Transcript: House debates articles of impeachment
December 18, 1998
SPEAKER: The gentleman reserves the balance of his time.
The gentleman from Michigan.
CONYERS: Mr. Speaker, it is our plan to recognize our leadership and then our members of the Judiciary Committee, and then the rest of our distinguished membership on this side.
I'm pleased now to recognize our minority leader, the distinguished gentleman from Missouri, Richard Gephardt, for three minutes.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Missouri is recognized. Without objection.
GEPHARDT: Mr. Speaker and members of the House of Representatives, this vote today is taking place on the wrong day, and we are doing it in the wrong way.
I am disappointed and I am saddened by the actions of the majority in both THE timing and in the method that we are considering the most important act that the Constitution asks us to perform.
The actions of the majority, in my view, show a lack of common sense and decency and is not befitting of our beloved House. As I said yesterday, when our young soldiers, men and women, are in harm's way.
GEPHARDT: We should not be debating and considering and talking about removing our commander-in-chief. If we believed that this would go on for days and days, I could understand the decision to go forward today. I do not believe it will go on for days and days. And I believe that we send the wrong message to Saddam Hussein and to the British and to the Chinese and to the Russians to be on the floor of this House today when we could be here Sunday or Monday or Tuesday.
I guess I'm worried also that some of us don't want to be inconvenienced. Our young people are inconvenienced today who are in the Persian Gulf. They're being shot at and they stand in danger. And with all my heart, I believe the least we could do is postpone this debate to a different day.
GEPHARDT: But I know I've lost that debate, and the decision has been made. We are here. Let me address the way this is being done. But before I do that, I want to say something else.
The events of the last days sadden me. We are now at the height of a cycle of the politics of negative attacks, character assassination, personal smears of good people, decent people, worthy people. It's no wonder to me and to you that the people of our country are cynical and indifferent and apathetic about our government and about our country. The politics of smear and slash and burn must end.
This House and this country must be based on certain basic values: respect; trust; fairness; forgiveness.
*** Elapsed Time 01:12, Eastern Time 10:12 ***
GEPHARDT: We can take an important step today back to the politics of respect and trust and fairness and forgiveness.
Let me talk about the way we are doing this and how that can be that first step.
We have articles of impeachment on the floor of this house. This is the most radical act that is called for in our Constitution. In this debate, we are being denied a vote as an alternative to impeachment for censure and condemnation of our president for the wrongful acts that we believe have been performed.
We all say that this is a vote of conscience. You get to vote your vote of conscience, and I respect that right. All we're asking for is that we get to vote our conscience.
*** Elapsed Time 01:14, Eastern Time 10:14 ***
GEPHARDT: And it's not just our conscience. It's the conscience of millions of Americans who share this view. I know what you say, you say say that the Constitution does not allow this vote of censure.
Constitutional scholars in the hundreds, some of the most respected conservative constitutional scholars have opined in the days before in the committee and through articles and through speeches that in their view the Constitution does allow this vote; that the Constitution is silent on this question of what else we an do; that the Constitution in no way prevents us from doing this.
What do I conclude? I can only conclude that you don't want our members to have this choice. I can only conclude that some are afraid of this vote. I can only conclude that this may be about winning a vote, not about high-minded ideals.
*** Elapsed Time 01:16, Eastern Time 10:16 ***
GEPHARDT: Let me, if I can, go back to the values -- respect, fairness, trust, forgiveness. We need today to begin, in the way we do this, to practice a different kind of politics.
We need to stand today as a unified body, Republicans and Democrats, liberals, moderates, conservatives, rejecting raw, naked partisanship and putting in its place a politics of trust and respect and decency and values.
We need to turn away from extremism and inquisition and return to a sense of moderation in our political system. We are considering articles of impeachment that allege an abuse of power. We have an obligation not to abuse our power.
We need to turn back -- we have another chance -- the chance is still there -- before our nation and our democracy have become an inalterably and permanently degraded and lowered.
GEPHARDT: The great judge Learned Hand once said that no court can save a society so riven that the spirit of moderation is gone. Today, I believe the majority is pursuing a path of immoderation, disregarding even a consideration of the wishes of a vast majority of the American people regarding penalizing this president with censure and not impeachment.
In the book of Isaiah in the Bible it was said "judgment is turned away backward and justice stands far off." I ask the majority one last time to reconsider what you are doing.
We are deeply offended in all sincerity from my heart -- we are deeply offended by the unfairness of this process. You are asking us to consider the most important act the Constitution calls on us to do. We are considering overturning the free choice and vote of over almost 50 million Americans. We are considering the most radical act our Constitution allows. We are considering changing the balance of power and the proportionality of the branches of our government.
GEPHARDT: You are doing this in a way that denies millions of Americans the trust and respect for our views that we afford to you and that we feel we deserve and our Constitution guarantees. In your effort to uphold the Constitution, you are trampling the Constitution.
In Lincoln's Gettysburg Address he prayed this prayer, that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, should not perish from this earth.
I pray today that you will open up this people's House and let the people's voice come in and let fairness reign.
SPEAKER: The gentleman from Illinois.
HYDE: Mr. Speaker, I yield Mr. Hutchinson, the gentleman from Arkansas, five minutes.
SPEAKER: The gentlemen from Arkansas is recognized for five minutes.
HUTCHINSON: Thank you, gentlemen. Mr. Speaker, this is not easy. In fact it is difficult, it is unpleasant, and we all just assume the responsibility go aside.
As our Founding Fathers warned, this is an issue that divides us and stirs the passion of the great people of this country.
I know my fellow Arkansans are divided on the issue of impeachment, and for these reasons it is argued that we should find an easier way out of this present trouble; that we should put it off; we should turn aside. But, as we all know, the easy way is not always the right way.
The difficult path is to follow the Constitution, but that is the oath we all took in this chamber, and I have faith that the path James Madison marked will lead us out of these woods.
Mr. Speaker, I support the resolution that is being offered. I will focus my attention on Article I. This article charges that on August 17, Williams Jefferson Clinton willfully provided false testimony to a federal grand jury.
SPEAKER: I wonder if the members standing in the isle could please take seats?
I'm going to ask everyone in the chamber to take a seat. If you want to be in the chamber, you're going to have to take a seat.
If you want to remain in the chamber, you have to be in a seat. We have to have order.
All -- both sides will require order.
The gentlemen may proceed.
HUTCHINSON: I thank the chair. The first article is perjury before the grand jury. There are three questions.
HUTCHINSON: What are the facts? What is the law? And is it impeachable under the Constitution? The facts are that a federal civil rights lawsuit was filed by another citizen of the United States against the president. The Supreme Court said that lawsuit could pursue. In January of 1998, a deposition was taken and the committee found that the president, despite being told by the judge to answer the questions, lied under oath in order to protect himself from that lawsuit.
At that point, a criminal investigation was begun with the approval of the United States attorney general, and as a result of that investigation, President Clinton agreed to testify before the federal grand jury investigating these allegations.
Prior to his testimony, we all recall that there was a uniform warning across this land by his aides, by the public, for the president, whatever you do, do not lie to the grand jury. In fact, Alan Dershowitz, an ardent defender of the president, said he must tell the truth, whatever the truth may be. If he perjures himself, he could very well be impeached.
Dick Morris warned him that the people would forgive a personal misconduct, but they could not forgive perjury or obstruction of justice. And despite these warnings, the committee found that the president went before the grand jury, took an oath to tell the truth, and then intentionally provided false statements to the grand jury of citizens charged with a heavy responsibility.
The article specifically charges the president lied about his relationship with a subordinate employee. He provided false statements about the truthfulness of his prior testimony.
HUTCHINSON: He falsely testified about statements made by his attorney in a previous lawsuit. False statements were made about his efforts to corruptly influence the testimony of witnesses.
And so there were perjurious statements that were given. So what is the law? Title 18 of the United States Code makes it a felony for any citizen to willfully provide false statements to the grand jury.
Now I agree this is not a criminal case, but it illustrates that these are not lies to inquiring minds at the country club, but they are to the grand jury of the United States.
The president certainly understood the gravity of his testimony and the expectation of truthfulness. At the beginning of his testimony, he was asked if he understood that he had to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and that if you are to lie or to intentionally mislead the grand jury, you could be prosecuted for perjury or obstruction of justice, and the answer was -- I understand." But is it impeachable? And the answer is yes.
*** Elapsed Time 01:27, Eastern Time 10:27 ***
HUTCHINSON: Alexander Hamilton talked about harm that is done to society itself. Justice Story talked about great injuries to the state. And I believe that the damage to the state and to the integrity of government occurs when those in high office violate a court oath and a constitutional oath to faithfully execute the laws.
The fact establish a pattern of false statements, deceit and obstruction. And by committing these actions, the president moved beyond the private arena of protecting personal embarrassing conduct and his actions began to conceal, mislead and falsify -- invaded the very heart and soul of that which makes this nation unique in the world, the right of any citizen to pursue justice equally.
HUTCHINSON: The conduct obstructed our judicial system and that became an issue, not a personal concern, but of national consequence. The Preamble to our Constitution in the second purpose says it is to establish justice. It is not for the president or his lawyers to determine who can or cannot seek justice, and if the president lied under oath in a federal civil rights case, then he took it upon himself to deny the right of a fellow American, in this case, a fellow Arkansan, equal access to seek relief in the courts.
The president's lawyers have declared such a lie to be a small one, of small consequence, and therefore not impeachable. But I cannot see how denying the rights of a fellow citizen could be considered a small consequence. I ask my colleagues to support Article I and this resolution.
I yield back.
Friday, December 18, 1998
Poll: Americans remain opposed to impeachment
Highlights from the House impeachment debate
Transcript: House debates articles of impeachment
Miller won't return to Washington, calls impeachment vote 'foregone conclusion'
Is censure a constitutional possibility?
Analysis: Clinton's post-impeachment strategy
Supporters rally behind Livingston
Clinton mood said to be 'very good'
Mrs. Clinton: 'Bring our country together'
Design by sculptor of Vietnam Women's Memorial selected for coin
Profile of Speaker-elect Bob Livingston
Nixon wanted Baker for court seat