Transcript: House manager Sensenbrenner's opening statement
January 14, 1999
January 14, 1999
REP. JAMES SENSENBRENNER (R-WISCONSIN): Mr. Chief Justice, distinguished counsel to the president, and senators, in his third annual message to Congress on December 7, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt said: "No man is above the law and no man is below it. Nor do we ask any man's permission when we require him to obey it. Obedience to the law is demanded as a right, not asked as a favor."
We are here today because President William Jefferson Clinton decided to put himself above the law -- not once, not twice, but repeatedly. He put himself above the law when he engaged in a multi- faceted scheme to obstruct justice during the federal civil rights case of Paula Corbin Jones v. William Jefferson Clinton, et al.
He put himself above the law when he made perjurious, false and misleading statements under oath during his grand jury testimony on August 17, 1998. In both instances, he unlawfully attempted to prevent the judicial branch of government -- a co-equal branch from performing its constitutional duty to administer equal justice under law.
The United States House of Representatives has determined that the president's false and misleading testimony to the grand jury and his obstruction of justice in the Jones lawsuit, are high crimes and misdemeanors within the meaning of the Constitution.
Should the Senate conduct a fair and impartial trial which allows each side to present its best case, then the American public can be confident that justice has been served regardless of the outcome.
We hear much about how important the rule of law is to our nation and our system of government. Some have commented this expression is trite. But whether expressed by these three words or others, the primacy of law over the rule of individuals is what distinguishes the United States from most of other countries and why our Constitution is as alive today as it was 210 years ago.
The framers of the Constitution devised an elaborate system of checks and balances to ensure our liberties by making sure that no person, institution or branch of government became so powerful that a tyranny could ever be established in the United States of America.
We are the trustees of that sacred legacy, and whether the rule of law and faith in our nation emerges stronger than ever or are diminished irreparably depends upon the collective decision of the message each senator chooses to send forth in the days ahead.
The evidence you will hear relates solely to the president's misconduct, which is contrary to his constitutional public responsibility to ensure the laws be faithfully executed. It is about -- it is not about the president's affair with a subordinate employee, an affair that was both inappropriate and immoral.
Mr. Clinton has recognized that this relationship was wrong. I give him credit for that. But he has not owned up to the false testimony, the stonewalling, and legal hairsplitting and obstructing the courts from finding the truth.
In doing so, he has turned his affair into a public wrong, and for these actions he must be held accountable through the only constitutional means the country has available: the difficult and painful process of impeachment.
Impeachment is one of the checks the framers gave the Congress to protect the American people from a corrupt or tyrannical executive or judicial branch of government.
Because the procedure is cumbersome and because a two-thirds vote in the Senate is required to remove an official following an impeachment trial, safeguards are there to stop Congress from increasing its powers at the expense of the other two branches.
The process is long. It is difficult. It is unpleasant. But above all, it is necessary to maintain the public's trust in the conduct of their elected officials -- elected officials such as myself and yourselves, who through our oaths of office have a duty to follow the law, fulfill our constitutional responsibilities, and protect our republic from public wrongdoing.
The framers of the Constitution envisioned a separate and distinct process in the House and in the Senate. They did not expect the House and the Senate to conduct virtually identical proceedings, with the only difference being that conviction in the Senate requires a two-thirds vote. That is why the Constitution reserves the sole power of impeachment to the House of Representatives and the sole power to try all impeachments to the Senate.
History demonstrates different processes were adopted to reflect very different roles. In the case of President Andrew Johnson, no hearings were held or witnesses called by the House on the president's decision to remove Secretary of War Stanton from office. The House first approved a general article of impeachment that simply stated that President Johnson was impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors.
Five days later, a special House committee drew up specific articles. Eleven articles were passed by the House, all but two of which were based upon President Johnson's alleged violation of the Tenure of Office Act by his actions in removing Secretary of War Stanton. The trial was then conducted with witnesses in the Senate.
In the case of President Nixon, the House Judiciary Committee passed three articles of impeachment, based not upon their own investigation, but upon the evidence gathered by the Ervin Committee, the Patman (ps not at the center of the impeachment articles.
In the Judge Walter Nixon impeachment in 1989, a trial with live witnesses was held even after the Senate rejected, by less than a two- thirds vote, a defense motion to dismiss one article of impeachment on the grounds that it did not commit -- constitute an impeachable offense.
The House managers submit witnesses are essential to give heightened credence to whatever judgment the Senate choose to make on each of the articles of impeachment against President Clinton. The matter of how this proceeding will be conducted remains somewhat unsettled. Senate impeachment precedent has been to hold a trial, and in every impeachment case, the Senate has heard from live witnesses.
Should the president's counsel dispute the facts as laid out by the House of Representatives, the Senate will need to hear from live witnesses in order to reach a proper and fair judgment as to the truthful facts of this case.
The House concluded the president made perjurious, false, and misleading statements before the grand jury, which the House believes constitutes a high crime and misdemeanor. Our entire legal system is based upon the court's being able to find the truth. That's why witnesses must raise their right hand and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
That's why there are criminal penalties for perjury and making false statements under oath. The need for obtaining truthful testimony in court is so important that the federal sentencing guidelines have the same penalties for perjury as for bribery. The Constitution specifically names bribery as an impeachable offense. Perjury is the twin brother of bribery. By making the penalty for perjury the same as that for bribery, Congress has acknowledged that both crimes are equally serious.
It follows that perjury and making false statements under oath, which is a form of perjury, be considered among the high crimes and misdemeanors the framers intended to be grounds for impeachment.
The three judicial impeachments of the 1980s were all about lies told by a federal judge. Judge Claiborne was removed from office for lying on his income tax returns. Judge Hastings was removed for lying under oath during a trial. And Judge Nixon was removed for making false statements under oath to a grand jury.
In each case, the Senate showed no leniency to judges who lie. Their misconduct was deemed impeachable, and more than two-thirds of the Senate voted to convict them.
If the Senate is convinced that President Clinton lied under oath and does not remove him from office, the wrong message is given to our courts, those who have business before them, and to the country as a whole.
That terrible message is that we as a nation have set a lower standard for lying under oath for presidents than for judges. Should not the leader of our country be held to at least as high as standard as the judges he appoints? Should not the president be obliged to tell the truth when under oath, just as every citizen must? Should not our laws be enforced equally?
Your decision in this proceeding will answer these questions and set the standard of conduct of public officials in town halls and courtrooms everywhere and the Oval Office for generations.
Justice is never served by the placing of any public official above the law.
The framers rejected the British law of the king can do no wrong when they wrote our basic law in 1787. Any law is only as good as its enforcement, and the enforcement of the law against the president was left to Congress through the impeachment process.
A Senate conviction of the president in this matter will reaffirm the irrefutable fact that even the president of the United States has no license to lie under oath. Deceiving the courts is an offense against the public. It prevents the courts from administering justice and citizens from receiving justice.
Every American has a right to go to court for redress of wrongs, as well as the right to a jury trial. The jury finds the facts. The citizens on the jury cannot correctly find the facts absent truthful testimony. That's why it's vital that the Senate protect the sanctity of the oath to obtain truthful testimony, not just during judicial proceedings, but also during legislative proceedings as well.
Witnesses before the Congress, whether presidential nominees seeking Senate confirmation to high posts in the executive or judicial branches, federal agency heads testifying during investigative hearings, or witnesses at legislative hearings giving their opinions on bills are sworn to tell the truth.
Eroding the oath to tell the truth means that Congress loses some of its ability to base its decisions upon truthful testimony. Lowering the standard of truthfulness of sworn testimony will create a cancer that will keep the legislative branch from discharging its constitutional functions as well.
Mr. Chief Justice, we are here today because William Jefferson Clinton decided to use all means possible, both legal and illegal, to subvert the truth about his conduct relevant to the federal civil rights suit brought against him by Mrs. Paula Jones.
Defendants in civil lawsuits cannot pick and choose which laws and rules of procedure they follow and which they will not. That's for the trial judge to decide, whether the defendant be president or pauper.
In this case, a citizen claimed her civil rights were violated when she refused then Governor Clinton's advances and was subsequently harassed at work, denied merit pay raises, and finally forced to quit. The court ruled she had the right to obtain evidence showing other women, including Miss Lewinsky, got jobs, promotions and raises after submitting to Mr. Clinton, and whether other women suffered job detriments after refusing similar advances.
When someone lies about an affair and tries to hide the facts, they violate the trust their spouse and their family put in them. But when they lie about it during legal proceedings and obstruct the parties from obtaining evidence, they prevent the courts from administering justice.
That is an offense against the public, made even worse when a poor and powerless person seeks the protection of our civil rights laws from the rich or powerful.
When an American citizen claims his or her civil rights have been violated, we must take those claims seriously. Our civil rights laws have remade our society for the better. The law gives the same protections to the child denied entry to a school or college based upon race, as to an employee claiming discrimination at work. Once a hole is punched in civil rights protections for some, those protections are not worth as much for all.
Many in this Senate have spent their lives advancing individual rights. Their successful efforts have made America a better place. In my opinion, this is no time to abandon that struggle, no matter what the political mood and no matter what the political consequence.
Some have said that the false testimony given by the president relating to sex should be excused since, as the argument goes, everyone lies about sex. I would ask the Senate to stop and think about the consequences of adopting that attitude. Our sexual harassment laws would become unenforceable, since every sexual harassment suit is about sex. And much of the domestic violence litigation in our country is at least partly about sex.
If defendants in these types of suits are allowed to lie about sex, justice cannot be done, and many victims, mostly women, will be denied justice.
Mr. Chief Justice, the House has adopted two articles of impeachment against President William Jefferson Clinton. Each meets the standard of high crimes and misdemeanors, and each is amply supported by the evidence.
Article I impeaches the president for perjurious, false and misleading testimony during his August 17, 1998 appearance before a grand jury of the United States, in four areas.
First, the nature and details of his relationship with a subordinate government employee.
Second, prior perjurious, false and misleading testimony he gave in a federal civil rights action brought against him.
Third, prior, false and misleading statements he allowed his attorney to make to a federal judge in that federal civil rights lawsuit.
Fourth, his corrupt efforts to influence the testimony of witnesses and to impede the discovery of evidence in that federal civil rights action.
The evidence will clearly show that President Clinton's false testimony to the grand jury was not a single or isolated instance which could be excused as a mistake, but rather a comprehensive and calculated plan to prevent the grand jury from getting the accurate testimony in order to do its job.
Furthermore, it is important to dispel the notion that the president's false testimony before the grand jury simply relates to the details of the relationship between President Clinton and Ms. Lewinsky.
These charges make up only a small part of Article I. The fact is the evidence will show that President Clinton made numerous perjurious, false and misleading statements regarding his efforts to obstruct justice.
Before describing what the evidence and support of Article I shows, it is also important to clearly demonstrate that the Senate has already decided that making false statements under oath to a federal grand jury is an impeachable offense.
The last impeachment decided by the Senate, that of United States District Judge Walter L. Nixon, Jr. of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, involved the judge's making false statements under oath to a federal grand jury, precisely the same charges contained in Article I against President Clinton.
Following a unanimous 417-to-nothing vote in the House, the Senate conducted a full trial and removed Judge Nixon from office on the two articles charging false statements to a grand jury by votes of 89-8 and 78-19.
The Senate was clear that the specific misconduct -- that is, making false statements to a grand jury, which was the basis for the judge's impeachment -- warranted his removal from office, and the Senate proceeding to do just that.
These votes, a little more than nine years ago on November 3, 1989, set a clear standard that lying to a grand jury is grounds for removal from office.
To set a different standard in this trial is to say that the standard for judicial truthfulness during grand jury testimony is higher than that of presidential truthfulness. That result would be absurd. The truth is the truth, and a lie is a lie. There cannot be different levels of truth for judges than for presidents.
The president's perjurious, false, and misleading statements regarding his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky began early in his grand jury testimony. These statements included parts of the prepared statement the president read at the beginning of the testimony. He referred or reverted to this statement at least 19 times during the course of the testimony.
Further, the evidence will show the president made other false statements to the grand jury regarding the nature and details of his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky at times when he did not refer to his prepared statement.
Second, the evidence will show that the president piled perjury upon perjury when he provided perjurious, false and misleading statement -- testimony to the grand jury concerning prior perjurious, false and misleading testimony given in Mrs. Paula Jones' case.
On two occasions, the president testified to the grand jury that his deposition testimony was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and that he was required to give a complete answer to each question asked of him during the deposition. That means he brought to the grand jury his untruthful answers to questions at the deposition.
Third, the evidence will show the president provided a perjurious, false and misleading testimony to a federal grand jury regarding his attorney's use of an affidavit he knew to be false during the deposition in Mrs. Paula Jones' case before federal Judge Susan Webber Wright.
The president denied that he even paid attention to Mr. Bennett's use of the affidavit. The evidence will show he made this denial because his failure to stop his attorney from utilizing a false affidavit at a deposition would constitute an obstruction of justice.
The evidence will also show the president did not admit that Mr. Bennett's statement was false, because to do so would be to admit that he had perjured himself earlier that day during the grand jury testimony as well as at the deposition. Fourth, the evidence will show that the president provided perjurious, false and misleading testimony to the grand jury concerning his corrupt efforts to influence the testimony of witnesses and to impede the discovery of evidence in Mrs. Paula Jones' civil rights action.
The evidence will show that these statements related to at least four areas.
First, his statements relating to gifts exchanged between the president and Ms. Lewinsky. The subpoena served on Ms. Lewinsky in the Jones case required her to produce each and every gift she had received from the president. These gifts were not turned over as required by the subpoena, but ended up under Ms. Betty Currie's bed in a sealed container.
The president denied under oath that he directed Ms. Currie to get the gifts, but the evidence will show that Ms. Currie did call Ms. Lewinsky about them and that there was no reason for her doing so unless directed by the president.
Second, the president made perjurious, false and misleading statements to the grand jury regarding his knowledge that the Lewinsky affidavit submitted at the deposition was untrue. The evidence will show that the president testified falsely on this issue on at least three separate occasions during his grand jury testimony.
He also provided false testimony on whether he encouraged Ms. Lewinsky to file a false affidavit.
Third, the president made false and misleading statements to the grand jury by reciting a false account of the facts regarding his interactions with Ms. Lewinsky and Ms. Currie, who was a potential witness against him in Mrs. Jones' case. The record reflects the president tried to coach Ms. Currie to recite inaccurate answers to possible questions should she be called as a witness.
The evidence will show the president testified to the grand jury that he was trying to figure out what the facts were, but in reality the conversation with Ms. Currie consisted of another of very false and misleading statements.
Finally, the president made perjurious, false and misleading statements to aides regarding his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky.
In his grand jury testimony, the president tried to have it both ways on this issue: he testified that his statements to aides were both true and misleading, true and misleading.
The evidence will show that he met with four aides who would later be called to testify before the grand jury. They included Mr. Sidney Blumenthal, Mr. John Podesta, Mr. Erskine Bowles, and Mr. Harold Ickes. Each of them related to the grand jury the untruths they had been told by the president.
I have recited this long catalogue of false statements to show that the president's false statements to the grand jury were neither few in number nor isolated, but rather pervaded his entire testimony.
There can be no question that the president's false statements to the grand jury were material to the subject of the inquiry. Grand juries are utilized to obtain sworn testimony from witnesses to determine whether a crime has been committed. The attorney general and the Special Division of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit appointed an independent counsel pursuant to law, and added areas of inquiry because they believe that there was evidence that the president may have committed crimes.
Grand jury testimony relevant to the criminal probe is always material to the issue of materiality whether someone has committed a crime, based upon the precedent in the Judge Nixon impeachment, the law, the facts and the evidence. If you find the president made perjurious, false and misleading statements under oath to the grand jury, I respectfully submit that your duty will be to find William Jefferson Clinton guilty with respect to Article I and to remove him from office.
Article II impeaches William Jefferson Clinton for preventing, obstructing and impeding the administration of justice in Mrs. Paula Jones' case by either directly or through subordinates and agents engaging in a scheme to delay, impede, cover up and conceal the existence of evidence and testimony relating to Mrs. Jones' federal civil rights action.
As in the case of Article I, the president's direct and indirect actions were not isolated mistakes, but were multi-faceted actions specifically designed to prevent Mrs. Paula Jones from having her day in court.
While the Senate determined in the Judge Nixon trial that the making of false statements to a federal grand jury warranted conviction and removal from office, no impeachment on an obstruction of justice charge has ever reached the Senate. Therefore, this article is a matter of first impression.
However, the impeachment inquiry of the House Judiciary Committee into the conduct of President Richard Nixon, as well as the relevant federal criminal statutes, clearly show President Clinton's actions to be within the definition of high crimes and misdemeanors contained in the Constitution.
The first article of impeachment against President Nixon approved by the Judiciary Committee charged Mr. Nixon with "engaging personally and through his subordinates and agents in a course of conduct or plan designed to delay, impede, and obstruct the investigation of such unlawful entry; to cover up, conceal, and protect those responsible; and to conceal the existence and scope of other unlawful activities."
The article charged that the implementation of the plan included nine separate areas of misconduct. Included among these were: One, making or causing to be made false and misleading statements to investigative officers and employees of the United States; two, withholding relevant and material evidence from such persons; three, approving, condoning, acquiescing in and counseling witnesses with respect to the giving of false and misleading statements to such persons as well as in judicial and congressional proceedings.
History shows us that President Nixon's resignation was the only act that prevented the Senate from voting on this article and that the president's conviction and removal from office were all but certain.
There are two sections of the Federal Criminal Code placing penalties on those who obstruct justice. Title 18, United States Code, Section 1503, punishes quote, "whoever corruptly or by threats or force obstructs or impedes or endeavors to influence, obstruct or impede the due administration of justice." Unquote.
The courts have held that this section relates to pending judicial process which can be a civil action. Mrs. Jones' case fits that definition at the time of the president's actions as alleged in Article II, as does the Office of Independent Counsel investigation.
Title 18, United States Code, Section 1512 punishes quote, "whoever corruptly persuades another person or attempts to do so, or engages in misleading conduct toward another person with intent to influence, delay or prevent the testimony of any person in an official proceeding. Or cause or induce any person to withhold testimony or withhold a record, document or other object from an official proceeding."
The evidence will show that President Clinton's actions constituted obstruction of justice in seven specific instances as alleged in Article II. Paragraph one alleges that on or about December 17, 1997, the president encouraged Miss Lewinsky, who would be subpoenaed as a witness in Ms. Jones case two days later, to execute a sworn affidavit he knew would be perjurious, false and misleading. The evidence will show the president's actions violated both federal criminal obstruction statutes.
Second, Article II alleges that on or about that same day, the president corruptly encouraged Ms. Lewinsky to give perjurious, false and misleading testimony if and when called to testify personally, in that proceeding.
Ms. Lewinsky, on the witness list at that time, could have been expected to be required to give live testimony in the Jones' case. And in fact, she was subsequently subpoenaed for a deposition in that case.
he evidence will show the president's actions violated both federal criminal obstruction statutes.
Third, Article II alleges that on or about December 28, 1997, the president corruptly engaged in, encouraged or supported a scheme to conceal evidence which had been subpoenaed in Mrs. Jones' civil rights case. He did so by asking Ms. Betty Currie to retrieve evidence from Ms. Lewinsky that had been subpoenaed in the case of Jones v. Clinton.
The evidence will show the president's actions violated the second federal criminal obstruction statute.
Fourth, Article II alleges that beginning on or about December 7th, 1997, and continuing through and including January 14th, 1998, the president intensified and succeeded in an effort to secure job assistance to Miss Lewinsky in order to corruptly prevent her truthful testimony in the Jones case at a time when her truthful testimony would have been harmful to him.
While Miss Lewinsky had sought employment in New York City long before the dates in question, helping her find a suitable job was clearly a low priority for the president and his associates until it became obvious she would become a witness in the Jones case.
The evidence will clearly show an intensification of that effort after her name appeared on the witness list.
This effort was ultimately successful and the evidence will show that the president's actions violated both federal obstruction statutes.
Fifth, Article II alleges that on January 17, 1998, the president corruptly allowed his attorney to make false and misleading statements to Judge Wright, characterizing the Lewinsky affidavit in order to prevent questioning deemed relevant by the judge. The president's attorney Robert Bennett subsequently acknowledged such false and misleading statements in a communication to Judge Wright. The evidence will show the president's actions clearly violated the second federal criminal obstruction statute.
Sixth, Article II alleges that on or about January 18, 20 and 21, 1998, the president related a false and misleading account of events relevant to Mrs. Jones' civil rights suit to Ms. Betty Currie, a potential witness in the proceeding, in order to corruptly influence her testimony.
The evidence will show that President Clinton attempted to influence the testimony of Ms. Betty Currie, his personal secretary, by coaching her to recite inaccurate answers to possible questions that might be asked of her, if called to testify in Ms. Paula Jones' case.
The president did this shortly after he had been deposed in the criminal action -- excuse me, in the civil action. During the deposition, he frequently referred to Ms. Currie and it was logical that, based upon his testimony, Ms. Currie would be called as a witness.
The evidence will show that two hours after the completion of the deposition, the president called Ms. Currie to ask her to come to the office the next day, which was a Sunday.
When Ms. Currie testified to the grand jury, she acknowledged that the president made a series of leading statements or questions and concluded that the president wanted her to agree with him.
The evidencd will show that the president's actions violated both statutes, but most particularly, Section 1512. In United States vs. Rodalitz (ph), the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said quote, "the most obvious example of a section 1512 violation may be the situtation where a defendant tells a potential witness a false story as if the story were true, intending that he witness believed the story and testified it -- testified to it before the grand jury."
If the president's actions do not fit this example, I am at a loss to know what actions do.
Seventh, and last, Article II alleges that on or about January 21, 23, and 26, 1998, the president made false and misleading statements to potential witnesses in a federal grand jury proceeding in order to corruptly influence the testimony of those witnesses. The article further alleges these false and misleading statements were repeated by the witnesses to the grand jury, causing the grand jury to receive false and misleading information.
The evidence will show these statements were made to presidential aides Mr. Sidney Blumenthal, Mr. Erskine Bowles, Mr. John Podesta and Mr. Harold Ickes. They all testified to the grand jury. By his own admission seven months later on August 17th, 1998, during his sworn grand jury testimony, the president said that he told a number of aides that he did not have an affair with Miss Lewinsky and did not have sex with her. He told one aide, Mr. Sidney Blumenthal, that Miss Monica Lewinsky came on to him and that he rebuffed her. President Clinton also admitted that he knew those aides might be called before the grand jury as witnesses. The evidence will show they were called, they related the president's false statements to the grand jury, and that by the time the president made his admission to the grand jury, the damage had already been done.
This is a classic violation of Title XVIII, United States Code, Section 1512.
The seven specific allegations of obstruction of justice contained in Article II were designed to prevent the judicial branch of government -- a separate and co-equal branch -- from doing its work in Mrs. Paula Jones' lawsuit.
Based upon the allegation of Article I against President Nixon in 1974, as well as the repeated and calculated violations of two key criminal obstruction statutes, William Jefferson Clinton committed an impeachable offense.
In Article II, the evidence is conclusive that President Clinton put himself above the law in obstructing justice, not once, not just a few times, but as a part of an extensive scheme to prevent Mrs. Jones from obtaining the evidence she thought she needed to prove her civil rights claims.
Complying with the law is the duty of all parties to lawsuits and those who are required to give truthful testimony. A defendant in a federal civil rights action does not have the luxury to choose what evidence the court may consider.
He or she must abide by the law and abide by the rules of procedure.
William Jefferson Clinton tried to say that the law did not apply to him during his term of office as far as civil cases were concerned. He properly lost that argument in the United States Supreme Court in a unanimous decision. Even though the Supreme Court decided that the president wasn't above the law, and that Mrs. Jones' case could proceed, William Jefferson Clinton decided -- and decided alone -- to act as if the Supreme Court had never acted and that Judge Wright's orders didn't apply to him.
What he did was criminal time and time again. These criminal acts were in direct conflict with the president's obligation to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. Based upon the repeated violations of federal criminal law, it's affect upon the court's to find the truth, and the president's duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, if you find that the president did indeed obstruct the administration of justice through his acts, I respectfully submit that your duty will be to find William Jefferson Clinton guilty with respect to Article II and to remove him from office.
It is truly sad when the leader of the greatest nation in the world gets caught up in a series of events where one inappropriate and criminal act leads to another and another and another. Even sadder is that the president himself could have stopped this process simply by telling the truth and accepting the consequences of his prior mistakes.
At least six times since December 17th, 1997, William Jefferson Clinton could have told the truth and suffered the consequences. Instead, he chose lies, perjury and deception.
He could have told the truth when he first learned that Miss Lewinsky would be a witness in Mrs. Jones' case. He could have told the truth at his civil deposition. He could have told the truth to Betty Currie.
He could have told the truth when the news media first broke the story of his affair. He could have told the truth to his aides and cabinet. He could have told the truth to the American people.
Instead, he shook his finger at each and every American and said, "I want you to listen to me," and proceeded to tell a straight-faced lie to the American people.
Finally, he had one more opportunity to tell the truth. He could have told the truth to the grand jury.
Had he told the truth last January, there would have been no independent counsel investigation of this matter, no grand jury appearance, no impeachment inquiry, and no House approval of articles of impeachment, and we would not be here today fulfilling a painful and essential constitutional duty.
Instead, he chose lies and deception despite warnings from friends, aides and members of the House and Senate that failure to tell the truth would have grave consequences.
When the case against him was being heard by the House Judiciary Committee, he sent his lawyers who did not present any new evidence or rebut the facts and evidence sent to the House by the independent counsel.
Rather, they disputed the committee's interpretation of the evidence by relying on tortured, convoluted and unreasonable interpretations of the president's words and action.
During his presentation to the House Judiciary Committee, the president's very able lawyer, Charles Ruff, was asked directly: Did the president lie during his sworn grand jury testimony?
Mr. Ruff could have answered that question directly, but he did not. And his failure to do so speaks a thousand words. Is there not something sacred when a witness in a judicial proceeding raises his or her right hand and swears before God and the public to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
Do we want to tell the country that its leader gets a pass when he's required to give testimony under oath? Should we not be concerned about the effect of allowing perjurious, false and misleading statements by the president to go unpunished on the truthfulness of anyone's testimony in future judicial and legislative proceedings?
And what do we tell the approximately 115 people now in federal prison for the crime of perjury? The answers to all of these questions ought to be obvious.
As elected officials, our opinions are frequently shaped by constituents telling us their own story. Let me tell you one related to me about the poisonous results of allowing false statements under oath to go unpunished.
Last October, when the Starr report was being hotly debated, one circuit court judge for Dodge County, Wisconsin approached me on the street in Mayville, Wisconsin. He said that some citizens had business in his court and suggested that one of them take the witness stand and be put under oath to tell the truth. The citizen then asked the judge if he could tell the truth, just like the president.
How many people who have come to court to testify under oath about matters they could like to keep to themselves think about what that citizen asked Judge John Stork (ph)? And how will the courts be able to administer the equal justice under law we all hold so dear, if we do not enforce the sanctity of that oath even against the president of the United States?
When each of us is elected or chosen to serve in public office, we make a compact with the people of the United States of America to conduct ourselves in an honorable manner, hopefully setting a higher standard for ourselves than we expect of others. That should mean we are careful to obey all the laws we make, execute and interpret.
There is more than truth in the words, "a public office is a public trust." When someone breaks that trust, he or she must be held accountable and suffer the consequences for the breach. If there is no accountability, that means that a presiustice, poses a far greater threat to the liberties guaranteed to the American people by the Constitution than anything imaginable.
For the past 11 months, the toughest questions I've had to answer come from parents who want to know what to tell their children about what President Clinton did.
Every parent tries to teach their children to know the difference between right and wrong, to always tell the truth, and when they make mistakes to take responsibility for them and to face the consequences of their actions.
President Clinton's actions at every step since he knew Miss Lewinsky would be a witnesses in Mrs. Jones's case have been completely opposite to the values parents hope to teach their children.
But being a poor example is not grounds for impeachment. Undermining the rule of law is. Frustrating the courts' ability to administer justice turns private misconduct into an attack upon the ability of one of the three branches of our government to impartially administer justice.
That is a direct attack upon the rule of law in our country and a very public wrong that goes to the constitutional workings of our government and its ability to protect the civil rights of even the weakest American.
What is on trial here is the truth and the rule of law. Failure to bring President Clinton to account for his serial lying under oath and preventing the courts from administering equal justice under law will cause a cancer to be present in our society for generations.
Those parents who have asked the question should be able to tell their children that even if you are the president of the United States, if you lie when sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, you will face the consequences of that action even when you will not accept the responsibility for it.
How those parents answer those questions is up to the United States Senate.
While how today's parents answer those questions is important, equally important is what parents tell their children in the generations to come about the history of our country and what has set our government in the United States of America apart from the rest of the world. Above the president's dais in this Senate chamber appears our national motto: E Pluribus Unum -- out of many, one.
When that motto was adopted more than 200 years ago, the first Congress referred to how 13 separate colonies turned themselves into one united nation. As the decades have gone by, that motto has taken additional meaning. People of all nationalities, faiths, creeds and values have come to our shores, shed their allegiances to their old countries and achieved their dreams to become Americans.
They came here to flee religious persecution; to escape corrupt, tyrannical and oppressive governments; and to leave behind the economic stagnation and endless wars of their homelands. They came here to be able to practice their faiths as they saw fit, free of government dictates, and to be able to provide better lives for themselves and for their families by the sweat of their own brows and the use of their own intellect.
But they also came here because they knew America has a system of government where the Constitution and laws protect individual liberties and human rights. Everyone -- yes, everyone -- can argue that this country has been a beacon for the individual citizen's ability to be what he or she can be. They fled countries where rulers ruled at the expense of the people; to America where the leaders are expected to govern for the benefit of the people.
And throughout the years America's leaders have tried to earn the trust of the American people not by their words, but by their actions.
America is a place where government exists by the consent of the governed, and that means our nation's leaders must earn and re-earn the trust of the people with everything they do.
Whenever an elected official stumbles, that trust is eroded an public cynicism goes up. The more cynicism that exists about government, its institutions, and those chosen to serve in them, the more difficult the job is for those who are serving.
And that's why it's important, yes vital, that when a cancer exists in the body politic, our job, our duty, is to excise it. If we fail in our duty, I fear that difficult and dedicated work done by thousands of honorable men and women elected to serve, not just here in Washington, but in our state capitals, city halls, courthouses, and school board rooms, will be swept away in a sea of public cynicism.
We must not allow the beacon of America to grow dim or the American dream to disappear with each waking morning. In 1974, Congress did its painful duty when the president of the United States broke the public trust.
During the last decade, both Houses impeached and removed from office three federal judges who broke their trust with the people. During the last 10 years, the House of Representatives disciplined two speakers for breaking the rules and their trust with the public.
And less than six years ago, this honorable Senate did the same thing to a senior senator whose accomplishments were widely praised.
In each case Congress did the right thing to help restore the vital trust upon which our government depends. It wasn't easy, nor was it always popular. But Congress did the right thing.
Now this honorable Senate must do the right thing. It must listen to the evidence. It must determine whether William Jefferson Clinton repeatedly broke our criminal laws and thus broke his trust with the people. A trust contained in the presidential oath, put into the Constitution by the framers. An oath that no other federal official must take. An oath to ensure that the laws be faithfully executed.
How the Senate decides the issues to be presented in this trial will determine the legacy that we pass to future generations of Americans. The Senate can follow the legacy of those who made America what it is. The Senate can follow the legacy of those who put their lives, fortunes and sacred honor on the line when they signed the Declaration of Independence.
The Senate can follow the legacy of the framers of the Constitution, whose preamble states that one of its purposes is to establish justice.
The Senate can follow the legacy of James Madison and the members of the first Congress, who wrote and passed the Bill of Rights to preserve the liberties of the American people. The Senate can follow the legacy of those who achieved equal rights for all Americans during the 1960s in Congress, in the courts, on the streets, and in the buses and at the lunch counters.
The Senate can follow the legacy of those who brought President Nixon to justice during Watergate, in the belief that no president can place himself above the law. The Senate can follow the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, who lived and governed by the principle that no man is above the law.
Within the walls of the capitol and throughout this great country, their rages an impassioned and divisive debate over the future of this presidency.
This Senate now finds itself in the midst of the tempest. An already immense and agonizing duty is made even more so because of the whims of public opinion polls, the popularity and unpopularity of individuals, even questions over the strength of our economy, risks assuming the true of this nature of this grave and unwelcome task.
We have all anguished over the sequence of events that have led us to this, the conclusive stage of this process. We have all identified in our own minds where it could have and should have stopped. But we have ended up here, before the Senate of the United States, where you the senators will have to render judgment based upon the facts.
A scientist in search of the basic nature of a substance begins by boiling away what is not of the essence.
Similarly, the Senate will sift through the layers of debris, the trial, the truth. The residue of this painful and divisive process is bitter, even poisonous at times, but beneath it lies the answer.
The evidence will show that at its core, the question over the president's guilt and the need for his conviction will be clear. Because at its core, the issues involved are basic questions of right versus wrong; deceptive, criminal behavior versus honesty, integrity and respect for the law.
The president engaged in a conspiracy of crimes to prevent justice from being served. These are impeachable offenses for which the president should be convicted. Over the course of the days and weeks to come, we, the House managers, will endeavor to make this case.
May these proceedings be fair and thorough, may they embody our highest capacity for truth and mutual respect.
With these principles as our guides, we can begin with the full knowledge our democracy will prevail and our nation will emerge a stronger, better place.
Our legacy now must be not to lose the trust the people should have in our nation's leaders. Our legacy now must be not to cheapen the legacies left by our forbearers. Our legacy must be to do the right thing based upon the evidence. And for the sake of our country, the Senate must not fail.
Thursday January 14, 1999
Jurors give mixed reviews to House case
Senate struggle over witness testimony continues
Mood on Hill businesslike as prosecutors begin case against Clinton
Starr will watch trial, won't comment on procedures
Document: House managers' rebuttal memo
Clinton proposes billions more to boost police numbers
Study: Most former Wisconsin welfare recipients now working
Powell comfortable with opting out
Trial will infringe on Sabbath observance for Lieberman
U.S. Justice may meet Pollard representatives
Lawyers fight over Clinton-Jones check
Bipartisan panel urges overhaul of veterans programs