Transcript: House debates articles of impeachment
December 18, 1998
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Michigan.
CONYERS: Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased now to recognize the gentlelady from Colorado, Mrs. DeGette, for three minutes.
SPEAKER: The gentlewoman from Colorado is recognized for three minutes.
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE DIANA DEGETTE (D-CO): (OFF-MIKE)
SPEAKER: Without objection.
DEGETTE: Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution states that "The president shall be removed from office on impeachment for and conviction of treason or bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors."
We have heard a lot today and in the past weeks about the rule of law. But that is not the standard for impeachment.
DEGETTE: We are all sworn to uphold the rule of law, and there is still a remedy in this situation for the president's action under the rule of law: criminal prosecution.
The president lied to us, but this vote is neither about absolution or punishment. The only question we face is whether the president's actions, regardless of how wrong or potentially criminal, rise to the standard our constitutional forefathers set for us.
We have been told by the majority of constitutional scholars that the president's actions do not fall in the meaning of high crimes or misdemeanors, but yet we persist. We have divided this House with partisan politics, sowing mistrust and exposing the darkness in our own hearts. It started with the first vote of the ah Congress to censure the speaker and it has continued to this day to the vote to impeach the president.
With all of the lost opportunities in between, it is no wonder we are losing the public's trust. After today, when the impeachment frenzy subsides, we will survey the damage to our own political system. We will have unnecessarily crippled the presidency for a generation to come. We will have wantonly weakened this House of Representatives, reaching a new low in partisan rancor.
We will have substantially subverted the Constitution, which was designed to reflect the will of the people in a republic, not to promote a political party in what is slipping towards a parliamentary system. We will intentionally have ignored the business of the American people both at home and abroad, and we will have changed the political climate where decency, polity, and civility have been sacrificed on the altar of political greed, cynicism, and shame.
This vote is unworthy of our institution. We will pay for it in the years to come. We will undermine the ability of the next generation of American presidents to lead us through the enormous challenges that face the 21st century, just as we did after the last impeachment of a president over 100 years ago.
DEGETTE: While this president must answer for his actions, history will judge us for our actions, too.
As legislators, as representatives and as citizens, we have an enormous responsibility, and I fear that we are on the brink of disgracing the public's trust.
I urge you to vote against impeachment on principle, mindful of our oath of office, understanding our duty to our constituents, to the Constitution and to the future. I yield back the balance of my time.
SPEAKER: Gentleman from Florida.
MCCOLLUM: I yield 30 seconds to the gentleman from California, Mr. Rogan.
SPEAKER: Gentleman's recognized.
ROGAN: I thank the gentleman for yielding. Some of our friends on the other side have indicated that perjury is not an impeachable offense under the Constitution.
I note the testimony of the former democratic attorney general of the United States, Griffin Bell, before our committee who referred to the legal authorities relied upon by our founders such as Blackstone.
General Bell testified that Blackstone had a series of crimes that were called crimes against justice, and those kind of crimes would be like perjury.
I am of the opinion -- my conclusion is that those crimes are high crimes within the meaning of the impeachment clause.
I thank the gentleman and I yield back.
MCCOLLUM: Mr. Chairman, I yield two-and-a-half minutes to the gentleman from California, member of the committee, Mr. Gallegly.
SPEAKER: The gentleman is recognized for two-and-a-half minutes.
GALLEGLY: Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent to revise and extend.
SPEAKER: Without objection.
GALLEGLY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
This has been a very trying time for all of us, for the president and for the country. But there are few things more important than standing up for the Constitution of the United States and for the rule of law.
There are three points I will make this morning in support of articles of impeachment. First, I am a member of the Judiciary Committee, and based on months of review, it is clear to me that President Clinton repeatedly lied under oath, intentionally and willfully, during a civil deposition and before the federal grand jury.
GALLEGLY: He also attacked the integrity of Congress by lying under oath in response to the 81 questions submitted by the Judiciary Committee. Our legal system which protects the rights and liberties of all citizens is dependent on telling the truth -- telling the truth under oath.
The president is our chief law enforcement officer and our chief magistrate. When he lies under oath, he undermines the integrity of our judicial system and threatens the rights and liberties of everyone of us.
Second, lying under oath after swearing before God and country to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, is -- and my fellow members I believe I know what "is" is -- is an impeachable offense.
Our legal system is dependent on people telling the truth -- telling the truth under oath. Lying under oath undermines the rule of law. By lying under oath, President Clinton has also violated his presidential oath of office.
Third, this is not about sex. It's about the rule of law. It's about lying under oath before a federal judge and a federal grand jury. Every citizen must obey the law, period. A society without laws is anarchy. Societies that ignore their laws are condemned to violence and chaos.
We must state directly and strongly that the integrity of the judicial branch must not be violated. We must make it clear that all Americans are equal under the law. After much painful soul searching, I have reached the conclusion that impeaching the president for repeatedly and willfully lying under oath is necessary to protect the rule of law, which is the foundation of our republic.
GALLEGLY: And Mr. Speaker, I yield back.
SPEAKER: The gentleman's time is expired. The gentleman from Michigan.
CONYERS: Mr. Speaker, I recognize with pleasure now a distinguished member of the Judiciary Committee, Mr. Robert Wexler of Florida, for three minutes.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Florida is recognized for three minutes.
WEXLER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. This Congress is on the verge of a tragic mistake that will reverberate for centuries and alter the course of American history.
Impeachment is not the ultimate censure. Impeachment is devastating. Impeachment is enduring. Impeachment is momentous. If we dumb down impeachment and make it easier for future Congresses to impeach presidents, we will forever weaken the institution of the presidency. The Founding Fathers knew this. They could have said a president could be impeached for any crime, but they chose to designate crimes only of the gravity of treason and bribery.
To impeach for anything less than the highest of crimes is a distortion of the Constitution and hands a tremendous weapon to our present and future enemies, who will point to a weakened president and ultimately a weakened nation.
That is why the Founding Fathers knew that low crimes should wait, that the strength of our national leader, the sovereignty of our nation, trump all but the gravest of charges: Those which subvert our government.
If you have even the slightest of doubt as to whether this president's actions rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors, then you do a tremendous disservice to our nation and to our standing in the world if you vote to impeach.
WEXLER: So do not think for one moment that this is a free vote; that the Senate is the real player in the impeachment drama. We have the power to stop this travesty, to pull the curtain on this theater of the absurd. This impeachment vote is bigger than Bill Clinton. It is bigger than all of us. I implore you: Do not weaken the presidency in an effort to punish this president.
This is about that delicate balance of power that is the bedrock of our democracy. It is about due process and fairness. It is about safeguarding our privacy and curtailing the intrusiveness of government. It is about nothing less than our humanity.
What have we become when we impeach a president over an extramarital affair and the lies to conceal it; when we lose all sense of proportion? What have we become when we enter a new era of sexual McCarthyism? When the boundaries of people's private lives are no longer respected? Have we no sense of decency?
What have we become when our partisan warring does not stop at the water's edge, but spills over and bestows upon Saddam Hussein the hope of a divided America?
What have we become? I fear, our own worst enemies.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Florida.
MCCOLLUM: I yield to the gentleman from California, Mr. Campbell, four minutes.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from California is recognized for four minutes.
CAMPBELL: I ask unanimous consent to revise and extend my remarks.
SPEAKER: Without objection.
CAMPBELL: I have been here since the debate began and there is no contesting the facts. No speaker really has refuted the facts.
CAMPBELL: The facts are that the president did not tell the truth under oath on August 17 and on other occasions, but specifically on August 17. And let me address why that matters so much and why that rises to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors.
Because it undermines my ability to trust this president whenever he says anything to me or to anyone else, if it is in his interest not to tell the truth. And that's what brings this above the level of a common violation of law to a high crime and misdemeanor because it incapacitates him from effectively serving as our president.
He wrote -- he raised his hand, he promised to God he would tell the truth. He had his attorney by his side. He could have interrupted the August 17 proceedings at any moment. He chose not to.
The reason that humanity might compel us to understand not telling the truth earlier in January, namely to hide the truth from his wife and daughter, no longer was the case in August. He had already told them the truth.
And having taken the oath to God and having the right to stop the proceedings if it was difficult, and if a question required the advice of counsel, unlike any other American citizen having his attorney by his side, this president chose not to tell the truth.
I cannot trust him again.
Today, we are engaged in war in the Persian Gulf.
CAMPBELL: I was assured by Secretary Cohen and by the director of our Central Intelligence Agency that the timing was justified. Those are honorable men. And because of their testimony, I believe the timing was justified. But I do not believe it was justified because of what President Clinton has said, because I can no longer believe him.
If it is in his interest not to tell the truth, he will not tell the truth. Now there are some who say that I should not draw that conclusion because this merely dealt with sex, and so perhaps I should only doubt his ability to tell the truth in the future, even if he's looking me in the eye, even if he has sworn to God to tell the truth, even if it is a federal criminal grand jury, because he will only fail to tell the truth if it deals about sex.
I cannot tell you how deeply that wounds me because of the importance I have always attached throughout my public career on the fair and equal treatment of women. And to say that it only deals with sex is to denigrate, to put at a lower level the seriousness of the offenses felt by virtually every woman in our society at least one point in her working career. Sexual harassment is not just about sex. And to say that sexual harassment and denying the truth to a plaintiff in a sexual harassment case is somehow less important is to denigrate the harm that women in America feel every day when they go into the workplace and they are treated less because they are women.
No, sexual harassment is not less than any other offense. The president raised his hand, promised to tell the truth, promised to God to tell the truth, and did not.
On behalf of my five sisters and my wife, I cannot say that sexual harassment makes this less. On behalf of my own oath to God, I cannot look the other way.
CAMPBELL: I yield to my colleague from Arkansas.
HUTCHINSON: I thank the gentleman for yielding, and I just wanted to respond briefly to the gentleman from Florida who preceded you, arguing that we're lowering the bar from impeachment by submitting articles of impeachment on perjury. I do not believe we are lowering the bar. In fact, I have no problem in setting a standard for future presidents that repeated and intentional acts of perjury in official court proceedings will jeopardize their office.
GAP IN TRANSCRIPT
ROTHMAN: Every future president in America will be looking over his or her shoulder, wondering if future Congresses don't like the president's veto of a controversial bill or don't like the president's policies or lifestyles. Will that future Congress controlled by a different political party appoint a special prosecutor and spend $40 million in four years investigating that president's private life?
(SOUND OF GAVEL)
May I have an additional 10 seconds? Thirty seconds?
CONYERS: The gentleman can receive an additional minute.
SPEAKER: The gentleman is recognized for a minute.
I'm going to ask the majority side if you would please take seats.
(SOUND OF GAVEL)
ROTHMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. If this Congress impeaches the president on these grounds, today will go down as one of the saddest days in American history, for our country, for our Congress and for the institution of the American presidency.
I beg the Republican majority, the one that the people put in power and that the people can remove from power, censure our president for his wrongful conduct. Let the civil and criminal courts punish any of those offenses. But do not damage our Constitution by impeaching the president on these grounds.
I thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I yield back.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Florida.
MCCOLLUM: I yield myself 30 seconds, Mr. Speaker.
SPEAKER: The gentleman is recognized.
MCCOLLUM: I simply want to respond to one of the comments the gentleman just made about the level to which it has to be before you impeach a president of the United States. It certainly doesn't have to be presidential powers only. If the president of the United States committed murder, if he committed a lot of other crimes, it seems to me that those would be perfectly impeachable.
And if you're talking about perjury, which rises to the virtual level of bribery -- in fact, under the federal sentencing guidelines, has a greater amount of sentencing in our court system, the higher level of it, than bribery, which is, you know, treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors, it seems abundantly clear that perjury is impeachable.
SPEAKER: (OFF-MIKE) has expired.
MCCOLLUM: I yield one minute to the gentleman from Wisconsin, Mr. Petri.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Wisconsin is recognized for one minute.
PETRI: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I'd also like to respond to the previous speaker. While admonishing the trial court to be sensitive to demands on the president's time, the U.S. Supreme Court recently unanimously ruled that he had the same obligations as every other citizen in the nation's courts.
Testifying truthfully under oath is one of those obligations. The president maintains he did this. I believe beyond a reasonable doubt that he repeatedly committed perjury. I do not believe our president should be held to a lower standard of accountability than other citizens who perjure themselves. If anything, he should be held to a higher standard because of the trust reposed in his office and because he is the chief law enforcement officer in a nation whose very foundation is the rule of law.
Other federal officials, including three judges in the last dozen years have faced removal from office after committing perjury. So should our president. Therefore, I will vote to refer articles of impeachment to the Senate.
And I yield back.
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