Prosecution: Acquittal of Clinton would 'damage' presidency
Managers argue alleged crimes merit removal from office
January 16, 1999
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, January 16) -- President Bill Clinton has "violated the rule of law and thereby broken his covenant of trust with the American people," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde concluded Saturday, adding for the Senate to not remove him from office would damage the presidency "in an unprecedented and unacceptable way."
Delivering the final word in the House prosecution's three-day opening presentation in the Senate impeachment trial of the president, Hyde told the 100 U.S. senators Saturday that his team was "convinced in conscience" that the president is guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice and those charges merit conviction.
"These are not trivial matters. These are not partisan matters. These are matters of justice, the justice that each of you has taken a solemn oath to serve in this trial," Hyde said in a lofty, historical speech.
The public trust has been betrayed, Hyde said, and removal from office is the only "remedy." To make the point, he read a letter from Chicago third-grader William Preston Summers who wrote: "If you cannot believe the president, who can you believe? If you have no one to believe in, then how do you run your life? I do not believe the president tells the truth any more right now."
While Hyde concentrated on the importance of upholding the "rule of law," Rep. George Gekas (R-Pennsylvania) acknowledged that the impeachment process is as political as it is judicial.
Despite their allegiances, he called on each senator to do their duty. "Only the Senate and each individual conscience will determine how that final vote is cast. We cannot account for the friendship or enmity that might exist with and for President Clinton," Gekas said.
He defended the work done by the 13 House managers -- all Republicans from the House Judiciary Committee -- saying they were fulfilling their constitutional duty and not out to get the president.
"We revere the presidency. Any innuendo or any kind of impulse that anyone has to attribute any kind of motivation on the part of these men of honor who have prepared this case for you today on any whim on their part other than to do their constitutional duty should be rebuffed at every conversation," Gekas said.
"We work to make this country the kind of America they (U.S. veterans) were willing to die for," Hyde said, echoing Gekas' words. "That's an America where the idea of sacred honor still has the power to stir men's souls. My solitary, solitary hope is that 100 years from today people will look back at what we've done and say, 'They kept the faith.'"
"I'm done," Hyde said, concluding both his quietly delivered 20-minute speech to the hushed chamber and the managers' opening presentation.
After two days of detailing facts the House managers say support the charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, Saturday's speakers set out to convince the Senate that those crimes are indeed 'high crimes' and therefore merit Clinton's removal from office.
Entering their opening presentation, managers faced the burden of proving Clinton is guilty of "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors," as defined by the Constitution. But Rep. Charles Canady (R-Florida) urged the senators to not to look at the definition narrowly.
"Perjury and obstruction of justice are akin to bribery both in their purpose and in their effect," he argued in his speech that wrapped up the constitutional law portion of the prosecution's three-day opening presentation.
Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Indiana) led off the rare Saturday morning session, arguing "The president's premeditated assault on the administration of justice must be interpreted as a threat to our system of government."
Prior standards used by the Senate to impeach a federal judge on the grounds of perjury should apply equally to the president, Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) argued.
"You couldn't live with yourself knowing that you were going to leave a perjuring judge on the bench. Ladies and gentlemen, as hard as it may be for the same reasons, cleanse this office.," Graham said.
Buyer rejected an argument of Clinton's defenders that says even if the charges were true, they are trivial -- what the prosecution has dubbed the "So what?" defense. Buyer said the White House relies on this argument because it's their only defense since they can't dispute the facts.
"This 'rise to the level' has somehow become the legal cliche of this case. You've all so often heard it, and some of you have even spoken it," Buyer said.
The House managers are fighting an uphill battle. They must convince 67 of the 100 senators that the president committed perjury and obstructed justice in an effort to conceal his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, and that those crimes merit conviction and removal from office.
Buyer warned against the "profound" consequences of an acquittal: "Should the Senate choose to acquit it must be prepared to accept a lower standard, a bad precedent, and a double standard."
And the polls -- which show the president with sustained high approval ratings and a majority of the public opposed to his removal from office -- should not drive their decisions. "A popular president guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors should no more remain in office than an unpopular president innocent of wrongdoing should be removed ... popularity is not a sufficient guide," Canady said.
Sens. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) were absent from Saturday's session. Inouye has been in Hawaii for a funeral. McCain was delivering a eulogy at services for the late Sen. Mo Udall in his home state, a staff aide told CNN.
After a break on Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, the White House will get its turn Tuesday to present a defense. Like the House managers, the White House will have 24 hours spread over three days to rebut the charges. The president's lawyers will also make the case that even if true the crimes do not rise to the level of impeachment.
After both sides have wrapped their opening statements and the senate has its turn next week to question both the prosecution and defense, the senators will be left with the sticky question of witnesses that they put off last week in a compromise agreement to get the proceedings on track.
Consistently throughout each of the managers' statements, they have pushed the senators to allow the testimony of witnesses like Lewinsky, Clinton's secretary Betty Currie, presidential pal Vernon Jordan, White House Chief of Staff John Podesta and presidential aide Sidney Blumenthal.
Behind closed-doors there are discussions of calling the president himself, though that suggestion has received mixed reaction from Senate Republicans and outrage from the Democrats.
"You're innocent until proven guilty. And you do not under any circumstances -- you do not, do not -- say that somebody has to come before whatever the tribunal is and prove they're innocent," Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) said after Friday's session.
The White House is already making the case that prosecutors were seeking to drag out the case by bringing in witnesses, and can be expected to repeat that argument during their opening presentation.
"The House Republican managers are seeking to expand and extend this proceeding for one reason: they do not have a case based on the facts, on the law, on the Constitution or on the voluminous record for overturning the election and removing the president of the United States," said White House special counsel Gregory Craig.
It is almost certain that the a motion to dismiss the case will also be introduced on the Senate floor following the opening presentations. Only a majority of 51 is needed to approve the move.
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