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

Transcript: Opening Statement By Former Congressman Elizabeth Holtzman (D)

House Judiciary Committee hearing, December 8, 1998

HOLTZMAN: Mr. Chairman, members of the committee...

(UNKNOWN): Mike.

(UNKNOWN): Mike.

HYDE: Put your mike on please.

HOLTZMAN: Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, I thank you for the privilege of appearing before you on this historic day and hope my experiences as a member of the House Judiciary Committee during Watergate will be of assistance to you and the members of the House in your deliberations.

Let me begin by saying, Mr. Chairman, that I welcome the opportunity to appear before you. While we had our disagreements when we served together in the House, I always had tremendous regard for your ability to be thoughtful and open-minded. It was a pleasure to serve with you.

These very qualities are what the committee sorely needs now.

Nearly a quarter of a century ago, sitting where you are now, I never imagined in my lifetime that we would never see another impeachment proceeding. I am saddened to be here today. I love this committee. I love the Congress and I love my country.

But if this committee and the House vote along party lines for the impeachment of President William Jefferson Clinton on the information presently available, the credibility of the committee and the Congress will be severely damaged for a long time.

This impeachment will be viewed by history with much disapproval as that of Andrew Johnson. I know that many on this committee and many in the country believe the president's conduct to be reprehensible and unacceptable. I do not disagree and I'm not here to excuse that conduct.

Let us remember, however, that the goal of impeachment is not to punish a president, but to protect the nation. Impeachment now will punish the nation, not protect it.

Consider how much the country will be harmed by an impeachment trial in the Senate if the House votes any articles of impeachment. The trial, which could last for months, would disrupt the workings of the Supreme Court. The chief justice will have to preside every day over the Senate trial.

It will disrupt the workings of the Senate. It will disrupt the presidency. That is one of the reasons that impeachment cannot be voted lightly. The danger to the nation of having a president remain in office must be greater than the danger caused by the wholesale disruption of our government that an impeachment trial will bring.

The American people are not likely to look kindly on a government shutdown number two.

During Watergate, I spent many hours poring over books and studies to understand meaning of the term high crimes and misdemeanors. The framers of the Constitution wrote the impeachment clause because they were fearful of the monarchy they had just overthrown in the revolution would return, that a newly chief executive -- the president -- would become a tyrant.

But Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's referral makes out no case of abuse of power -- a subject I have been asked to address by the White House.

In Watergate, the articles of impeachment that charged abuse -- in Watergate the article of impeachment that charged abuse of power was, in a way, the most serious and it was the one that received the largest number of Republican votes.

Think of what presidential abuses we saw then -- getting the CIA to stop an FBI investigation, getting the IRS to audit political enemies, illegally wiretaping members of the National Security Council staff and of the press, a special unit in the White House to break into the psychiatrist's office of a political enemy, and on and on.

By contrast, what does Mr. Starr point to in the abuse of power in his referral -- acts that do not in the stretch of the imagination constitute an abuse.

Mr. Starr claims that the president did not voluntarily appear before a grand jury, but had to be subpoenaed before he appeared. That is surely not an abuse of power.

Mr. Starr attacks the fact that the president authorized executive privilege to be claimed for a handful of staff members and required the independent counsel to prove his need for their testimony in court. Of court once -- of course, once the court ruled that the testimony was required, then the president withdrew the claim. That, too, is not an abuse.

President Clinton's telling the American people that he did not have a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky was also not an abuse of power, although it was the wrong thing to do.

Parenthetically, I want to note that, as one of the authors of the independent counsel statute, I believe that Mr. Starr overstepped his jurisdiction by arguing for impeachment on this ground or any ground. Both the referral and his appearance here go far beyond what the statute permits.

We never intended to create a grand inquisitor for impeachment.

I want to make a few other brief points. I have heard it said that this committee views itself as a kind of grand jury and that it nearly needs probable cause, not overwhelming evidence, to impeach. Instead, it is the Senate that must have substantial evidence to act.

But if you use the analogy of a grand jury, then you should not be impeaching at all. No indictment would be sought by a prosecutor where there is no chance for a conviction, and it is almost universally conceded that there are not enough votes in the Senate to convict President Clinton and remove him from office.

In fact, federal prosecutors need to have a substantial likelihood of success before they can recommend indictment to the grand jury.

Why is this the case? Because prosecutions that go nowhere use up precious resources, and let us not forget how much money has already been spent by investigating President Clinton.

It is almost an abuse of power to indict someone, seriously damage that person's reputation, and force that person to the tremendous burden of putting up a defense when there is little of no likelihood of conviction. The same analogy holds true here.

Impeachment should not be voted by the House unless there is a strong likelihood of conviction in the Senate.

Impeachment is not a kind of supercensure designed simply to besmirch a president's reputation. Impeachment is a tool to remove a president from office. It is a last resort to preserve our democracy. It must not be perverted or trivialized.

Also, to use a different metaphor, this is not a football game where one player, the House, hands off the ball to another player, the Senate.

In Watergate, when we voted for impeachment, we did so because we believed President Richard Nixon should be and would be removed from office. We did not operate on some watered-down standard of evidence. We didn't think we were passing the buck to Senate where the real action would take place.

We voted as if we were the Senate, as if we ourselves were deciding on his removal, as if the case had been proven to us beyond a reasonable doubt.

That same standard should be followed here. You just don't casually overturn the majority vote of the American people.

And let me add, too, how difficult it was to cast the vote for impeachment. It was solemn, hard and unpleasant. Much as I disliked Richard Nixon's policies, I did not relish for one moment voting for impeachment.

He was my president, and I did not want to see my president engaged in acts of that nature. I think the other members on the committee felt the same way.

Unless this committee and the House act on a bipartisan basis and reach out for the common ground as we did during Watergate, unless you have the full support of the American people for the enormous disruption of our government that an impeachment trial will entail, unless you have overwhelming evidence of the serious abuse of power that impeachment requires, none of which have been true so far, you should not, you must not, vote to impeach.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Investigating the President


Tuesday, December 8, 1998

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