line vote.

I guess I am concerned a great deal when we are rushing to put salacious material that is of questionable probative value when, in answering the question that actually faces us, which is whether the alleged conduct on the part of the incumbent president was substantial enough and long enough to destroy our constitutional form of government, we are willing to salacious material out in the public arena, and yet, we are unwilling to have a discussion of the Constitution open to the American people.

You know, I have only been here three years, nine months, and I think 14 days and 36 hours. But I've already observed an important thing, which is that preservation of our constitutional form of government requires all of us to fulfill our role. The members of the House have a job to play. And the members of the press have a role to play in defending the First Amendment and making sure that the American people know what's going on here.

I am very concerned about our country. I'm concerned about the procedures that occurred today and yesterday. I feel that if you could only hear the words that were expressed in the committee, you would share the concern about whether this is a constitutional proceeding or something that has nothing to do with the Constitution.

CONYERS: One of our members on Judiciary Committee is from South Carolina. His name is Lindsey Graham, and he is next.


REP. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Thank you, ranking member.

I'm a Republican, so this is going to be a little different spin. But as you can see, we can all stand by each other and nobody is going to get hurt.

The Judiciary Committee is being asked to do a lot. I mean, whether you think things are going smoothly or not, one thing I would like to say to my colleagues that I said in there: We didn't make this happen. You can blame Ken Starr, you can blame the president, you can blame both of them.

It's sort of at our feet now, and I just want to put in perspective what's going on among the membership as a whole.

I felt we fulfilled the mandate of the House resolution. I know my colleagues disagree. About 70 percent of the House as a whole voted to have more rather than less, and we decided sooner rather than later. And my colleagues behind us -- behind me, a lot of them voted no.

I think a high percentage of the people who voted no serve on the committee. But they made some good points. And let me tell you some of the points they made.

The independent counsel statute, no matter how it's executed, is not an adversarial process. So any information we get from an independent counsel report will be an investigative report that hasn't stood the scrutiny that I think all of us eventually want.

It came over here, and when we got the report, the House as a whole made a political decision.

There is a legal aspect to this, and there is a political aspect. And I tried to share with my colleagues some of the legal concerns that I have that we share in common about whether or not some of this can amount to a crime. And we'll get there sooner or later.

But once we got the independent counsel report, 70 percent of the House said go forward, release the material by September the 28th. And what we have been charged to do is take out some embarrassing events to protect people's personal privacy. And we agreed upon a lot. And a lot of it we didn't agree upon.

But there is a lot of things that are coming out of the report, based on a bipartisan agreement, that were just out of bounds.


Investigating the President


Friday, September 18, 1998

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