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Sen. Burns's closed-door impeachment statement

Released into Congressional Record, February 12, 1999

Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Montana): Mr. Chief Justice and my Senate colleagues, we now close one of the most serious chapters in the history of this Senate. While some may not agree with the outcome, and others may not like the way I voted, I'm satisfied the Constitution has been followed. We must now accept this verdict and try to work together without talk of revenge or gloating.

In reaching my conclusions, I asked myself two questions: Were the articles of impeachment proven, and if so, should the president be removed from office?

I believe the president perjured himself before a grand jury. He put the protection of his presidency ahead of the protection of the institution of the presidency. He gave false testimony about his efforts to keep other witnesses from telling the truth. We have already learned in our history that lies lead to more lies, and the pattern in this case led to perjury.

I also feel strongly that a case for obstruction of justice was proven conclusively. The Senate heard the many actions and motives of the president, and it was easy to connect the dots. Those dots reveal a clear and convincing case against the president.

I believe the president tampered with the testimony of witnesses against him; that he allowed his lawyers to present false evidence on his behalf; that he directed a job search for a witness in exchange for false testimony; and that he directed the recovery and hiding of evidence under subpoena.

Does this warrant the president's removal from office? I agree with my respected colleague, Senator Byrd, that this reaches the level of high crimes and misdemeanors, for a number of reasons: The president's actions crossed the line between private and public behavior when those actions legally became the subject of a civil rights lawsuit against him, and when he tried to undermine that lawsuit. His actions were an attack on the separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches when he abused his power in an effort to obstruct justice. Remember, he impeded a lawsuit the highest court in our land allowed to proceed on a 9-0 vote.

It's clear even to some of the president's supporters that he committed many of the offenses he has been charged with. But given this outcome, I hope for our system of justice and for our character as a nation that these votes are never seen as treating actions such as perjury and obstruction of justice lightly, whether by a president or by any citizen.

Our new world of communications has made more information available to us than ever before. But it also contributed to the media overkill that jaded the American people to this process long ago. When the Lewinsky story became public, the president conducted a poll in which he learned that Americans would tolerate a private affair, but not perjury or obstruction of justice. His goal from that point on to was to poison the well of public opinion. Once the focus shifted away from the facts and toward opinion, once the clatter and clutter echoed on 24-hour talk television, the president's goal was reached. But the facts remain, and they are not in dispute.

Montanans didn't send me to the Senate to be a weathervane, shifting in the wind, but to be a compass. It may be common to say the president's offenses don't 'rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors,' but I believe that would ignore our history and what we stand for as a nation.

That's why I also oppose censuring the president. The Constitution gives us one way to deal with impeachable offenses: a yes or no vote on guilt. Anything else would be like amending the Constitution on the fly and infringing on the separation of powers between the branches of government.

As we accept this outcome and move forward, we have plenty of time left ahead to help out Montana's farm and ranch communities, which is my top priority. We have time to save Social Security in a way that fixes the program without raising taxes. We have time to give control of education back to parents and teachers, and to give federal funds to classrooms, not bureaucrats. We have time to cut the record burden of taxation on Montanans, many of whom are forced to take more than one job to make ends meet.

We should all roll up our sleeves and get to work.


Investigating the President

MORE STORIES:

Friday, February 12, 1999

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