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

Transcript: Opening Statement of Former Representative Wayne Owens (D)

House Judiciary Committee hearing, December 8, 1998

OWENS: Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen of the committee, I feel like we're appearing before you as three ghosts of impeachment past. With the exception of Ms. Holtzman, we are gray ghosts. We are grateful to be back in this hallowed chamber. Thank you for giving us this opportunity.

I remember keenly this afternoon how I felt 25 years ago while I learned while deer hunting in the mountains of southern Utah of the so-call "Saturday Night Massacre" -- the forced resignation of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and of Deputy Attorney General William Ruckleshouse and then of Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. I'd been following the revelations of Senate Watergate committee for six months.

It was obvious that Sunday morning that the House would be required to pursue an impeachment investigation and that my committee, the Judiciary Committee, would be called to conduct that investigation.

I think that I was initially in awe of the assignment, almost intimidated. No president had been called to account by the Congress for 100 years. History would be looking over our shoulder, and we wanted, from Chairman Rodino on down, Republicans and Democrats, to be sure that we were careful, judicial and bipartisan in all that we did.

While we recognize that impeachment was a political process, we were determined that it would not be a partisan process, and we reported unanimously our recommendations to the House that the investigation go forward, all 21 Democrats and 17 Republicans. And it was accepted by the full House by a vote of 410-4.

So we are aware, I think, of your feelings as you approach the decisions you must make. Chairman Hyde indicated early on that the precedence of the Nixon impeachment would be followed closely, and I want to argue to you that President Clinton's misdeeds do not reach the standard of impeachment which our committee established.

What was that standard? We defined impeachment in our final report as -- quote -- "a constitutional remedy addressed to serious offenses against the system of government."

Ten Republican members of the committee in a minority report argued for a higher standard of judgment, saying -- quote -- "The president should be removable by the legislative branch only for serious misconduct dangerous to the system of government established by the Constitution."

The man who is now the Senate majority leader, then Congressman Trent Lott, a member of the committee was one of the 10 arguing for that higher standard.

I want to recall for you briefly the circumstances surrounding the adoption of the so-called "abuse of power" article of impeachment in late July 1974.

The committee had just passed the first article, referred to as the obstruction of justice article, by a solid vote of 21 Democrats and six of the 17 Republicans. Proposed article of impeachment No. 2 after serious consideration and debate was passed by an even larger majority. A total of seven Republicans joined 21 Democrats finding that President Nixon violated the constitutional rights of citizens in five specific categories of abuse of his powers and voted to report the articles to the floor for full House consideration.

I urge you to consider carefully the gravity of those charges, which an overwhelming and bipartisan majority of the committee found to be sustained by not only clear and convincing evidence, but in fact by evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, the test for conviction in the Senate.

It was obvious to us that President Nixon would go to trial in the Senate, and we wanted to have a standard which would pass muster in the Senate.

President Nixon, it was clear, one, directed or authorized his subordinates to interfere with the partial and nonpolitical administration of the Internal Revenue Law for political purposes.

Two, he directed or authorized unlawful electronic surveillance and investigations of citizens and the use of information obtained from the surveillance for his own political advantage.

Three, he permitted a secret investigative unit within the office of the president to engage in unlawful and covert activities for his political purposes, including abuse of the CIA.

Four, once these and other unlawful and improper activities on his behalf were suspected, and after he knew or had reason to know that his close subordinates were interfering with lawful investigations into them, he failed to perform his duty to see that the criminal laws were enforced against those subordinates.

And five, he used his executive power to interfere with the lawful operations of agencies of the executive branch, including the Department of Justice and the Central Intelligence Agency, in order to assist in these activities as well as to conceal the truth about his misconduct and that of his subordinates and agents.

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. Improper and serious, but by nature, personal misconduct, and therefore, not impeachable.

Your obligation, may I be permitted to point it out to you, is to put those powerful differences into perspective and to render a judgment based solely on the gravity of the offense charged here, because there is little disagreement on the facts.

I know that it is said that impeachment is a political, not a legal, decision. But if you vote to impeach a president because he had an improper sexual affair then avoided full disclosure by using narrow legal definitions, even then affirming that testimony before a grand jury, if you impeach on that narrow basis of personal, not official, misconduct, you do untold damage to the Constitution and the stability of future presidents.

Our forefathers wisely intended that the only abuses of official presidential powers should be the premise by -- should be the premise for impeachment, and ladies and gentlemen, there is no evidence of such abuses before the committee. Not at all.

In closing, may I quote again briefly from the minority views of those 10 House Judiciary Committee Republicans who ultimately accepted and supported the articles of impeachment so that there was a unanimous -- unanimity in the Judiciary Committee before the president resigned?

From their minority views, this: "Absent the element of danger to the state, we believe the delegates to the federal convention in 1787, in providing that the president should serve for a fixed elective term rather than during good behavior or popularity, struck the balance in favor of stability in the executive branch."

Thank you very much.

HYDE: Thank you very much, Mr. Owens.

Investigating the President


Tuesday, December 8, 1998

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