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Transcript: Questioning of the Panel By Representative James Sensenbrenner (D-WI)
House Judiciary Committee hearing, December 8, 1998
HYDE: Thank you very much, Mr. Owens.
Now we will have the questions from the members, and the first questioner is Mr. Sensenbrenner.
SENSENBRENNER: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Ms. Holtzman, I believe that after you left Congress you spent some time as district attorney in Brooklyn. Am I correct in that?
HOLTZMAN: Yes, Mr. Sensenbrenner. I also had the pleasure of serving with you in the United States Congress.
SENSENBRENNER: Yes, and I remember that very vividly.
Do you think that making false statement before a grand jury is an impeachable offense?
HOLTZMAN: It could be, but it doesn't have to be.
SENSENBRENNER: What's the difference in your mind?
HOLTZMAN: What Mr. Owens so eloquently spoke to, which is that, in my judgment, whether the conduct is reprehensible or not, whether we find it extremely distasteful or not, the standard for impeachment is the abuse of the power of office -- one that creates a serious danger to the operations of our government and a threat to our democracy, which is what we saw in Watergate.
SENSENBRENNER: Now, the last impeachment that was voted by the House of Representatives was nine years ago in 1989. And there, the House of Representatives, unanimously 417-0 declared that Judge Walter Nixon's false statements to the grand jury about a private matter, which was a sweetheart oil and gas lease deal, were impeachable offenses. And the Senate agreed with the House's charge and kicked Judge Nixon out of office -- I believe by a 91-8 vote.
Can you tell me what you think the difference is between Judge Nixon's false statements to a grand jury about a private oil and gas lease that did not have anything to do with egregiously defrauding the government or changing the constitutional balance of powers and Bill Clinton's false statements, if they indeed were false statements, to the grand jury about his relations with Monica Lewinsky?
HOLTZMAN: Mr. Sensenbrenner, I think that the members of this committee can see and the country can see that there is a huge difference between impeaching one federal judge and removing -- because there are hundreds of federal judges -- and removing the one president of the United States.
Obviously, the situation of removal of a president is so grave because the president is voted upon. Judges, federal judges, are not elected. You are undoing the majority vote of the American people. That is central to our democratic system. It is central to the stability of this nation.
We've survived as a democracy very well and the presidency has been a central part of it.
But the second answer to your question, sir, is that judges serve during good behavior, which is something that does not apply to presidents. It's a constitutional standard. And so, I think, it's quite different.
SENSENBRENNER: Let me say, I'm deeply concerned with that answer -- because what you're saying is that the standard of truthfulness for a president of the United States when testifying before a grand jury is less than the standard of truthfulness for a federal judge.
Now you and I will disagree with that conclusion. But I've looked back and back in the record, as I'm sure all of us have. And I pulled out your questioning of Gerald Ford when he was before this committee having been nominated to be vice president by President Nixon, who was still in office at the time.
And you talked to Mr. Ford about Nixon lying allegedly about the bombing of Cambodia. Mr. Ford responded that he didn't think that President Nixon had been 100 percent truthful on that matter, and then insisted that all presidents had given some false and deceptive statements. You then said there was a difference between keeping a secret and falsifying information.
And you said, quote, "I think all of us understand that difference very well." Could you tell us then, is there not a major difference between historical falsehoods as opposed to lies before a federal court proceeding or a grand jury?
HOLTZMAN: Mr. Sensenbrenner, I hate to answer a question with a question. But don't you think there's an enormous difference between keeping a dual set of books about bombing of a foreign country without the authorization of Congress and not telling the truth about a private sexual misconduct?
SENSENBRENNER: I think there should be no difference because our perjury and false statements statutes, you know, do not have various levels of perjury. When you do make a false statement, you have to live by the consequences. And I think we all try to teach our kids that one of the things they always should do is always tell the truth.
HYDE: The gentleman's time -- the gentleman's time has expired.
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