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Transcript: Reps. Conyers, Gephardt on Clinton inquiry

CONYERS: The minority leader, Dick Gephardt, and I met with the leadership today and we're trying to bring some process and bring some parameters around this very difficult investigation that has been given to the Judiciary Committee pursuant to the independent counsel statute.

What we are trying to do with the best of intentions as we can is to create a rational and reasonable process that will take the report of the Starr investigation and give it the treatment, the investigation and the inquiry that it is due.

We're in the fifth year of a report that cannot remain eternal. It must come to a conclusion. And the question that drives many of the members in the House -- and I think we represent the view, possibly, of most of them -- is that we need to have an orderly way to proceed instead of taking 37 boxes of material and make us the U.S. postal department for Kenneth Starr.

If we can do that -- and these negotiations are still in process -- it's my view that we can, within a timeframe of even 30 days more or less, begin to get on with the people's business, and do whatever it is it is the will of the House that be done.

But so far, we on the Judiciary have never conducted our investigations. We're still reviewing the material.

We have not had a chance to do our because of a decision to make all of this public.

: And so we're concerned now about when and how in an orderly but efficient way we can bring this to a conclusion.

Thank you, Mr. Leader.

GEPHARDT: Thank you, John.

I thank John and I appreciate very much the work that he is doing and all the members of the committee are trying to do for the Congress and the country.

We went into this meeting this morning with what we thought and believe are legitimate concerns about the process and the handling of the independent counsel's referral to date. And I made some specific requests -- we did -- to address our desire to make this a fair and expeditious and just review of the facts.

It is our view -- and we believe it's the view of the American people -- that this investigation be done as quickly as humanly possible. I believe -- and I told the speaker -- that, given this will, this matter could be brought to closure in the House in the next 30 days or so.

The choice is clear. We can resolve on a bipartisan effort to do the work that needs to be done in the next 30 days in the House or we might face two years of ongoing hearings regarding the details of a sexual relationship between Monica Lewinsky and the president.

In our view, for the sake of the country and in the interests of limiting the exposure of our children to this kind of detail in an atmosphere of wall-to-wall media coverage, this needs to be dealt with with due process and justice, but also deliberate speed.

My concern is that I heard nothing in the meeting that gives me any assurance that this matter will be brought to closure during this period or any time soon. I think there's a sizable number of Republicans who have apparently decided that it's in their narrow political interest to subject the country to months, and quite possibly years, of highly partisan investigations related to the president.

The bottom line is if the Republicans don't want to drag this out, we can do it fairly and judiciously and justly in the next 30 days or so.

Second, I hope we can work out a more fair resolution in the committee to the release of the remaining materials -- again, with an eye toward the release of very explicit materials related to sex and the legitimate privacy concerns of innocent individuals.

It's simply not necessary. For the sake of the children of the country, we need to stop it. It does nothing to help us decide this case.

On this point, let me be clear. The Democrats who voted for the resolution dealing with the release of materials did so with the belief that the release would be dealt with responsibly. That resolution did not say dump the materials, no matter what. It said release with careful review and careful consideration of these important issues.

That doesn't square, in our view, with the decisions made by the Republicans to release unnecessarily graphic sexual detail in an effort to get out material that the House said should come out, and in my view, did nothing but, frankly, embarrass the president.

It is irresponsible for some in the other party to continue to mischaracterize the nature of Democratic votes on the resolution.

Finally, it remains to be seen, however well meaning their stated intentions, whether or not they will ultimately agree to what we consider to be fair rules for governing the rest of this investigation. There have been promises made and promises not entirely kept on various issues to date. So we'll have to wait and see.

There were basic rules that governed the Judiciary Committee during Watergate, the last time we did this, that should be the model that we should follow.

Democratic members need a degree of authority and autonomy that permits them to fulfill their constitutional duties. And finally, we have concerns that exculpatory material or materials that did not reflect well on the investigation of the independent counsel were not sent to the committee.

We want them, and I ask the speaker to consider joining me to make that request of Mr. Starr.

QUESTION: Mr. Gephardt...

QUESTION: If you win the election -- if the Democrats win control of the House on election day and the Republicans (OFF-MIKE)...

GEPHARDT: That's a very good assumption.

QUESTION: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: ... and the Republicans have failed to shut down the investigation within the next 30 days, will you shut it down immediately?

GEPHARDT: Well, let's not deal with hypotheticals, although I do like that hypothetical question. I usually don't like them, but I like that one.

Let's deal with what's in front of us. We have a constitutional duty right now as members to do this, as I said, in a just, fair and as expeditious manner as is humanly possible.

We believe that it is possible -- understand -- Ken Starr has spent and his staff four, almost five, years and almost $50 million to produce the factual material that's been sent down here.

Now, it does no one any good -- it is in the highest interest of our country and our children to get this over with in the most expeditious manner we possibly can.

There is no reason, working hard, we believe that the committee cannot get this done in 30, 40 -- some number of days -- to get this to the floor and to make a decision in the House of Representatives.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Mr. Gephardt, how much of a factor is the fact that there...

GEPHARDT: One at a time. One at a time.

QUESTION: How much of a factor, in your request to get this done, is that there is an election coming up, and if this is pending, it could damage (OFF-MIKE)?

GEPHARDT: Well, I don't -- I don't have any hard number of days that it has to be done. I said 30. It could be 40; it could be 50. What we're asking for is a timetable that this can be done.

And we believe it can be done.

We believe the country will be well-served if we move through this. This does not need to take eight or nine months, as it did during the Watergate period.

We're in a new world. We have a new statute. We have a report that's been painstakingly put together over a four- or a five-year period.

Surely, we can get the facts in front of the committee. We can do what hearings need to be done, get this in front of the House of Representatives and make a decision.

The president deserves that. The country deserves that. It's got to be fair. It's got to be just. And it's got to be as quick as is humanly possible.

Elections should have no role in this. For the sake of the country, we need a timetable and we need it now.

QUESTION: Exactly what evidence do you have that there is exculpatory evidence that Mr. Starr has in his possession that he hasn't shown to Congress?

GEPHARDT: Our staff believes that there is additional material in the hands of the independent counsel, and we simply want to see all the material.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

GEPHARDT: Based on conversations with the staff.

QUESTION: Are the Democrats now united on the view...

GEPHARDT: I have no idea. I don't know. That's the problem.

QUESTION: Are the Democrats now united on the view that the process has become partisan rather than fair and impartial?

GEPHARDT: We are doing everything in our power to see that the process is a good process and that it's done in a nonpartisan way.

As I've said before, what we've seen so far is not reassuring. We have not done this in our view in the most beneficial way for the country and the Congress. Let me cite some examples.

We voted for a resolution, some of us did, that turned over to the committee whether or not certain materials should be redacted or held back of a sensitive nature, that we didn't feel was necessary for the judicious decision on this case.

We had, we felt, a bipartisan agreement with the staff on the two sides to redact certain material. And then when they got into hearings -- and Mr. Conyers can give you the detail -- the Republicans wanted a lot more that they had in a bipartisan way decided on the staff level to take out, they wanted it put in. And they voted in a partisan way to put it back in.

Mr. Hyde has made communications with the judge in Arkansas. There was no notice to Mr. Conyers. There was no notice to the other side.

That isn't the way we did it, as I understand it, in the Watergate period.

So we think we can improve a good deal on our bipartisanship to move this forward.

But I think right now, the key issue is setting a timetable to get this thing done for the good of the country, for the good our children, for the good of our families.

We are not in a world today where we can sit here in suspended animation as a country for eight and nine and 10 and 12 months while we pour over this day after day after day before we can make a decision.

QUESTION: Mr. Gephardt, what about the notion that is being discussed by many Democrats of a middle ground of some kind in terms of punishing the president? Something like what's being called censure plus a fine, something with teeth in it? Are you interested in that idea?

GEPHARDT: There are lots of ideas out all over the country. I have constituents who've come up to me with ideas for what should be done. And in a way, maybe it's positive that the whole country as a democracy is involved in helping to try to decide these questions.

But we're really asking today for one simple thing: getting a timetable to get this done in a reasonable period of time.

We can get to the remedies and the ideas when we get through that. But if we sit here on a timetable that is unending, that has no definition, and we go into one month after another month after another month after another month of not deciding this and not having a timetable, then it won't really matter after a long while.

What we need to do is to set that timetable. Then we can get to the right remedies; then we can understand the facts and get to the right solution.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) the speaker of some kind of punishment for the president that was short of impeachment?

GEPHARDT: We did not.

QUESTION: You did not raise that at all?

GEPHARDT: We did not.

QUESTION: Was the speaker receptive to your idea at all of a timetable?

What did he say?

GEPHARDT: We are going to meet again on Friday, as I understand it, and we're going to talk some more about that suggestion. We made four suggestions in a letter which you can have, and you can see exactly what we suggested.

He said we would have another meeting. I'm not assured, however, I must tell you, by what I heard that this is going to be brought to a quick conclusion.

There were even suggestions that we would go off into other areas -- campaign finance.

Our point is Judge Starr has sent one referral after five years. That's what we have in front of us under the statute. We do not believe that this referral of one matter, which he thinks may contain impeachable offenses, launches a fishing expedition into every possible wrong that's gone on anywhere in the world over the last six years.

QUESTION: But Mr. Gephardt, what about the Republican complaint that, if you set a precise timetable, the Democrats and the president's supporters will merely use every tactic at their command to run out the clock? Basically stop the investigation from being completed?

GEPHARDT: Well, again, we have the material from the Starr group. We have the facts. They're in front of us. They are now known by everybody in the world.

This is not 1974. This is 1998. Information moves at warp speed.

It is now in front of the entire world, not just the Judiciary Committee or even the United States.

So, that's the fact base. That's the -- that's the referral.

So I don't know how anybody can slow it up. Nobody wants to slow it up. We ought to get it done as quickly as humanly possible for the sake of our children, the sake of our families, the sake of the our country.

QUESTION: Mr. Gephardt, (OFF-MIKE) 60 days?

GEPHARDT: I don't know the answer to that. All I know is that if we don't get a timetable, I think we'll be month after month after month after month, and we will not resolve something that I think most people feel can be resolved in an expeditious manner.

QUESTION: But the Republicans would say the president set the timetable when in January he did not tell the truth, and that he sent his lieutenants out to carry on the lie, and that set the timetable.

GEPHARDT: Whatever went on, we are where we are. And where we are is we have a referral from the Starr group. It is one referral, one set of facts. They are in front of us. They are known to the entire world now. And there is no earthly reason that we can't set a timetable and get this done with dispatch, fairness and justice.

QUESTION: A timetable's great for Congress, because it ends before the elections, but is it such a good idea for the president? I mean, the last time the committee set a timetable, it was two weeks to review 24 boxes of information and (OFF-MIKE) that it's coming out too fast.

GEPHARDT: Well, we're not complaining. We're not complaining about that at all. We're complaining about the lack of bipartisan agreement on what should have been taken out that was sensitive and shouldn't have been in front of the American people and was unnecessary to the whole exposition of this case.

My point is, look, we're in a new world. Information flows freely, information has now made its way all across the world.

Last week you could have read this material on the Internet in Africa or China or South America as quickly as somebody could read it in St. Louis, Missouri. It is now known to everybody. You've seen the raw videotape of the president's testimony. You've seen the facts.

And all I'm saying and all we're saying is that in this new world of instant communication worldwide, the global village, we believe it is possible, sensible, rational for the Congress of the United States to deal with this on some sensible timetable. It may be before the election. It may be after the election.

There's got to be some period of time when we can deal with this and get it done in a fair, just and reasonable way.

One more.

QUESTION: Can you be specific about what you want accomplished in 30 days? An impeachment inquiry? Ken Starr to end his investigation?

What exactly do you want done?

GEPHARDT: We believe the House's place in this process can and should be completed on some reasonable timetable.

The House's responsibility can be discharged in some reasonable timetable.

Thank you very much.


Investigating the President

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Wednesday, September 23, 1998



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