The president's defense: Day 1
As it happensCheck back to this page throughout the day for brief updates and details about what is happening in the hearing room.
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, December 8) -- The House Judiciary Committee hearing formally began at 10 a.m. ET. Committee Chairman Henry Hyde began the session by outlining the schedule for the two days of the president's defense presentation as well as the rest of the committee's week.
Opening statement by Hyde
The Illinois Republican, restating his goal of finishing the impeachment proceeding by the end of the year, announced that the committee will begin debate and discussion on articles of impeachment on Friday, after opening statements from all committee members Thursday evening.
Opening statement by Conyers
The ranking Democrat on committee, John Conyers of Michigan then began his opening statement with an attack on the Republicans' rush to impeach the president.
"The independent counsel had four years to investigate the president. This committee had four months. The White House is now getting two days. There is no question the president's conduct was wrong," Conyers said. "But I believe that the legal case against the president is not strong."
Opening statement by CraigSpecial White House Counsel Gregory Craig opened Clinton's two-day defense by saying, "The president wants everyone to know he is genuinely sorry" for his conduct.
"Open your mind, open your heart and focus on the record," Craig said. "If you are in fact disposed to vote for impeachment in the name of a justice that is fair and blind and impartial, please do so only on the basis of the real record and the real testimony not on the basis of what someone else tells you is in the record."
Craig then turned the microphone over to a panel of four legal and constitutional scholars for brief opening statements on the "Historical Precedents and Constitutional Standards."
Panel 1 opening statements
Former U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach warned committee members that the Constitution mandates a consideration of the public's opinion on the president's ability to lead.
"The threshold constitutional question ... can be simply stated: Is the conduct of the president such that he should be removed from office because as a consequence of that conduct the public no longer has confidence that he can perform the duties of that high office?" Katzenbach said.
Princeton history professor Sean Wilentz argued that not all crimes are impeachable offenses and in his opinion, Clinton's offenses don't rise to the level of impeachable offense. He also warned the committee: "If you believe they do rise to that level, you will vote for impeachment and take your risks at going down in history with the zealots and the fanatics."
Harvard professor Samuel Beer also warned that removing a president twice elected by the people with out considering the whole record of the Clinton presidency could do long term damage to the office of the president.
Whether the House of Representatives of the 105th Congress can send a president to a trial with the Senate of the 106th Congress was the subject of Yale Law professor Bruce Ackerman's opening statement.
Ackerman told committee members that since the House is not a "continuous body" all issues die with it at the end of its term. He warned that should the House pass articles of impeachment, the question would surely go the Supreme Court and Chief Justice William Rehnquist could quash the impeachment and send it back to the new House. He also pleaded with the committee not to put this constitutional question to the test.
Committee questioning of first panel
The panel of experts and Craig then began to take questions from committee members. Here are some key excerpts from Monday afternoon's questioning
Republican James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin immediately asked Craig about the facts that president's lawyer claimed would prove Clinton does not deserve impeachment.
SENSENBRENNER: Well, let me get to the heart of this case. Did Monica Lewinsky provide false testimony to the grand jury, in your opinion?
CRAIG: We think, in some areas, she provided erroneous testimony that is in disagreement with the president's testimony, and particularly in specific areas having to do with the grand jury.
Now, you are going to have to make a determination as to how important the divergence, the disagreement or the disagreement on the testimony is.
During his five minutes of questioning Rep. and Sen.-elect Charles Schumer of New York asked the panel whether the level of contrition from the president should influence the impeachment debate. "Does the level of apology, the fulsomeness of apology, the sincerity of apology, should that be entering into one's mind as to whether the president should be impeached?" Schumer asked.
WILENTZ: ...The answer is no, it should not. There is no constitutional standard for lack of contrition. The ways in which -- and my comments about cravenness, etcetera, were directed toward that process of getting those moderates, perhaps, to get in line -- if any standard other than the constitutional standard of high crimes and misdemeanors becomes the reason for a vote for impeachment, that vote is to my mind a dereliction of constitutional duty.
SCHUMER: So level of contrition would not go to whether someone committed a high crime or misdemeanor by any stretch of the imagination.
CRAIG: Absolutely not, absolutely not.
SCHUMER: Do you agree with that, Professor Ackerman?
ACKERMAN: Yes. Yes, the operational question is whether the conduct alleged represents a clear and present danger to the foundations of the republic. And contrition, it seems to me, does not enter into that. Nor would the answer to these 81 questions, which don't deal with the acts of the president for which we're examining impeachment.
Rep. Bob Inglis (R-South Carolina) got to the heart of the criticism that the president has been hair-splitting in trying to dance around the legal question of perjury, saying "It seems to me that you are relying on these technicalities. Now, Mr. Craig, did he lie to the American people when he said, 'I never had sex with that woman.' Did he lie?"
CRAIG: He certainly misled and deceived.
INGLIS: Well, wait a minute now. Did he lie?
CRAIG: To the American people, he misled them and did not tell the truth at that moment.
INGLIS: OK, so you're not -- you're not going to rely -- the president has personally assisted you, I understand, instructed you -- has assisted and personally instructed you, I suppose, that no legalities or technicalities should be to allowed to obscure this simple, moral truth. Did he lie to the American people when he said, I never had sex with that woman?
CRAIG: You know, he doesn't believe he did, and because of the...
INGLIS: What? He doesn't...
CRAIG: ... let me explain. May I explain, congressman?
INGLIS: He doesn't believe that he lied?
CRAIG: No. He does not believe that he lied because his notion of what sex is what the dictionary definition is. It is, in fact, something you may not agree with, but in his own mind, his definition was not ...
INGLIS: OK, I understand that argument.
INGLIS: This is an amazing thing that you now sit before us, and you're taking back all of his apologies.
INGLIS: You're taking them all back, aren't you?
CRAIG: No, I'm not, congressman.
INGLIS: Because now you're back to the argument -- there are many arguments that you can make here. One of them is that he didn't have sex with her; it was oral sex, it wasn't real sex. Now, is that what you're here to say to us today, that he did not have sex with Monica Lewinsky?
CRAIG: What he said was -- to the American people -- that he did not have sexual relations, and I understand you're not going to like this, congressman, because it -- you will see it as a technical defense or a hair-splitting, evasive answer, but sexual relations is defined in every dictionary in a certain way, and he did not have that kind of sexual contact with Monica Lewinsky, so...
Panel 2 opening statements
After every member of the committee had used their allotted 5-minutes to question Craig and the first panel, the second panel, brought in to testify about "Abuse of Power," was sworn in and present their opening statements. The group included former Reps. Elizabeth Holtzman of New York, Rev. Robert Drinan of Massachusetts and Wayne Owens of Utah, all of whom sat on the House Judiciary Committee when it debated the impeachment of President Richard Nixon in 1974.
Holtzman, who helped to write the independent counsel statute which made Starr's investigation possible, criticized Starr for overstepping "his jurisdiction by arguing for impeachment on this ground or any ground."
"We never intended to create a grand inquisitor for impeachment," Holtzman said.
Drinan, a Roman Catholic priest, told the committee the current situation is entirely different from the one he faced in 1974. "At that time, the country knew there was extensive lawlessness in the White House," Drinan said.
"The documentation of appalling crimes was known by everyone. Abuse of power and criminality were apparent to the American people." Drinan said. "I hope ... that history will not decree that the House Judiciary Committee made a profound mistake in 1998 and that this body will go down in the history books as one that was dominated by vindictiveness and by vengeance and by partisanship."
Owens recounted how the Judiciary Committee of 1974 came to the standard of impeachment it used to consider articles of impeachment against Nixon and then warned the committee about the difference between the charges against Nixon and the charges against Clinton.
"Today, you are faced with a record of misdeeds by a president who carried on an illicit sexual affair, then publicly and privately mislead others to protect his wife and daughter and the public from finding out about his infidelity -- personal, not official, misconduct, akin to President Nixon cheating on his taxes," Owens testified. "Improper and serious, but by nature, personal misconduct, and therefore, not impeachable."
Committee questioning, take two
The committee then began another round of 5-minute member questioning.
But many committee members like Republicans Howard Coble of North Carolina and Bob Goodlatte of Virginia Coble used their time to reiterate their opinions on the impeachment proceeding instead of questioning the witnesses. Here is a sample of the proceedings:
COBLE: Now, many people have compared this crisis to Watergate. There are similarities and there are distinctions.
I recall, during the days of Watergate, those who opposed impeachment simply said -- My gosh, it's only a second-rate burglary. What is the big deal?
Well, it was, indeed, a big deal because it involved cover-up. It involved obstruction of justice. It involved abuse of power. It involved the use of government employees, taxpayer subsidized by the way -- paid by the taxpayers -- to lie, to evade, to deceive. So it extended far beyond a second-rate burglary.
Now nearly a quarter of a century later, we hear people who are opposed to impeachment in this instance. Well, my gosh, it only involves consensual sex among consenting adults. What is the big deal?
Well, the big deal may be a duplication of Watergate problems -- coverup, evasion, lying, deception, using government employees -- paid for by the taxpayers, I might add again -- to cover-up. It may go beyond that.
GOODLATTE: It's been suggested, Congresswoman Holtzman -- I think you suggested -- that this was simply merely lying about an embarrassing personal situation, attempting to cover that up.
But before the federal grand jury, Ms. Holtzman, the president's statements that ... clearly were not for the purposes of covering up an embarrassment because minutes after the president made those statements under oath before the grand jury, he went before the American people and acknowledged doing some embarrassing, personally indiscrete things.
And before the deposition in the civil law suit seven months earlier, the president clearly was not making those allegedly false statements for the purpose of covering up personal indiscretions because, in the same depositions, the president acknowledged other personal indiscretions -- with Gennifer Flowers and so on. So I think the purpose of the president, in both instances, was something other than to cover up personal indiscretion.
I think the purpose of the president was to defeat the lawsuit -- the sexual harassment lawsuit -- to obstruct justice in that case, to coach witnesses and to bring forth a false affidavit from another individual. And those, I think, are very serious charges very similar to the charges that the Watergate committee considered regarding President Nixon and his tax return. And I think upholding the rule of law and standing up for honesty and truth in our judicial system is a very, very serious matter that the American people are very concerned about.
Democratic Zoe Lofgren of California questioned Drinan about the implications of politicizing the impeachment process, saying "I'm worried ... what kind of stature and certainty the president will have in the future" if the president can be sued and then impeached in relation to the suit.
LOFGREN: And what will the implications be for the economy of this nation? Do you have thoughts on that?
DRINAN: I think the implications are horrendous and you're quite right. If we weaken the independence of the presidency, who knows? The next president may want to change the rules on Cuba. And they say -- we'll indict you for that or impeach you for that, and he has been intimidated.
And all history shows that the presidency was severely weakened for 30 or 40 years after the attempted impeachment of Andrew Johnson. This has never happened in 220 years. I think that we should look at that.
Furthermore, and I think the underlying thing is that the president is being charged not with anything that relates to public policy or to the political function of the government, but something personal in which he has apologized for his misstatements.
Panel 3 opening statements
Just about on schedule, the third panel came before the committee to testify on "How to Evaluate the Evidence" around 6 p.m. ET Tuesday. The final panel of the day was made up of Richard Ben-Veniste, former assistant special prosecutor and chief of the Watergate Task Force and James Hamilton, former assistant chief counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee.
Ben-Veniste argued that the fact that the evidence does not support impeachment is reflected in the partisan fighting on the committee. "The inability to find a bipartisan consensus in this committee is not a function of the individual characteristics of the members, but it is more rooted in the wide-gulf between the president's conduct, even assuming that the factual allegations against him are true, and ... the grave consequences of a vote of impeachment."
Hamilton argued that presidents should only be impeached "to protect the state and society against great and dangerous offenses" if he remains in office.
"I respectfully submit that the alleged abuses by President Clinton do not indicate that he is a danger to the nation, " Hamilton contended." Lying to the public and to his cabinet and aids is disgraceful, but if we would impeach all officials who lie about personal or official matters, I fear that the halls of government would be seriously depleted."
Tuesday, December 8, 1998
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