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

The president's defense: Day two highlights

Check back to this page throughout the day for brief updates and details about what is happening in the hearing room.

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, December 9) -- Members of the House Judiciary Committee finally got their chance Wednesday to ask President Bill Clinton's lawyer about facts surrounding the allegations of perjury, obstruction of justice and abuse of power facing the president.

White House Counsel Charles Ruff faced an aggressive round of questioning from Republican members of the committee about Clinton's behavior.

"Did he lie?" Republican James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin repeatedly asked Ruff.

"There is no secret here when he stood in the Roosevelt Room and said 'I never had sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky,'" Ruff said. "He knew when he said that ... that he was misleading the people who were listening to him."

"But did he lie?" Sensenbrenner asked again, regarding Clinton's civil deposition in the Paula Jones case and his testimony before the Lewinsky grand jury.

"I have no doubt that he walked up to a line that he thought he understood," Ruff answered. "Reasonable people ... could determine that he crossed over that line and that what for him was truthful but misleading or nonresponsive and misleading or evasive was, in fact, false."

Later in the committee's questioning of Ruff, Republican Steve Chabot of Ohio asked the chief White House counsel if he was sure that Clinton would not pardon himself or accept a pardon from any successor.

"Absolutely," Ruff responded.

Each member of the committee received five minutes to question Ruff.

Ruff's opening statement

Ruff began the formidable task of closing the president's defense presentation at 1:30 p.m. ET with an opening statement.

He admitted that President Bill Clinton had made grave mistakes and was sorry. But Ruff then began to argue, as the previous witnesses had also contended, that Clinton did not try to "to subvert our system of government" and therefore does not deserve to be impeached.

He asked the committee, many of whom he acknowledged have already made up their minds, to remain "unswayed by mere partisanship" when they make their decision on sending article of impeachment to the full House.

Ruff also promised to avoid the scholarly discourse that has filled the committee room for the past two days.

Ruff then began a point-by-point factual analysis of parts of Independent Counsel Ken Starr's report, including sections on the gifts exchanged by Clinton and Monica Lewinsky and their subsequent return to Clinton's secretary Betty Curry; Lewinsky's job search; and the president's claim of executive privilege for staff members and White House counsel.

In the last case Ruff pointed out how Starr's report took comments Clinton made during a state visit to Africa out of context and used them to support his assertion of abuse of power.

Committee questioning

Before Ruff's statement began committee members each got five minutes to question the final Clinton defense panel of former prosecutors including: Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld; Richard Davis, former task force leader for the Watergate Special Prosecution Force; Thomas Sullivan, former U.S. attorney for the northern district of Illinois; Ronald Noble, former undersecretary of the Treasury; and Edward Dennis, Jr., former acting U.S. deputy attorney general. Here is a sample of the questioning.

inglis Rep. Bob Inglis (R-South Carolina) returned to his criticism of Tuesday -- complaining that the White House's witnesses are not presenting any facts to the committee. In an exchange with Sullivan, a former U.S. attorney for the northern district of Illinois, he said:

INGLIS: ...Would any of what we've heard this morning be admissible as a fact in a case involving a prosecution of Bill Clinton, the private citizen? Any of your testimony? Would any of that be admitted as a fact in that case?"

SULLIVAN: Oh, no. Absolutely not.

INGLIS: Would anything that anyone else has said here this morning be admitted as a fact in that case?

SULLIVAN: Absolutely not.

INGLIS: I'm keeping score, Mr. Chairman, as you know, so this makes panel four, Mr. Craig, the fourth panel, no facts. And Mr. Craig said yesterday to us, "In the course of our presentation today" -- that was yesterday -- "and tomorrow" -- that's today -- "we will address the factual" -- underlined factual -- "and evidentiary issues directly." The score now is zero to four. Zero panels, zero witnesses dealing with facts...


berman Rep. Howard Berman (D-California) questioned the panel about their contentions that cases not likely to be won should not be brought to trial, saying, "If you were bringing in the case in the South, involving civil rights with an all-white jury ... you wouldn't refuse to bring that case against some crimes against a black victim simply because your fears in the 1960s or '50s that an all- white jury might never convict." Here is a sample of his exchange with New York law professor Richard Noble:

NOBLE: That's why it (principles of federal prosecution) says reasonable and unbiased.

BERMAN: Right. So you'd have to conclude here that the United States Senate -- you'd have to reach the conclusion that they were somehow a not a reasoned and unbiased jury to apply that logic in this situation.

NOBLE: May I just respond -- and let me quote you from the Department of Justice guidelines, because they use precisely that example to make that point.

And they say -- and I quote -- "For example, in a civil rights case, or a case involving an extremely popular political figure, it might be clear that the evidence of guilt viewed objectively by an unbiased fact-finder would be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction that the prosecutor might reasonably doubt whether the jury would convict. In such a case, despite his or her negative assessment of the likelihood of a guilty verdict based on factors extraneous to an objective view of the law and the facts, the prosecutor may properly conclude that it is necessary and desirable to commence or recommend prosecution and allow the criminal process to operate in accordance with its principles."


Republican Rep. George Gekas of Pennsylvania questioned the panel on what would have happened if the president had invoked the Fifth Amendment instead of trying to answer the Lewinsky questions in an evasive manner. Here is a sample of the exchange with the panel:

GEKAS: But my point is that you are asserting with me that this high-profile case that would have been a result of the president pleading Fifth Amendment makes it a different situation. It is possible, I believe, that the Congress, that the House could begin impeachment proceedings if that alone had happened -- the pleading of the Fifth Amendment by the president -- as being a political problem, a political affront to the system of government.

SULLIVAN: Do you think taking the Fifth Amendment is a high crime or misdemeanor?

GEKAS: No. I'm saying...

SULLIVAN: The Constitution gives everyone the right to take the Fifth Amendment and the jury is instructed that they are not to take any inference from that.

GEKAS: What I'm saying to you, sir, is that in pleading the Fifth Amendment, it becomes a high-profile case.

SULLIVAN: There's no doubt about that. I'm sorry about interrupting.

GEKAS: If the president did so, you can't argue that case. You've already admitted that it would be a high-profile case.

SULLIVAN: Of course. But I don't think it's relevant here.

Witness opening statements

Before the questioning the committee heard the opening statements from the fourth and final Clinton defense panel to testify before the committee.

weld Former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, a former head of the Criminal Division in the Reagan Justice Department told the committee that a perjury charge is usually brought as a means to another end. Weld told the story about a perjury case he brought against a man who claimed under oath that he was in Florida on a certain day. Saying that such a prosecution may look similar to the charges against Clinton, Weld went on the describe how the man was a known arsonist that evidence showed was in a Massachusetts town on the day of a big fire -- the day he claimed to be in Florida. Ultimately he sought to prosecute the man on arson charges.

Weld also warned the committee that they should not impeach the president as a punishment, or to tarnish his reputation. "He is already tarnished," Weld said, contending no one will forget this incident.

Weld also suggest an alternative form of punishment for the president, saying Clinton deserved more than a censure but his offenses did not warrant impeachment.

noble Ronald Noble, a former undersecretary of the Treasury, compared the impeachment process to the indictment procedure, saying that an indictment obtained on a 13 to 10 vote indicates that there might be something wrong with the prosecutors case. Likewise, Noble claimed, an impeachment on party-line vote is a signal that "the case may not be worth pursuing."

"Indictments and impeachments that result in acquittal ought be avoided where possible," Noble said.

dennis Edward Dennis, Jr., former acting U.S. deputy attorney general told the committee he is opposed to impeachment because it is not clear that Clinton possessed the "criminal intent" necessary for a conviction on the charges of perjury and obstruction of justice and thus a conviction in court would be difficult to obtain.

davis Richard Davis, former task force leader for the Watergate Special Prosecution Force, warned the committee that they should consider whether this case could be won in court because cases likely to be lost in court cannot be brought to trial just to express moral outrage.

sullivan Thomas Sullivan, a former U.S. attorney for the northern district of Illinois, began Wednesday's testimony by arguing that the case against the President Bill Clinton did not, in his opinion meet the legal criteria required to be prosecuted in a court of law. Citing legal mandate that the case against Clinton must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, Sullivan claimed impeaching a president on probable cause would be wrong.

"A threshold question is whether -- if the president is not above the law, as he should not be, is he to be treated as below the law?" Sullivan asked."Is he to be singled out for prosecution because of his office in a case in which, were he a private citizen, no prosecution would result?"

Defending Clinton, day two

The House Judiciary Committee's impeachment hearing was gaveled to order Wednesday at 8:12 a.m. ET. Chairman Henry Hyde announced that committee members will have 10-minute opening statements Thursday night before the debate on articles of impeachment begins Friday. Hyde's announcement sparked a partisan debate among members on the process of drawing up the possible articles of impeachment. Democrats asked for drafts of proposed articles as soon as they are formed and Republicans, in turn, demanded copies of any motions to censure the president that the Democrats may be drafting.

Investigating the President


Wednesday, December 9, 1998

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