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

Transcript: House debates articles of impeachment

December 18, 1998

SPEAKER: The gentleman from Michigan.

CONYERS: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased now to recognize from Missouri, Mr. Ike Skelton for two minutes.

SPEAKER: Gentlemen from Missouri is recognized for two minutes.

House impeachment debate

Page 1: Adjournment debated

Page 2: ; LaHood sets rules;

Page 3: Gephardt (D); Hutchinson (R)

Page 4: Bonior (D); Frost (D); Menendez (D); Frank (D)

Page 5: Edwards (D); DeLauro (D); Gekas (R); Bryant (R) Boucher (R)

Page 6: Skelton (D); Lewis (D); Barr (R); Johnson (R) Schumer (D)

Page 7: Cunningham (R); Nadler (D); Graham (R); Barrett (D) Buyer (R)

Page 9: Sensenbrenner (R); Jackson Lee (D); Bliley (R)

Page 10: DeGette (R); Gallegly (R); Wexler (D); Campbell (R); Rothman (D); Petri (R)

Page 11: Waters (D); Bono (R); Fazio (D); Brady (R); Kennelly (D); Hulshof (R)

Page 12: Lofgren (D); Johnson (R); Kennedy (D); Linda Smith (R); Christian-Green (D); Bachus (R); Tony Hall (D)

Page 13: King (R); Owens (D); McCollum (R); Jefferson (D); Bryant (R); Manton (D); McHale (D)

Page 14: Lantos (D); Riggs (R); Meek (D); Myrick (R); Jackson (D); Linder (R); Horn (R)

Page 15: Obey (D); Goodling (R); Slaughter (D); Ros-Lehtinen (R); Kildee (D); Ewing (R); Filner (D); Coble (R)

Page 16: McGovern (D); Talent (R); Stearns (R); Kilpatrick (D); McInnis (R); Markey (D); Fawell (R); Klink (R); Whitfield (R); Hastings (D); Hansen (R)

Page 17: Lowey (D); Waxman (D); Houghton (R); Wynn (D); Kingston (R); Pelosi (D); Wicker (R); Eshoo (D); Deutsch (D); Greenwood (R); Doggett (D); Jerry Lewis (R); Boehner (R)

Page 18: Kind (D); Chabot (R); Woolsey (D); Lazio (R); Sawyer (D); Goss (R); Green (D); Callahan (R); Cannon (R); Evans (D); Kucinich (D); Olver (D); Rogan (R)

Page 19: Wilson (R); Cardin (D>; Clayton (D); Farr (D); Aderholt (R); Weygand (D); Baldacci (D); Sanders (I); Jenkins (R); Stokes (D); Kennedy (D); Davis (D); Carson (D); Diaz-Balart (R); Skaggs (D)

Page 10

SKELTON: Mr. Speaker, our friend from Illinois spoke reverently of Bunker Hill and Arlington Cemetery. We find ourselves in a debate to impeach a commander and chief of the successors to those great patriots of Bunker Hill and all who have served since then.

Today we should have our men and our women who stayed in harms way in the Persian Gulf in our thoughts and in our prayers rather than trying to politically decapitate their commander in chief.

What is a few days? Why the rush to judgment? Our being here reflects a lack of respect for all in uniform, as well as their families.

If such an attempt by my party to remove President Bush during the Persian Gulf conflict, I would have opposed it with all of my being.

We must do -- look at the proceeding today and seek the guidance of our Constitution. We must do so without emotion for the more emotion the less reason.

The framers of the United States Constitution knew that in an extreme case there would be a need to remove or overturn a popular election. They also knew that they must not make impeachment easy or routine.

To maintain separation of powers they set the bar of impeachment high and limited the grounds to impeachment.

SKELTON: Initially, the framers made the great crimes of treason and bribery the only offenses worthy of impeachment. Later at the Constitutional Convention, the standard was broadened to include other high crimes and misdemeanors. I've studied the phrase carefully. The word "other" is important because I believe it is crucial to our deliberations on impeachment. I've concluded that the correct legal interpretation and the intent of the framers of that document...


... is that the general phrase, "other high crimes and misdemeanors," must be limited to the kinds of class or things within the specific words "treason and bribery."

SPEAKER: The gentleman from Michigan.

CONYERS: Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased now to recognize one of our leadership members, the gentleman from Georgia, Mr. Lewis, for two minutes.

SPEAKER: The gentleman from Georgia is recognized for two minutes.

LEWIS: Mr. Speaker, I come before you to speak for the principle of democracy, the doctrine of fairness and the spirit of forgiveness.

America is sick. Her heart is heavy. Her soul is aching, and her spirit is low. Today our nation stands at a crossroads -- at the intersection of participatory democracy and the politics of personal destruction.

Today, my colleagues, you must choose, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote, between community and chaos. You must choose the course of partisan destruction or national reconciliation.

We will in our lifetime never cast a more important vote. The spirit of history is upon us and the future of the republic before us. Our obligation as citizen of the state are as old as human history and as fresh as the morning dew: To right a wrong, do justice and love mercy.

LEWIS: Our Constitution, that sacred document, is a covenant, a contract between the government and those who are governed. We must not, we cannot ignore the will of the people. Almost 50 million people elected Bill Clinton as our president, in spite of his problems, his shortcomings and his failures.

They, the people, elected Bill Clinton president of the United States and they want him to remain the president of the United States. And yet some -- even in this chamber, have never accepted the verdict of the people. They have never accepted Bill Clinton as their president. Instead, they embark on a crusade of personal destruction.

Our Constitution was never intended to be used as a hammer to destroy our political enemies.

One more minute, Mr. Conyers?

CONYERS: I yield an additional minute to the gentleman.

SPEAKER: Some of our colleagues have been too quick to pick up the hammer of impeachment and swinging it with reckless abandon. So bent are they on the destruction of this president, that they would knock down the very pillars which support our constitutional system.

What President Clinton did was wrong. About that, there can be no mistake. There is no disagreement, no debate. But how, my colleagues, how, my colleagues should we respond? How we respond, how we act says as much about us and our character as it does about his.

*** Elapsed Time 02:05, Eastern Time 11:05 ***

LEWIS: Let he who has no sin cast the first stone.

Who among us has not sinned?

What the president did was wrong, but it simply does not rise to the height or sink to the depths of an impeachable offense. I know it. You know it. And most importantly, the American people know it.

SPEAKER: The time of the gentleman has expired.

LEWIS: Mr. Speaker, will you write a chapter or be consigned to a footnote? The spirit of history is upon us...

SPEAKER: The time of the gentleman has expired.

LEWIS: Let us do for this right. Let us do what is just and love mercy.

SPEAKER: Both sides have five minutes remaining.

I'm sorry. Excuse me. Mr. Conyers, your side -- you have four minutes remaining, and Mr. Sensenbrenner has five minutes remaining.

And Mr. Sensenbrenner has the right to close.

CONYERS: Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased now to recognize the distinguished gentleman from Virginia, member of the Judiciary Committee, Mr. Bobby Scott, for two minutes.

SPEAKER: The gentleman from Virginia is recognized for two minutes.

U.S. REPRESENTATIVE BOBBY SCOTT (D-VA): Mr. Speaker, impeachment is in the Constitution to protect our nation from a president who is subverting our constitutional form of government. Our authority to impeach is limited in the Constitution to findings of treason, bribery or other high crimes or misdemeanors.

And we know from our hearings that treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors does not cover all felonies. In fact, it does not even cover a half-million dollar income tax fraud.

*** Elapsed Time 02:07, Eastern Time 11:07 ***

REP. SCOTT CONTINUES: That's the rule of law.

We can not act unless there is treason, bribery and similar offenses, and so that's why historians and constitutional scholars have said that these allegations, even if they were true, do not constitute impeachable offenses. And that's why one historian warned that history will hunt down those who knowingly violate the Constitution when they vote for impeachment.

That's why -- that would be the case even if the allegations were true, but those -- but the support of the new -- in support of the new low standard for impeachment comes by way of contradictory, double hearsay, and dubious inferences without a single witness.

In Watergate and every other prior impeachment, we heard witnesses. In this case, the accused has not even had an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses. In fact, the accused has never been able -- been told the specifics of the charges against him.

There is a reason why the specifics are not mentioned and that's because a so-called "perjurious" statements constitutes such immaterial minutia that the supporters of impeachment resort to titles of offenses such as perjury without stating what the perjurious statements are.

Mr. Speaker, it is an outrage that we would attempt to overturn a national democratic election on these flimsy allegations on the very day that our young men and women are risking their lives to protect our democratic form of government.

SCOTT: I yield back the balance of my time.

SPEAKER: The gentleman from Michigan.

CONYERS: I yield to myself the balance of the time, Mr. Speaker.

SPEAKER: The gentleman is recognized for two minutes.

CONYERS: Ladies and gentlemen of this body, we're confronted with an overzealous and nonindependent counsel report, combined with a totally politicized process in the committee, with party-line votes on nearly every issue.

And so I want to remind you that I am witnessing, in the most tragic event of my career in the Congress, in effect a Republican coup d'etat in process. We are using the most powerful institutional tool available to this body -- impeachment -- in a highly partisan manner. Impeachment was designed to rid this nation of traitors and tyrants, not attempts to cover up extramarital affairs.

This resolution trivializes our most important tool to maintain democracy. It downgrades the impeachment power into a partisan weapon that can be used with future presidents. Perhaps hopefully, we may never, ever use impeachment again after this experience.

Now I'm personally outraged that we would decapitate the commander in chief at a time when we are at war abroad. Republicans sacrifice the national security by doing so. To be spending time of this House to smear our commander in chief when brave men and women are risking their lives for their country shocks the conscience.

The failure by the Republican majority to allow a censure alternative shows again the perversely partisan process this is. And I've been a member here for some time, and I cannot recall a single occasion when the Democrats denied the Republicans the ability to offer an alternative on a matter as momentous as this.

CONYERS: Our nation has been pushed to the edge of a constitutional cliff. We are about to inflict permanent damage on our Constitution, on our president, on the nation and ourselves. We should not be here today and history will not look kindly on the partisan passions that have brought us to this point.

SPEAKER: The gentleman from Wisconsin.

SENSENBRENNER: Mr. Speaker, is the time of the gentleman from Michigan expired in this hour?

SPEAKER: The gentleman from Michigan's time has expired.

SENSENBRENNER: Mr. Speaker, I yield for a unanimous consent request to the gentleman from New York, Mr. Solomon.

SOLOMON: I ask unanimous consent to revise and extend my remarks in favor of the impeachment resolution.

SPEAKER: Without objection.

SENSENBRENNER: Mr. Speaker, I yield the balance of our time to the gentleman from Georgia, Mr. Barr.

SPEAKER: The gentleman from Georgia is recognized for five minutes.

BARR: I thank the gentleman.

Members of the House, today our Constitution stands in harm's way. The rule of law in America is under fire. The rule of law about which our chairman, Mr. Henry Hyde, spoke so eloquently just a few short moments ago; the rule of law which finds its highest and best embodiment in the absolute, the unshakable right each one of us has to walk into a courtroom and demand the righting of a wrong.

As President John F. Kennedy so eloquently put it: "Americans are free to disagree with the law, but not to disobey it; for a government of laws and not of men, no man, however prominent and powerful, no mob, however unruly or boisterous, is entitled to defy a court of law."

*** Elapsed Time 02:13, Eastern Time 11:13 ***

BARR: If this country should ever reach the point where any man or group of men, by force or threat of force, could long defy the commands of our courts and our Constitution, then no law would stand free from doubt, no judge would be sure of his writ, and no citizen would be safe from its neighbors.

This, Mr. Speaker, is the fundamental American right which President William Jefferson Clinton tried to deny a fellow citizen.

How did he do it?

I direct the attention of every member of this body to the report of the Committee on the Judiciary to accompany H.Res. 611. I direct your specific attention to Article III, which lays out a case of obstruction of justice.

Despite the fact that, in the ears of lay person, obstruction might conjure up a massive frontal assault, in the world of law -- and I know this as a former United States attorney, who directed the prosecution of a Republican member of this body for obstructing justice before a grand jury -- obstruction of justice is much more insidious, much more implied, much quieter, but nonetheless destructive of the rule of law in this country.

What is obstruction? And what was the pattern of obstruction in this case?

I respectfully direct the attention of each member of this body to the United States Criminal Code, Title XVIII, to those several provisions which set forth the principle that no man, no citizen of this land, no visitor to this land, shall tamper with witnesses, seek to hide evidence in a case or seek to change, modify or prevent testimony.

BARR: Yet, there is in this report, and in the accompanying 60,000 pages of evidence to which Chairman Hyde alluded, evidence of a clear pattern of obstruction of justice in violation of Title 18 of the United States Code by this president.

Such things as making statements to his secretary after he gave sworn testimony in an effort, a very clear effort, with no other purpose than to influence the testimony of his secretary, who most assuredly would have been and was called as a grand jury witness.

Evidence such as the president calling and directing one of the most powerful attorneys in this city, Mr. Vernon Jordan, after it was found out that Monica Lewinsky would indeed be and had been subpoenaed as a witness to appear before the court, and directed that she be found a job.

Evidence such as the president, the commander in chief, as we have heard today, picking up a telephone at 2 a.m. in the morning -- not by coincidence -- the very day that he found out that Ms. Lewinsky was indeed a named witness and would be a witness in the court case of Paula Jones, and going over with her to reaffirm in her mind the stories -- the cover stories that they indeed had agreed to if just this calamity would befall them.

These, I submit to every member of this House, are obstruction.

BARR: They are indeed a frontal assault on our Constitution. You have here today in Article III alone three legs of a stool, if I could borrow an analogy from the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. You have the Constitution, you have the United States Criminal Code as violated by this president, and you have the evidence.


They support a vote for Article III of impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton for obstructing justice in America.

SPEAKER: All time is expired. The gentleman from Wisconsin.

SENSENBRENNER: Mr. Speaker, I rise to be recognized under the hour rule.

SPEAKER: The gentleman is recognized.

SENSENBRENNER: Mr. Speaker, for purposes of debate only, I yield the customary one-half hour to the gentleman from Michigan, Mr. Conyers. All time yielded is for the purpose of debate only, and I yield 15 seconds to the gentleman from Florida, Mr. McCollum.

SPEAKER: The gentleman is recognized.

MCCOLLUM: Thank you. Mr. Speaker, if the previous question is moved, I intend to vote against it so that I may be recognized to control under the hour rule time in order to continue the debate on House Resolution 611.

SPEAKER: The gentleman from Wisconsin.

SENSENBRENNER: Mr. Speaker, I yield two minutes to the gentleman from Texas, Mr. Sam Johnson.

SPEAKER: The gentleman from Texas is recognized for two minutes, without objection. And the House will be in order.


JOHNSON: Gentlemen, you've heard the argument that our military forces are fighting. You know what they're fighting for? They're fighting to uphold the Constitution and the oath that we took and they took.

JOHNSON: You know, when the president stands before God, puts his hand on the Bible and takes an oath to uphold the Constitution and lawfully carry out the duties of his office, he is promising to put the people and the nation before his own interest.

I believe the president violated the laws and beliefs he swore to uphold. Instead of following the law, respecting American people's values, and honoring his office he chose to lie, cover up and evade the truth.

His actions have made a mockery of the people who fought for this country -- and are fighting for this nation today -- the Constitution and the laws we live under. And because of the president's actions, Congress must act as dictated by the Constitution.

Yes, sir.

HYDE: The gentlemen has some familiarity with our military service. Did you serve in the Vietnam War?

JOHNSON: Yes, sir, and the Korean one, if you want to call it...

HYDE: And the Korean War. How much time did you spend in the prison camp in Hanoi or in Vietnam?

JOHNSON: Nearly seven years, sir.

HYDE: How many?

JOHNSON: Nearly seven years.

HYDE: Seven years in the POW camp?


HYDE: In solitary?

JOHNSON: Yes, sir, three years of that.

HYDE: Well, I think you're qualified to talk about the military service. Thank you.

JOHNSON: Well, I want to tell you that...

(APPLAUSE) JOHNSON: Thank you. I want to tell you that our military fighting men want the Congress to carry on their constitutional responsibility every day. That's why we're here.

You know maybe we ought to be debating right after this issue how we support our military, and give them more arms and more people to make sure they can win that battle.

JOHNSON: We can't sacrifice what is right to do, what is easy. You know, when I was a POW, I did some things that were tough to do. This is a tough thing to do, but it's the right thing to do and I suggest we continue with this impeachment process.

Thank you, sir.

SPEAKER: The gentleman from Michigan.

CONYERS: Mr. Speaker, it's my pleasure now to recognize our distinguished member of the Judiciary Committee from New York, the Senator-elect Charles Schumer, for three minutes.

SPEAKER: The gentleman from New York is recognized for three minutes.

SCHUMER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And Mr. Speaker, my colleagues, these are my last moments as a member of the House that I honor and that I love, but this is a bittersweet day for me because a pall hangs over this House.

Unless a miracle occurs, we will take one of the most serious and rare actions that this body can assume, and impeach the president against the overwhelming will of the American people. Voting against these articles will be my last act.

Since September, I've said what the president did was reprehensible and should be punished. I also argued that lying about an extramarital affair, even under oath, does not rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors as spelled out in the Constitution, and that the proper punishment is censure, not impeachment.

But today my colleagues, my last day in the House that I cherish, I ask myself: What has brought us to this day? It would be easy for Democrats to lay the blame on a narrow band of right-wing zealots out to destroy Bill Clinton. It would be convenient for Republicans to lay the blame squarely at the feet of the president for his behavior.

But this goes much deeper than that. What began 25 years ago with Watergate as a solemn and necessary process to force a president to adhere to the rule of law, has grown beyond our control so that now we are routinely using criminal accusations and scandal to win the political battles and ideological differences we cannot settle at the ballot box.

*** Elapsed Time 02:23, Eastern Time 11:23 ***

SCHUMER: It has been used with reckless abandon by both parties -- Democrats and Republicans. And we are now at a point where we risk, deeply risk, wounding the nation we all love.

We cannot disagree, it seems. We cannot forcefully advocate for our positions without trying to criminalize or at least dishonor our adversaries -- often over matters having nothing to do with public trust. And it is hurting our country; it is marginalizing and polarizing this Congress.

I want to be clear. I am not pointing fingers at Republicans. The Democrats investigated John Tower for allegations not too dissimilar from allegations against the president. Congressman Gingrich led the investigation which brought down Speaker Wright. And Speaker Gingrich was investigated and brought down as well.

The ledger between the two parties is pretty much even.

Today, we are upping the ante.

The president could be removed from office over a matter that most Americans feel doesn't come close to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors as written in our Constitution.


I ask unanimous consent for an additional minute.

CONYERS: I give the gentleman a half a minute.

SCHUMER: Thank you.

SPEAKER: The gentleman is recognized for 30 seconds.

SCHUMER; I expect history will show that we've lowered the bar on impeachment so much -- we have broken the seal on this extremely -- extreme penalty so cavalierly that it will be used as a routine tool to fight political battles.

SCHUMER: My fear is that when a Republican wins the White House, Democrats will demand payback.

My colleagues, in Greek mythology in the Orestia, a trilogy of ancient Greek plays by Aeschylus, the warring factions of the House of Etrus (ph) trapped themselves in an escalating chain of revenge...


SPEAKER: The time of the gentleman has expired. The gentleman from Wisconsin.

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Investigating the President


Friday, December 18, 1998

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