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Transcript provided by FDCH

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

Transcript: Opening Statement Of Former Representative Robert Drinan (D)

House Judiciary Committee hearing, December 8, 1998

HYDE: Father Drinan.

DRINAN: Mr. Chairman and members of this venerable committee, the situation before the House Judiciary Committee today is entirely different from the scene that I and my co-partners here experienced in 1974. At that time, the country knew there was extensive lawlessness in the White House. The documentation of appalling crimes was known by everyone. Abuse of power and criminality were apparent to the American people.

There is a well-documented evidence put forth in the report of that committee in 1974 about the plumbers, the break in of Dr. Elberg's office and the cover-up of the burglary at the Watergate Hotel.

The procedure followed by the House Judiciary Committee at that time was, however, even-handed. Months of hearings took place with the president's lawyer, Mr. Jim St. Clair, always present in this room and free to make any comments and ask questions.

Today the scene is startlingly different. No investigation has been made by the House Judiciary Committee nor have any fact-finding hearings been held.

The 21 Republicans have no support whatsoever from the 16 Democrats. And in addition, two-thirds of the nation or more are opposed to impeachment.

In 1974, the members of the Democratic majority had constant conversation and dialogue with the Republican members. And I remember intimately going to the Republicans and sharing with them the destiny of this committee and the awesome task that had come to us.

The Democrats were aware of the intense problems that the Republicans had with the impeachment of a Republican president. But eventually, through the sheer force of the evidence, six or seven of the Republicans voted for one or more articles of impeachment.

That was not a happy day when we voted for impeachment. And I remember well that Chairman Rodino said to the press afterwards, when asked what was first thing that he did, he said, "I went to my office and cried."

Another difference -- the House Judiciary Committee in 1998, unlike its predecessor where (ph) we served, has allowed its agenda to be dictated by the calendar. Strategy has been determined not by the need for thoroughness and fairness but by the convenience of ending this process by Christmas of this year.

The House Judiciary Committee in 1974, furthermore, did not vote for all of the proposed articles of impeachment. A serious charge was made that Mr. Nixon had backdated his taxes in an effort to take advantage of an exemption that had been repealed. And only 12 members of the body voted for the proposition that this was an impeachable offense.

Twenty-four members, including myself, voted that this misconduct -- almost certainly a felony -- was not impeachable.

The dignity and the majesty of the Rodino committee was not out to embarrass or humiliate President Nixon. What we were required to do was painful. But we worked, heard, listened, debated and finally voted. And the people of America, then and now, saw that the process was deliberate, bipartisan and measured.

The only time in American history that has seen anything like the process this fall before the House Judiciary Committee occurred in 1868 (sic) when President Andrew Johnson was impeached by the House. The consensus of history is that the Johnson impeachment was partisan and was a mistake. Its failure in the Senate did not prevent a weakening of the independence of the presidency.

And I hope, ladies and gentlemen, 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.

The American people who are so overwhelmingly opposed to impeachment may be coming aware of the dreadful consequences that would happen to America if the House approved of impeachment and sent articles to the Senate. The entire nation knows that there are under no consideration 67 votes for that proposition in the Senate.

But what the nation doesn't realize yet is that the country could be paralyzed for some six months. The workings of the Supreme Court would be harmed because the chief justice, under the Constitution, must preside each day at the trial.

The sentence program would be held up and the whole country would be immobilized. The House cannot pretend it has only to act like a grand jury and send the articles to the Senate for trial.

There is no historical or constitutional or legal justification for that program (ph) that you act as a grand jury. The House has a unique role in impeachment. The votes cast by each member will be the most important vote cast by that person as a member of Congress, and history will discover and record and remember whether that vote was done for partisan reasons.

A vote to impeach in this case would have dire consequences for years and even decades to come. Almost 70 percent of the nation and virtually every Democrat in the Congress are opposed to impeachment.

These groups believe firmly that even if all the allegations in the Starr report are true, there are no impeachable offenses. And I would anticipate, members of the committee, an explosion of anger like that -- like occurred after the Saturday Night Massacre could happen in this country.

When people realize what you people anticipate you will do this Saturday, and when it goes to the whole House, an explosion of anger just like happened 24 years ago when Mr. Richardson and Mr. Cox did some brave things.

Let me conclude, Mr. Chairman, by thanking you for the opportunity and urging you and the committee to recognize that the American people and the Democrats in Congress have a right to be listened to.

They have not agreed with any reasons for impeachment set forth by the Starr report and the Republican leadership in the Congress.

This nation has a right to demand that an impeachment effort with no bipartisan support whatsoever should be reconsidered and postponed.

Thank you very much.

HYDE: Thank you, Father. Mr. Owens.


Investigating the President

MORE STORIES:

Tuesday, December 8, 1998

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