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

Transcript: Reps. Hyde, Bono news conference

HYDE: Well, thank you for coming.

Let me make a few remarks before we entertain questions. At each of the president's two inaugurations, he swore a solemn oath to take care that the laws of the United States be faithfully executed and he also swore to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.

In January of 1998, while defending himself against a claim that he violated the civil rights of an American citizen, and again in August, when he testified before a federal criminal grand jury, the president swore a judiciary oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Now, behind me are a mountain of boxes and I want to make it eminently clear -- the boxes are empty. They did contain six -- 60,000 pages of testimony under oath, deposition transcripts, statements under oath, grand jury transcripts. But rather than go through the logistic difficulties of bringing them all over here from the Ford Building where they're under guard, I thought I would bring the cartons to give you an idea of the bulk of material that is over there that we have studied, and that all members have had the opportunity of studying, that have formed the predicate for these hearings.

Now, I have been somewhat upset by the -- I think thoughtless -- criticism that we have not called any witnesses. We view the referral from Judge Starr and all of this mountain of material, under oath -- which means if somebody has lied, they are subject to the criminal penalties of perjury, which the last time I looked was five years -- constitutes an important part of evidence that moves us towards our eventual goal.

Now it would seem to me the void is the failure of the Democrats to call a single solitary witness to repudiate, to gainsay, to reject, to disprove any of the facts that have been educed so far.

Now usually, in litigation if you bring evidence forward, and you make a prima facie case, you get to the jury, and it's incumbent on the other side to come in with some evidence of their own.

We haven't made a prima facie case; we've made a compulsive -- a compelling case. And so I think the real void here is the failure of the Democrats to contradict in any way whatsoever the evidence that has been adduced through the Office of Independent Counsel.

Now it's true, if we had the time, the months and months that the Rodino committee had available to it, based on the prior work of the Sam Ervin committee, we would have much more evidence to go through.

But we set a time limit of the end of the year in response to our understanding of the mood of the country, which does not want to spend its national life dwelling on impeachment forever.

We wanted to get forward and advance this. We felt we had the opportunity to do an honest job, a fair job to everyone concerned. And I'm still convinced that is possible, that we have done that.

But I just think it's important to understand that it didn't seem sensible to me to keep reinventing the wheel, to keep calling witnesses before us in open or closed session who have already testified before grand juries or had their depositions taken under oath, whose transcripts are available, that we can read those and be confident that those statements are accurate and honest and true.

And if they're not, it has been open to the Democrats, and I can tell you for almost two months I have been pleading with the White House and the committee Democrats to present some additional evidence that might demonstrate the president's innocence. But we haven't heard one word about evidence repudiating or rejecting the facts.

Now we have heard from academe. We have heard from so many college professors that I think I'm going to ask if we can get college credit for attending the seminars.

So we're going to have more of the seminar tomorrow and the day after, and that's fine. I enjoy professors. And so we'll hear from them.

But I will listen most intently to see if anybody, anybody, repudiates, rejects, rebuts the facts that have been contained and will soon again be housed in these boxes.

Now, on November 19th, the White House counsel had an opportunity to question the independent counsel in this very room about the mountain of evidence that we already possess. Predictably, the White House lawyers chose to use their time to attack Mr. Starr rather than answer the facts of the case against the president.

In so doing, the White House continued in the direction it has chosen months ago when it decided to avoid the facts and attack the process, hoping that in so doing it would turn the public's attention away from an alleged pattern of impeachable behavior.

The White House and the Democratic committee members response to the allegations, to the referral has been Shakespearian, "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Tomorrow and Wednesday, the president and his lawyers will have another opportunity to refute the facts. They wanted four days. Well, we figured out four days, if you had an eight hour day about, that's 32 hours. We would give them 30 hours, which is almost four days. But we do not want to be delayed, because we want to get this out of the way before the end of the year.

WIRE 2:31 We want to do it thoroughly and fully. But we don't want any delay, unreasonable delay.

So we have settled on two days, full days of 9:00 in the morning -- hopefully, we can start tomorrow, although I understand there's some confusion about the starting time. We have a little committee business to get out of the way first. But we would try to start at 9:00 if we can. If not, we'll start at 10.

Despite an unprecedented and unparalleled attack by the White House and committee Democrats on our efforts, we are going to persist in our intention to fulfill our oaths of office and remain faithful to our constitutional duty, and we're not going to be put off of being fair to both the president and the committee Democrats, regardless of the hyperbolic rhetoric to the contrary.

So now let me recognize the newest member of our committee for a few remarks -- the Honorable Mary Bono of California, who has made a wonderful contribution to our committee work and our efforts.

Mary Bono.

BONO: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. As many of you know, I'm one of the few nonlawyers on this committee. Because of that, I try to avoid the legal gymnastics I often here and stick to a common-sense approach to this work.

So while I understand the president's approach to this committee of asserting certain legal claims and (ph) answering the 81 questions with legal hairsplitting and evasiveness, I also know when someone is not shooting straight. And as a mother, I understand that our children learn as much from us by what we do as from what we say.

As you know, there has been a great deal of discussion of late about the need for healing. I believe I understand the healing process.

I would like to have this matter as much behind us as anyone. But when I took the oath of office on the House floor, I raised my right hand and I swore to uphold the Constitution. I promised to fulfill the duties of this office no matter how difficult.

There is a vitally important issue at stake in this inquiry. Americans understand you can't walk away from a responsibility just because it is hard or maybe unpopular and not look so good in the latest poll.

The issue this week is clear. What do we expect of a chief executive? It is too much -- excuse me -- is it too much for us to insist that he tells the truth under oath and not interfere with a citizen's right to a fair judicial process? Does the rule of law still matter in America?

For the sake of my children, I certainly hope so.

What makes America great is that the rules apply to everyone. There is no exception under the law just because someone may perform his or her job well. Our military personnel swear to defend the Constitution. They do not swear allegiance to a king or to a crown, and no one is above the law.

So as we enter this historic week, we do so with seriousness and guided by a sense that what we do in this room will be judged by history. I intend to listen carefully to the presentation by the president's lawyers. I will wait until I hear all of the evidence, if there is any, before I make my final judgment. I trust that all members will approach this matter with the same weight of responsibility.

I'd like to thank you, Chairman Hyde, for your outstanding leadership and the opportunity to share my thoughts with you this afternoon.

Thank you.

HYDE: Thank you, Mary, very much. Appreciate that.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Given the fact that the committee has already, at least committee staff are already drafting articles of impeachment, what is it that the White House can say tomorrow to change the course of this inquiry?

HYDE: Well, I want to make it clear that we have not determined what the articles of impeachment, if there will be any, will say. They're doing some preliminary paperwork just so we don't get bogged down and delayed, because that can be contentious. But in fact we are withholding any judgment and any final drafting until after the testimony has been received, because we think that's the right way to go.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

HYDE: Well, I'd like to hear something on the facts. I'd like to hear some evidence rebutting the facts that we have amassed and that have been received under oath, the testimony. We haven't heard anybody say Monica Lewinsky is a liar. We haven't anybody say that explain the gifts that ended up under Betty Currie's bed. There are lots of questions that we'd like to hear some evidence on, but we'll hear from professors giving us their interpretation, perhaps unique, of the Constitution.

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman...

HYDE: Yes, Mr. Franken.

QUESTION: Is there a possibility that you will allow consideration of a censure resolution in the committee?

HYDE: We really have not given that an awful lot of discussion. I can't say we haven't thought about it. But I'm opposed to censure. And that's a -- that is under discussion, let's say, whether or not one will be permitted. It's under discussion. It isn't ruled out, but it's not a dead-bang certainty either.

QUESTION: Could I ask you, sir, as a follow-up, to tell us what the drafting is -- what articles are being drafted?

HYDE: Well, I think everybody knows there are no big surprises. The generic issues of perjury, obstruction and abuse of power -- those are the generic issues.

There may be subdivisions under that. But that's all very much a work in progress. And again, we must await the testimony we hope to hear Tuesday and Wednesday.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) include both the civil and criminal?

HYDE: Probably. But...

QUESTION: It would be one charge?

HYDE: Don't know -- not sure. You're asking me technical questions.

QUESTION: If the House does impeach the president, is it your view that the Senate has to hold a trial? Or could the Senate simply censure the president and...

HYDE: Oh, that's a question that highly paid parliamentarians would have to answer. I would never -- yes, but my influence in the Senate is minimal, if not minuscule.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

HYDE: I'm not sure. But I'm sure they would have to do something, and I'm sure they would. Mr. Lott is a responsible person.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE). If it does go to the Senate, would you personally appear to argue the case?

HYDE: I haven't thought about that and don't want to think about that.

QUESTION: The other question was, sir, if you bring out articles, are you going to bring them up as privileged (ph) resolutions or will you go through the House Rules Committee before you go to the floor?

HYDE: Another good question I don't have an answer for. It is a privilege -- yes, I will. Just let me answer this one. It is a privileged (ph) resolution, but that is a decision that should be made at the leadership level.

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman.

HYDE: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Since August 17th, we've not really heard much from President Clinton about the actual substance of this matter other than some apologies that he's issued to groups. Could the president go a long way in defending himself if he was to go public again, make an address to the nation, speak to the committee in order to save his presidency?

HYDE: Can he go a long way? Is that what your question is? QUESTION: Would it help his case if he were to go public or even testify before your committee in person?

HYDE: That would take a drama critic to give you a correct assessment of how effective that presentation would be. It certainly wouldn't hurt him. But it would have to be much more comprehensive than anything we've heard thus far.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Are you saying that the president is guilty because he hasn't been proven innocent?

HYDE: No, I'm not saying he's guilty at all. Not at all.

Mr. (OFF-MIKE).

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman, to what extent should people's opinions and the polls play a role in your decision and the committee and the in the House as a whole?

HYDE: I think it's worth everybody's consideration. This is a democracy, a representative democracy. But I don't think it should be determinant yet.

People's pensions should trump everything else. But I think one brings to that decision a lot of information as to where the country is.

But Edmund Burke had a famous answer about a member of Parliament owing his constituency total fidelity, but he doesn't owe his conscience to anybody.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Mr. Hyde, when you said that censure, that you have not yet made up your mind on whether censure will come before the committee, are you simply saying whether it would come up as something to be voted on in committee and then not on the floor?

Could you just explain what your...

HYDE: Well, I wouldn't have control over the floor. That would be leadership and rules and that sort of thing. But we're talking about in the committee whether or not there will be a censure resolution. And my answer to that is I don't know. I'm not for it.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Mr. Hyde, you mentioned that you're not for censure. But are you hearing a lot of committee members, Republican and Democrats, trying to say to you, we want to have a chance to vote on censure in committee? Are you hearing that?

HYDE: I hear Democrats saying that. I don't hear Republicans saying that. Let me -- just -- this is the middle zone. All right, Paul. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman, is there any question in your mind as to whether the 106th Congress, Senate can consider an impeachment article that was passed by the House in the 105th Congress?

HYDE: I'm sure the Supreme Court will ultimately say, yes, they can.

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman?

HYDE: Yes -- yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: I was just curious about -- what happened to the witness-tampering charge. There was -- at one point (OFF-MIKE)...

HYDE: What happened to the witness tampering charge?

QUESTION: ... tampering charge. At one point, that was under consideration as an article of impeachment. Is that going to be wrapped into the obstruction of justice charge?

HYDE: It could be. It could be. We have some wonderful wordsmiths who can condense things.

Yes, Mr. Schieffer.

QUESTION: Would you explain a little more about (OFF-MIKE) talking about you're against censure? Does that mean you're against it as an option? Or you're -- I'm not sure (OFF-MIKE).

HYDE: I don't think censure is an appropriate sanction. I don't think Congress has the constitutional authority -- in a government of delegated powers, when it comes to disciplining the chief executive, the Constitution has delegated impeachment, not censure. Now, that isn't to say we can't -- someone is fond of saying a prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich. We can condemn a ham sandwich if we want to. But I don't think -- I think that's extra-constitutional, and it does trespass on separation of powers and creates a precedent that could not be pleasant.

So there are lots of ramifications to censure.

QUESTION: Does this mean you're just completely removing that as an option here?

HYDE: I wouldn't say I'm removing it as an option. I'm pledging my opposition, but I am not saying that there isn't some circumstance where a vote could be had on that. I don't know the answer to that. I'm not for it, but I'm not saying that I will go to the death to resist it.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) follow up (OFF-MIKE).

HYDE: Just a minute, Vic. Just a minute.

QUESTION: Just (OFF-MIKE) -- just one -- this means there's not going to be a censure vote in the committee. Is that correct?

HYDE: I would not bet the ranch on that either way, either way.

Mr. Ratner (ph).

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman, the Rodino committee made history by having a bipartisan impeachment vote in 1974.

HYDE: Yes, there were some Republicans who had the patriotism and the wisdom to ask Mr. Nixon to resign, absolutely. Where are they now when we need them?

QUESTION: How would you feel if your committee vote was a purely partisan political vote of one party?

HYDE: I would feel sad, but nonetheless, you know, you take what you can get. But I would prefer bipartisanship.

Ultimately, this has to be a bipartisan exercise, if not in the committee. And we have one of the most polarized committees on the galaxy -- in the galaxy.

And that's all right. They're fun to work with, very challenging.

But I think certainly in the Senate, without Democratic support, it would never go anywhere.

So ultimately, there has to be some bipartisan support.

But see, we have been handicapped in not having the leisure to develop as much as we want. We've had to worry about time constraints, which I think are valid, and I think our decision to try and end by the first of the year was a good one, because again, I don't think people want this as a brooding omnipresence over the country forever.

But it didn't give us a lot of time to work in many other areas.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Mr. Hyde, you were eager -- you said a minute ago, you made a reference to the professors, the university professors that the president's team is calling. It sounded -- you didn't say it, but it sounds like you don't think very highly of what they have to offer.

HYDE: Not at all. I'm just kidding. Professors are wonderful people. Some of my favorite people are professors.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: All kidding aside, I mean, honestly, do you personally believe that they're going to add to the debate in any way? Or do you think it's just theatrics or...

HYDE: There's a term in law, when you have additional evidence, having already introduced some, it's called "make weight." It's make weight evidence. I suspect that we won't hear any new or novel insights that we haven't heard from, let's say, Alan Dershowitz or Lawrence Tribe. I don't know what Washington would do without Harvard.

(LAUGHTER)

But we can always learn at their feet.

QUESTION: You're giving these 30 hours, but you personally don't think that you're going to hear anything that's going to add to the process?

HYDE: Oh, hope springs eternal. I'm going to listen and learn, no doubt. But I was disappointed that there aren't any witnesses to the facts.

QUESTION: Will you chair over the meeting until midnight, or will you delegate it to someone else?

HYDE: From time to time, I may find it necessary to leave the room.

(LAUGHTER)

And one nice thing about being chairman is I don't have to raise my hand.

(LAUGHTER)

OK. Ms. Povich.

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman, I am not a lawyer, but I understand in prosecutorial covenant there is a theory that says if you are not convinced that you can get a conviction, you should not bring an indictment. Are you convinced that there would be a conviction in the Senate? And therefore, are you at all bothered by the thought of bringing an impeachment without at least some sense that there would be a conviction?

HYDE: I think it would be very presumptuous of me to anticipate what the Senate might do at any given time. Opinions change from week to week, from day to day, as you well know. And I think what I have to focus on and what we in the House have focused on is our duty and our responsibility as a Judiciary Committee who was assigned this difficult task to do our duty and not to worry about what the other body, the gentlemen from Mt. Olympus will do -- and gentleladies -- when it gets over there.

But I wouldn't let that influence me.

The gentlelady...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) second on that. So you are not moved by what appears to be American public opinion on this issue and you are not moved by what appears to be the sense of the Senate on this issue? What are you...

HYDE: I'm touched by it, but I'm not moved by it.

Yes.

QUESTION: What are you listening to?

HYDE: What does move me?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) listening to? Who are you listening to?

HYDE: Who am I listening to? Listening to my colleagues, and of course, I'm reading everything you write in "Newsday."

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: You mentioned that ultimately this has to be a bipartisan exercise, and you referred to -- in the Senate, it has to be bipartisan.

HYDE: Right.

QUESTION: Does it have to be bipartisan in the full House and (OFF-MIKE)...

HYDE: Doesn't have to be, but it would be nice if it could be.

QUESTION: Do you anticipate it being bipartisan? Do you consider three or five votes going toward the Republicans -- is that bipartisan? Or do you need more than that to show that it...

HYDE: I think it may be more bipartisan than many think. I think. I think once it gets to the floor and we get this fully debated, I wouldn't predict the outcome at all.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: At the outset of this investigation, you said that there had to be bipartisanship in order for this inquiry to have credibility and to withstand the scrutiny of the public and of history.

HYDE: For the impeachment, not at this stage. It would be very helpful to have some bipartisanship, but we are very polarized right now. I mean, everyone knows that. But once it gets to the floor, I think that polarization, which is inherent in the makeup of our committee on both sides, will be ameliorated a little bit, and we may get a different situation.

David Rogers (ph)?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) you say there's no trouble (ph) about the facts. But when I went through -- you guys put out that primer for the 81 answers, you know, and when I go through what you wrote, I find contradictions. And there are questions -- there are many answers there where you'll say, for example, did she, did Lewinsky, did the president tell her to ask Jordan for a job or did she come up with that idea herself, or did she suggest the affidavit or did he suggest it, and there are genuine questions of fact there. Do you agree with that -- that there are questions of fact?

I mean, I don't see you -- on one hand, you say there's a compelling, compulsive case. Then you say you haven't found him guilty yet. And then you say you're disappointed he hasn't brought up factual arguments.

HYDE: Well, you can't find people guilty until you hear the other side, and we haven't heard the other side (OFF-MIKE).

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) you made, I mean, what I'm trying to (OFF- MIKE).

HYDE: (OFF-MIKE) to make them produce witnesses?

QUESTION: No. To -- with your own investigative power, which is substantial, to test some of these facts.

I mean, the reality is you put out a primer in which there are contradictions in facts. There's a question as to what she said in the grand jury testimony, as to what she said to the OIC interview. We don't know what she said in the OIC interview because it's simply Starr.

You haven't done that, and I want to know how you're going to weigh that when it comes to doing the articles.

HYDE: Well, I -- frankly, David, I don't really understand your question. I know of no dispute among ourselves as to the relevant critical facts. I just don't. And I'm waiting to hear some evidence that they...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) no dispute on the facts?

HYDE: That's right.

I'll take the last question -- the gentleman with the very distinguished bow tie.

QUESTION: Oh, thank you very much. Mr. Chairman, Judge Wiggins testified, I think he was -- appeared at your request.

HYDE: Yes, he did. Yes, he did.

QUESTION: He, of course, was a veteran of the 1974 inquiry.

HYDE: Yes, he was.

QUESTION: And he had a really complicated, but interesting analysis of the whole issue. What was your reaction to his analysis? Did you find it persuasive or do you dismiss it out of hand?

HYDE: Well, Chuck Wiggins is a dear friend of mine. And I served with him when he served on this committee before he became a U.S. Court of Appeals judge. And I respect his brains and his judgment.

I respectfully disagreed with him on this. I thought Chuck went a little beyond what we asked him to do. We asked him to testify on the impact of perjury on the rule of law. And he decided to place himself as a member of Congress and how would he vote.

I was a little surprised because he said we should vote impeachment in the committee but he wasn't sure we should vote impeachment on the floor. I will have some conversations with Chuck at an early time. But that was volunteered information. It's information that I can't say now whether I would agree with or disagree until we hear all the evidence.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

HYDE: Pardon me?

QUESTION: He actually said he would vote no on the floor, isn't that true?

HYDE: I read a transcript, and I thought it was a little less hard-edged than that. But I think that was the (OFF-MIKE)...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

HYDE: Yes. Well, he, unhappily (ph), he's not going to be asked to vote on this matter. He's more interested in the restructuring of the Ninth Circuit, which is his main concern.

Well, thank you very much.


Investigating the President

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Monday, December 7, 1998

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