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Transcript provided by FDCH

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

Transcript: Questioning of panel two by Rep. Howard Berman

House Judiciary Committee hearing, December 8, 1998

DRINAN: I will leave God to judge that.

GEKAS: And then, maybe God's messengers should not prejudge the God that would make the judgment.

MCCOLLUM: Mr. Gekas, your time is expired.

Mr. Berman, you are recognized for five minutes.

BERMAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I thank the former members for their excellent testimony.

I'd like to listen to what Mr. McCollum and some of the others on the majority side are saying. As to sort of, which sort of reveals their thinking on this issue of lying under oath.

And they seem to be taking the view that in and of itself when it involves the president of the United States, it has ripple effects in terms of the system of justice, in terms of the message to the people. That raises it to a level that perhaps is different than in other situations.

And tell me what you think of that argument. I mean, this is a very -- this notion of searching for the definition of other high crimes and misdemeanors I think is a losing proposition. We come up with the committee did the best job they could back in 1974. And then a hypothetical is thrown out and it doesn't quite fit that definition. But maybe that's a grounds for impeachment.

So, I'm not sure the effort to define perfectly is going to ever work. But this is their argument. I'd like to hear your thoughts about that argument, the implications of lying under oath and the extent to which it should be treated in the fashion that they are treating it.

DRINAN: Well, Congressman, there's a thousand hypotheticals. But we have only one case.

BERMAN: Yes.

DRINAN: The House Judiciary Committee has never really heard evidence on that one case. The president has never had an opportunity to cross-examine those who said things against him. That's one of my fundamental difficulties and the difficulties of the whole country with this whole proceeding. We can speculate about impeachment.

All I know is that when the framers put it in to the constitution, they said and affirmed that this should be very rare. This is only for the occasion, as Benjamin Franklin said, when we want to anticipate and prevent assassination.

BERMAN: Well, I don't know if (OFF-MIKE) -- I have to say that that argument doesn't do that much for me.

Yes, I think questions of burden of proof are important in what's going forward. There's a ream of grand jury transcripts. And while the process I would have liked would have brought that before us, in an orderly fashion, we the minority, the president's lawyers had the opportunity to call those same people and subject them to cross- examination.

My point isn't -- I don't consider this process defective in and of itself because of that. I think the problem -- the question here that I'd like answered is dealing with this issue of statements under oath. And the broader context of that and what you would think of as your response.

DRINAN: I'll defer to my colleagues.

HOLTZMAN: Mr. Berman, if I might just give you history in terms of an answer to your question.

We had two efforts to impeach a president. One was Andrew Johnson because people didn't like his policy with regards to the reconstruction. And they picked on one act -- the removal of a cabinet member. One act, that impeachment went down in history as a scandal.

BERMAN: Yes.

HOLTZMAN: Watergate -- the president lied to the American people on numerous occasions. That was not the basis on which we removed him. We had 32 separate counts of obstruction of justice, including offering presidential pardons to burglars. We had several counts under abuse of power, including the misuse of the CIA to get the FBI to stop an investigation, including the use of the IRS to audit people's tax returns improperly, including the creation of a plumber's unit to break into a psychiatrist's office.

You had such a spectrum of abuse and illegality and misconduct that there was no question that this constituted an impeachable offense and the president needed to be removed. Here you're talking about in essence, the theme and variation, is the president engaged in sexual misconduct? He wanted to conceal it and that is what we're talking about. In all of its variations and guises. It certainly doesn't rise to what we saw in Watergate.

And in my remarks to this committee, I urge you to think about how history will look at you. If you act on a single act of misconduct which does not involved the powers of the presidency, how will history judge you if you try to remove a president of the United States.

HYDE: The gentleman's time has expired.

The gentleman from North Carolina, Mr. Coble.

Mr. Coble, would you yield to me briefly?


Investigating the President

MORE STORIES:

Tuesday, December 8, 1998

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