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

Transcript: Questioning of first panel by Rep. Charles Schumer

House Judiciary Committee hearing, December 8, 1998

SENSENBRENNER: The chair now recognizes the gentleman from New York, Mr. Schumer.

SCHUMER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

And you know, as we come close to finishing these proceedings and going to a vote, I guess most people seem to regard it as an assured conclusion on the floor of the House, I am sort of befuddled by the direction in which we go, and I would like to direct some questions at all of the panelists in this regard.

We're ready in this committee and maybe in the full House for the second time in our history to pass articles of impeachment to the Senate, and there are maybe 20 or 30 people who haven't really committed, whose minds aren't made up. They tend to be the so-called "moderate Republicans."

And at least to read from the newspaper statements of those moderate Republicans, what has pushed them in more of a direction to do the unthinkable, or what was unthinkable a few weeks ago and is still probably unthinkable to most of the American public, are two things: one, that the president didn't apologize in a fulsome way enough. I mean, one -- one of these swing votes is saying, please, Mr. President, apologize fully and then I won't have to vote for impeachment.

The other is that the answers to the 81 questions submitted by this committee weren't direct enough. And so what I worry about, I would say to this panel and to all of my colleagues in the full House, since I think this committee is already, sort of -- what we're doing is we're going through motions but it seems minds are made up -- but I say to my colleagues that we may, the American people may wake up next week and find out that the Congress impeached the president for not being contrite enough to certain members of Congress.

I just don't get that, because it seems to me that the standard of what the president did and whether that -- what he did reaches high crimes and misdemeanors should be totally irrelevant to a level of contrition. You may judge the president as what kind of man he is by the level of contrition, but not whether he should be impeached, or by whether the president answered a series of questions here directly enough, unless someone wants to allege that in the answers to the questions perjury was committed as well, and I haven't heard anybody allege that.

So I would like to ask each of the panelists, and particularly the constitutional experts, the professors, but all of the panelists -- in your legal opinion, even in your political opinion, does the contrition of the president go to whether the president should be impeached? 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? And similarly, should the president's answers to a list of questions, assuming that no perjurious statements were made in answers to these questions, and I guess -- I don't know if they're technically sworn under oath amid a standard to perjury -- but just assuming that, should that go to the -- to whether we should impeach the president as well?

So maybe, Professors Wilentz or Ackerman or Beer first.

WILENTZ: I can maybe reply to your question, too, Mr. Gekas. Your comments.

SCHUMER: Well, do that on his time, please.

WILENTZ: Yes, I will, OK.

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, et cetera, 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.

ACKERMAN: 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.

SCHUMER: Do you agree with that, Professor Beer?

BEER: Yes, I agree. People seem to be asking him to come and confess things which he didn't do and does not think he did. I wouldn't call that contrition; I would call that subservience.

SCHUMER: Do you have any comment on this, Mr. CraiRAIG: I agree with you, M r. Schumer.


You will not be surprised to know that I agree with you, Congressman.

SCHUMER: No. I mean, just -- since there's a minute left. It seems to me people are looking to avoid the direct, bald, naked confrontation with whether we should impeach or not when they're coming up with these kinds of answers. You'd better be convinced in your own head that these actions either imperil the republic or meet a standard of high crimes and misdemeanors, and not look for an excuse like the president didn't apologize enough or he didn't answer someone's question directly enough.

It's almost trivializing what ought to be a very sacred process.

SENSENBRENNER: The gentleman's time has expired.

Investigating the President


Tuesday, December 8, 1998

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