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Transcript: Rep. Hyde on impeachment inquiry debate

HYDE: Well, good morning -- afternoon.

If you think it's easy to see your notes through all of these microphones -- my God.

(LAUGHTER)

I have a very brief statement and then I'll try to answer your questions.

Two and a half weeks ago, the House of Representatives received the Starr referral initiating a process which all of us knew would be enormously difficult for the Congress and the country.

From the outset, I have attempted to guide the committee's work based on a fixed set of principles. These guiding principles include that no person is above the law, nor beneath the law, not even the president; that we must submit ourselves to the letter and spirit of the Constitution; that we must consistently and constantly strive to be fair, thorough and expeditious in all that we do; that we must be tireless in gathering and reviewing all the relevant facts; that we must keep the American people well informed, in part by giving them as much information as possible.

I intend the keep the committee focused on these principles and to ensure that history will judge us as having fulfilled our duty with honor and distinction.

Today marks the end of the first phase of the process we began two weeks ago when we all first saw the independent counsel's report alleging 11 separate grounds for impeachment of President Clinton.

We have finished ahead of schedule the review of over 50,000 pages of documents. Everything has been read, much of it several times. Both the majority and minority staff have worked tirelessly on this task literally around the clock. I'm extremely grateful for their dedication and service.

Also, several members of the committee have spent long hours in the Ford Office Building poring over documents. The country should be proud of their devotion to duty.

On an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis, the committee has agreed to redact or withhold thousands and thousands of words, lines and pages in an effort to guard the privacy of innocent people, national security, national security information, and ongoing criminal investigations.

We have also removed many sexually explicit references that were not relevant or were redundant to the issues at hand.

Pursuant to the bipartisan mandate of the House in its Resolution 525, we will submit all remaining documents with redactions to the public printer by the end of this day. They should be available to read later in the week.

We now turn to the next phase of this process.

Beginning a week from today, the committee will meet in open session to consider a resolution of inquiry. The question facing the committee is quite simple, really. Do the allegations against the president merit further investigation? Should we inquire further into these allegations or refuse to take a closer look and just shut down? That's the issue.

Meanwhile, I've asked Representative Charles Canady, chairman of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, to hold a hearing as soon as practicable in consultation with his ranking Democrat member, Bobby Scott of Virginia, on the question of what is an impeachable offense. I think Chairman Rodino said it best in 1974 when he observed that the framers did not write a fixed standard. They wanted a standard sufficiently flexible to meet future circumstances based upon a full development of the facts.

Nevertheless, the views expressed at this hearing will undoubtedly prove useful in the days ahead if the House decides to initiate an inquiry.

I also want to announce that I will be dispatching a bipartisan team of investigators to go over to the independent counsel's office this week to determine if there are any other documents in its possession relevant to the Lewinsky matter. The independent counsel notified us two weeks ago that there were additional materials in their possession that were unrelated to the charges of impeachable conduct and we were free to review them whenever we wished.

So we will do that this week, now that we have completed our review of the most significant materials.

And I'll be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman, if those other documents are unrelated by the independent counsel's own description, why bother with them?

HYDE: Well, that's my view -- why bother? But the Democrats want to see what's over there. They have a lurking suspicion that there may be exculpatory material, and so we're going to accommodate them.

QUESTION: Mr. Hyde (OFF-MIKE), and also, will those people be able to look at the additional referral Mr. Starr gave to the attorney general at the start of the investigation, because that seems to be what the White House...

(GAP)

QUESTION: What about the argument that since we have relied on the independent counsel to (OFF-MIKE) of the investigation, you should have an interest in how he (OFF-MIKE) the investigation.

HYDE: Oh, of course, I have an interest, but it's a peripheral one because I want to keep focused on our mandate, which was given to us by the House of Representatives in House Joint Resolution 525.

That's -- the Democrats would like to make Starr the issue. They would like to make process procedure -- Peter Rodino, Mark McGwire. They'd like to make a lot of things the issue other than what we're looking at. And I'm going to try as best I can, despite questions from you, to focus on what we're looking at, not get sidetracked.

The gentleman right there.

QUESTION: Yes. Congressman, with all due respect, it wasn't just Senator Feinstein, but the lead investigator, the counsel for the Democratic side also had some real serious complaints about the way your investigation has been set up in a sense that -- that you were not completely in charge, that the leadership of the House was dictating some (OFF-MIKE).

HYDE: Well, now, you're asking several questions. You are saying that the chief investigator for the Democrats has complaints about how the investigation was set up. I don't know what that means. But anything he has asked for he has gotten.

We have striven mightily to be fair, and those statements of his are gratuitously wrong.

Now the other thing you were asking?

QUESTION: Well, I guess my question would just be, aren't you concerned that at this point it seems like there is already a sense that your committee is not being run in a fair way (OFF-MIKE)?

HYDE: If there is a sense it's based on misinformation and based on spin, because that's all the Democrats have to talk about. We are doing our level best to be credible. If we aren't credible, what we do amounts to nothing. We understand that. And we're trying to be fair.

That doesn't mean we lay down and play dead. We're still the majority. We can't let them run the committee, much as they would like to. But we are being fair.

And you say there is a perception, it's based on mis-statements.

QUESTION: Well, it's not just based on that. It's -- isn't there a genuine concern by the Democrats that they have not been given the same resources to carry out their (OFF-MIKE)?

HYDE: They have been given more resources than the Republicans were given under Rodino. And they -- I have acceded to every request they have made, sir.

(OFF-MIKE).

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman, when the committee votes next week, what kind of criterion will you use to determine whether this should go forward? Will it be just a low -- a low threshold, a higher threshold? Are you going to have to determine what an impeachable offense is?

HYDE: That's up to every member, each member who has a vote. There will be a briefing by counsel as to what the state of play is in terms of evidence, kicking out irrelevancies and focusing on significant elements of the situation. And then there will be a full debate, in the open, and we will debate it and we will vote on whether to proceed with an inquiry.

We're not at the impeachment stage yet. We're trying to decide whether to go have further hearings or not. And that will be the subject.

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman, on the issue of charges by the Democrats that it is a partisan endeavor, if the committee votes to launch an inquiry with only Republicans voting in favor of launching such an inquiry, won't that send such a message -- that it is, in fact, a partisan endeavor?

HYDE: Yes, I think the Democrats, by not voting to even go further with an inquiry, would show a partisanship that I would regret -- yes.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman, if President Clinton settles the Paula Jones suit, will that in any way affect your investigation? And if he settles it, would you regard it as any kind of an admission on his part of wrongdoing?

HYDE: Oh, I don't really want to get into psychoanalyzing why they're settling it and what the impact will be. The Paula Jones matter is somewhat peripheral to what we're looking at. On the other hand, the deposition does have some significance.

So I can't say the Paula Jones matter is something we're indifferent to, but whether or not it's settled is something we're indifferent to.

This gentleman right here.

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman...

HYDE: Next to Ms. Povich (ph), who will be next.

QUESTION: Have you decided how you will vote on opening an inquiry?

HYDE: Yes.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what it is?

HYDE: No.

(LAUGHTER)

Ms. Povich (ph).

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: My Hyde, an outside group has been looking into this case for longer than you have. It's about to submit a 150-page report to your committee today on what so far have been peripheral issues -- the China fund-raising issue and some others.

Will you take that into account? And do you foresee expanding your investigation beyond the Lewinsky matter if something comes, as you said last week, over the transom?

HYDE: Well, if we get something that's relevant to our inquiry, we have a duty to consider it, no matter where it's from -- if it's exculpatory, if it's accusatory.

We read everything give us, or we try to. That doesn't mean we act on it or we feel that it merits more than just reading it.

But I can't really predict what we'll do until we see what it is.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: If I could just follow up on that, Mr. Chairman. At what point would you envision expanding your inquiry beyond the Lewinsky matter?

HYDE: When it would be useful to do it. I don't particularly want to have this an endless inquiry. I'd like to have some visible goals and work toward attaining them.

The more we bring in, the more burdensome our task becomes. On the other hand, I think we have a real duty to look at things if they pertain to the question of the president's fitness for office. So you have to judge each item on its own merits.

Yes, sir.

HYDE: No, we're not. We are not.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)...

HYDE: No. We're not restricted. We're the House Judiciary Committee, and we're trying to decide whether or not we should have an inquiry into whether there should be an impeachment.

I think it's our duty to look at all the evidence, including exculpatory. Once we have a resolution, if it were to pass, then we get into the more laborious business of holding hearings.

And then, of course, we'll have the president's people over. They can present witnesses. They can cross-examine. They will be active participants in that hearing process.

HYDE: yes, sir.

QUESTION: There is very little doubt that there's going to be an impeachment inquiry, is there?

HYDE: Well, I don't know. I hesitate to predict how people will vote. I should think there is enough to warrant an inquiry. But I've given up predicting what people vote around here.

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman...

HYDE: Let me get somebody else. The lady right there.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)...

HYDE: It will be, and that's why.

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman?

HYDE: Yes, this lady right here.

QUESTION: When are you going to have this discussion about what is an impeachable offense? And will you do that before you debate the evidence?

HYDE: We will have that discussion. If we get into the hearings, that will be a subject of some debate I'm sure.

But meanwhile, we're going to try to update the literature on impeachment and hear some scholarly modern commentary on it by having hearings in our Constitutional Subcommittee of law professors, lawyers, scholars -- trying to update the current thinking on impeachable offenses as a guide.

QUESTION: When?

HYDE: That's up to the chairman. He -- I've talked to him today, and he's going to talk to Mr. Scott. They'll decide on what kind of witnesses and who and schedule the hearings. But I'm sure we have time to take the work product into consideration.

The gentleman right behind you.

QUESTION: Do you expect, Mr. Chairman, at the end of that to have come up with a definition of an impeachable offense that will bind the committee?

HYDE: No, I think every member of the committee will make their own mind up as to what is an impeachable offense. Someone mentioned something to me that sort of broadened my scope on that. They said if there was another Pearl Harbor and the president on that day decided to take a two-month vacation in the Greek islands, that would be an impeachable offense. So it's hard to say.

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman.

HYDE: The gentlelady from Illinois, aptly named Lynn Sweet (ph).

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) clarification on the Democrats' complaint.

QUESTION: Does this mean that if they came to you today, and they said, OK, we need this, or we need more rooms or we need more computers or staff, does that mean you would then be inclined to say yes?

HYDE: Absolutely. And we have never said no to them. If they want something, they get it. I mean, within -- they haven't been unreasonable. I would assume that that self-restraint would continue.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Until now, Mr. Chairman, you've been very careful about not commenting on the materials that your committee has been given...

HYDE: Correct.

QUESTION: ... because you said you wanted to look at everything in its totality.

HYDE: Right.

QUESTION: Now that your staff has read all 50,000 pages, and conceivably has briefed you about it, do you have a sense of whether what you have does constitute an impeachable inquiry and impeachment inquiry?

HYDE: No. We're going to get briefed a week from today by the counsel, by Mr. Shippers (ph), and the Democrats, if they wish, by Mr. Lowell (ph).

And after that briefing, then we will debate amongst ourselves in open session whether to proceed with an inquiry or not.

But that's the -- that's the appropriate time, after the briefing. I'd like to hear both briefings, Mr. Lowell's (ph) and Mr. Shippers' (ph), and then I think I'd be situated.

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman, how much authority do you want if you conduct this inquiry? Do you want unilateral subpoena power? What about unilateral contempt power, since the House won't be here?

HYDE: We're going to have a problem with the House not being here, but I hope that we can work that out with Mr. Conyers. I don't want unilateral anything. I want him to share in that. I want the president to be able to call witnesses.

I want this to be as fair as humanly possible without opening ourselves up to such delay and obstruction that we can't proceed.

I'm assuming good will and good faith on their side, as I hope they're assuming on mine, despite the spin, and we'll try to negotiate those things.

QUESTION: When you say...

HYDE: Yes.

QUESTION: When you said -- following up on it. You said (OFF- MIKE) Mr. Conyers to help share in some of that. By that, are you saying equal or (OFF-MIKE)?

HYDE: I think we'll follow the Rodino format where we can, with maybe some adjustment to take into consideration that Congress may not be in session.

I wouldn't want a disagreement between us to halt proceedings. We're going to try to work something out like that so we can move ahead. But I don't envision abusing subpoenas to the extent that Mr. Conyers wouldn't have the right to subpoena as he wishes.

Let me get people I haven't gotten. Way in the back.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)...

HYDE: The Paula Jones deposition has been reviewed by many of us. It will probably have its relevance heightened during the hearing stages, if we get to the hearing stages. If we vote the resolution of inquiry to proceed, then it would be come more relevant.

Right now it's not part of the Starr submission and we haven't any real authority to release it. But it is -- it is very relevant.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Is the goal to have this hearing (OFF-MIKE) before next Monday?

HYDE: Oh, I don't know that we could get that together the -- that quickly because we want to get some professors and things. But I don't think the determination of what is an impeachable offense is that important in terms of a resolution of inquiry.

It will be very important when we -- if we get past that and we have a -- have articles of impeachment. That -- then, it becomes very relevant as to whether the articles are truly impeachable offenses.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) update the literature on impeachment means?

HYDE: Would you say that again?

QUESTION: You -- a few minutes ago, you said we are trying to update the literature on impeachment. Could you tell us what that means?

HYDE: Yes, there's been a lot written -- books written, articles written -- on impeachment. It's an interesting subject for speculation by law professors and academics.

But it's 24 years since the Nixon impeachment.

Now, we've had three impeachments since then of federal judges.

But I think an update on academic thought, scholarly thought on impeachment, more research into what our founders and framers meant and that sort of thing -- that's always useful. And so we want to do it.

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman, you said several times that...

HYDE: Wait a second. Just a minute. My -- yes. Let me take two more. I'll take the lady with the Sammy Sosa sign there.

(LAUGHTER)

He still can do it tonight, don't forget.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Can you tell us exactly how many pages of information will be released later this week? And will it be Thursday?

And also, what's the update on the editing of the audio tapes, the Linda Tripp audio tapes?

HYDE: Oh, those are technical questions. I don't have the answers to that. Maybe you could talk to staff afterwards.

Yes.

QUESTION: Also, when you meet a week from today on Monday, do you expect it would be Monday and Tuesday, and you'll vote out the resolution on Tuesday?

HYDE: I expect it'll be Monday and Tuesday, if it takes that long. I'd like it to be finished Monday by noon. But if takes that long.

(LAUGHTER)

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman, you've said on several occasions that you don't think you could go forward, that the House could go forward with a full impeachment unless it was bipartisan. Do you think it's proper to go forward if the circumstances arise, with an impeachment inquiry, if that is strictly on a partisan vote?

HYDE: I don't think we're there yet. I don't think we're there yet.

I think following the floor debate -- as I've said, unfortunately, we have two Democratic parties. We have the party that voted for the resolution. A hundred percent of the Democratic leaders did. But most of the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee did not vote for it.

So I'm trying to stand on two stools to be accommodating, and they're separating rapidly.

(LAUGHTER)

And that is not comfortable.

(LAUGHTER)

Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman, have any of the members expressed a sense that they may be leaving because of health reasons?

HYDE: Nobody has said they're leaving because of health reasons. There's been some illnesses here and there, but nobody wants to leave. I can't imagine why.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

HYDE: Thank you.


Investigating the President

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Monday, September 28, 1998



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