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Transcript: Speaker Newt Gingrich on Clinton inquiry

GINGRICH: Because of the -- is Dick coming out or what? OK. Well, let me just say we just had a very good meeting. As you know, we're very compressed because of the Gold Medal presentation to President Mandela. So...

Obviously, going through the material is very difficult, particularly because the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee overwhelmingly voted against the resolution, which two-thirds of the Democrats in the House voted for, to release everything.

So there's a lot of difficulties people get into -- sort of a shakedown phase of this kind endeavor.

I think it was a very good meeting. I think if you check with the -- with Mr. Conyers, he'll tell you that on his immediate concerns -- I think we met most of his major concerns about proceeding forward in the near future.

I think the committee will work out a little better as they get in the habit of going through this redacting process, which is very painful and very difficult.

We also explored how can we move as expeditiously as possible, within a framework that recognizes that this is unchartered territory.

Chairman Hyde indicated a very strong commitment to trying to follow Peter Rodino's processes and rules in the way in which Rodino- led Watergate process went forward. And I think that there will an effort to draft proposed rules for an inquiry that clearly will follow the Rodino model from 1973-74.

We'll try to do it in a very bipartisan way. I think we're going to meet again on Friday, and the same five-member team, to try to sort out any questions that arise and to try to make sure that we're staying in touch as this develops.

QUESTION: What sort of olive branches might Republicans be offering Democrats?

GINGRICH: Well, I don't think it's a question of olive branches. I think the Democrats understand as fully as we do that this a historic and constitutional process. And we are trying to find a way to move forward that is fair to everybody and that's fair to the country.

Mr. Gephardt raised some very legitimate concerns about this kind of a process in the age of television, and it's very difficult. The intensity of focus is so much different than it was even in 1974 that I think we have to be very sensitive to this -- to just how the system operates.

QUESTION: Mr. Speaker, poll after poll after poll suggests that Americans want this president punished, but not impeached. Now, I know you say you're not guided by polls. But some would even suggest that -- that there is a contempt for the will of the American people. What can you say to the American people to -- to allay the concerns if they have those?

GINGRICH: I think all I can say to the American people is we swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States, that we will do our constitutional duty, that to do less than that would be to be derelict in our office, that the fact is neither the American people nor the members of Congress know this case thoroughly yet -- the president has not had a chance to respond in a way that would present his side -- and that the Congress will move forward in a calm and methodical way to seek justice.

And I -- I don't think people want this Congress to deal with a constitutional issue based on the latest overnight poll. And I think people would be, frankly, horrified if the Congress was simply a polling institution that enacted a grotesque version of justice based on the latest poll or the latest talk show.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Did you reach any specific decisions today that would make tomorrow's Judiciary Committee meeting any different from last week's?

GINGRICH: I don't know. I think Chairman Hyde and Conyers -- or Mr. Conyers are working now on some things. And I think we understood some of their frustrations better. That's why we have these meetings.

We want to find out what are the frustrations, what are the concerns, and how can we make it a more partnerlike process as we go through this.

QUESTION: But you're so far apart, is there a way you can come together?

GINGRICH: I don't know. I mean, remember that the judiciary Democrats are even apart from the rest of the Democrats. I mean, this is the most anti-openness group in the House -- legitimately. And that's their view, and I'm not attacking them.

I'm just saying if you look at the vote patterns, there is a very dramatic difference. Two-thirds of the Democrats voted yes to release the material, and most of the judiciary Democrats voted no. So they have a problem even coming together with their own caucus right now.

But we're working through it. I think there was a sense today that we may be through some of the roughest spots.

One or two more.

QUESTION: Mr. Speaker, some of the Democrats are talking about something that would resolve this quickly, like a censure, like a fine, some other form of punishment, to get it behind us quickly.

What do you say to that?

GINGRICH: I don't understand how people can rush to a solution before they finish the investigation. I just think there's an awful lot we don't know yet and there's an awful lot of evidence that hasn't been gathered yet and that people need to allow the process to go forward in an orderly manner and not assume that they know what the final outcome will be either way.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Mr. Speaker, (OFF-MIKE) the Rules Committee, the Democrats said that there was an agreement the last time you met, that only Mr. Hyde and Mr. Conyers would look through the stuff first, and that (OFF-MIKE). It changed. Why did it change and what's your view...

GINGRICH: It changed in part because the committee Democrats rejected the agreement. You remember, a number of committee Democrats held a press conference to repudiate the agreement. And the most senior Democrat in the House was opposed to the agreement, Mr. Dingell, and a number of other people were opposed to the agreement.

And so I mean, the leadership can lead, but we can't dictate. And we found that there was a substantial disagreement.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Is it possible that we could have an outcome to this crisis that's somewhere between impeachment and the president getting off without any sort of rebuke whatsoever?

GINGRICH: Well, we live in a world where anything is possible. So the way you asked the question, the answer's yes.

(LAUGHTER)

I think that...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

GINGRICH: But I think that for anybody to talk about doing anything until we finish the investigative process simply puts the cart before the horse. And then...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)...

GINGRICH: Well, it depends, for example, on whether or not the president instructs his staff to testify. It depends on whether the attitude is obstruction or the attitude is cooperation.

And I think that at the moment we don't what'll happen.

Thank you all very much.


Investigating the President

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Wednesday, September 23, 1998



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