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

Sen. Domenici's closed-door impeachment statement

Released into Congressional Record, February 12, 1999

Sen. Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico): I have listened carefully to the arguments of the House Managers and the counter-arguments by the White House counsel during this impeachment trial. I have taken seriously my oath to render impartial justice.

While the legal nuances offered by both sides were interesting and essential, I kept thinking as I sat listening that the most obvious and important but unstated question was: What standard of conduct should we insist our President live up to?

Only by taking into account this question do I believe that we in the Senate can properly interpret our Founding Fathers' impeachment criteria comprised of "bribery, treason or other high crimes and misdemeanors." Clearly, the Constitution recognizes that a President may be impeached not only for bribery and treason, but also for other actions that destroy the underlying integrity of the Presidency or the "equal justice for all" guarantee of the Judiciary.

All reasonable observers admit that the President lied under oath and undertook a substantial and purposeful effort to hide his behavior from others in order to obstruct justice in a legal proceeding. My good friends and Democratic colleagues, Senators Joe Lieberman, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Bob Kerrey, Diane Feinstein, and Robert Byrd, among others, have bluntly acknowledged publically that the President lied, misled, obstructed, and attempted in many ways to thwart justice's impartial course in a civil rights case. The sticking point has been: Does this misbehavior rise to the level of impeachable offenses?

I have concluded that President Clinton's actions do, indeed, rise to the level of impeachable offenses that the Founding Fathers envisioned.

I am not a Constitutional scholar, as I have told you before. But, more than 200 years ago, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Jay summed up my feelings about lying under oath and its subversion of the administration of justice and honest government:

Independent of the abominable insult which Perjury offers to the divine Being, There is no Crime more pernicious to Society. It discolours and poisons the Streams of Justice, and by substituting Falsehood for Truth, saps the Foundations of personal and public rights. . . . Testimony is given under solemn obligations which an appeal to the God of Truth impose; and if oaths should cease to be held sacred, our dearest and most valuable Rights would become insecure.

Lying under oath is an "insult to the divine Being . . . It discolours and poisons the Streams of Justice . . . and . . . saps the Foundations of personal and public Rights."

How can anyone, after conceding that the President lied under oath and obstructed justice, listen to this quotation and not conclude that this President has committed acts which are clearly serious, which corrupt or subvert the political and government process, and which are plainly wrong to any honorable person or to a good citizen?

We must start by saying that this trial has never been about the President's private sex acts, as tawdry as they may have been.

This trial has been about his failure to properly discharge his public responsibility. The President had a choice to make during this entire, lamentable episode. At a number of critical junctures, he had a choice either to tell the truth or to lie, first in the civil rights case, before the grand jury and on national television. Each time he chose to lie. He made that fateful choice.

Truthfulness is the first pillar of good character in the Character Counts program of which I have been part of establishing in New Mexico. Many of you in this chamber have joined me in declaring the annual "Character Counts Weeks." This program teaches grade school youngsters throughout America about six pillars of good character. Public and private schools in every corner of my state teach children that character counts; character makes a difference; indeed, character makes all the difference.

Guess which one of these pillars comes first? Trustworthiness. Trustworthiness.

So what do I say to the children in my state when they ask, "Didn't the President lie? Doesn't that mean he isn't trustworthy? Then, Senator, why didn't the Senate punish him?"

Let me quote one of the most critical passages from Charles L. Black, Jr., and his handbook on impeachment, one of the seminal works on the impeachment process. He ponders this question: what kinds of non-criminal acts by a President are clearly impeachable? He concludes that "high crimes and misdemeanors" are those kinds of offenses which fall into three categories: "(1) which are extremely serious, (2) which in some way corrupt or subvert the political and governmental process, and (3) which are plainly wrong in themselves to a person of honor, or to a good citizen, regardless of words on the statute books."

Well, there you have it in my judgment. The President lied under oath in a civil rights case, he lied before a grand jury and he lied on national television to the American people.

Regarding Article II, obstruction of justice the House Managers proved to my satisfaction the following facts:

(1) The President encouraged Monica Lewinsky to prepare and submit a false affidavit; (2) He encouraged her to tell false and misleading cover stories if she were called to testify in a civil rights lawsuit; (3) He engaged in, encouraged or supported a scheme to conceal his gifts to Monica Lewinsky that had been subpoenaed in the civil rights lawsuit; (4) He intensified and succeeded in an effort to find Monica Lewinsky a job so that she would not testify truthfully in the civil rights lawsuit; (5) He gave a false account of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky to Betty Currie in order to influence Ms. Currie's expected testimony in the civil rights lawsuit; (6) At his deposition in a Federal civil rights action against him, William Jefferson Clinton allowed his attorney to make false and misleading statements to a Federal judge characterizing an affidavit, in order to prevent questioning deemed relevant by the judge. Such false and misleading statements were subsequently called to the attention of the judge by his attorney; (7) He lied to John Podesta, Sidney Blumenthal, Erskine Bowles and other White House aides regarding his relationship with Monica Lewinsky to influence their expected testimony before the Federal grand jury.

In this day and age of public yearning for heroes, we criticize basketball, football and baseball players, and actors and singers who commit crimes or otherwise fail to be "good role models." One of those celebrities said a few years ago that he was only a basketball player, not a role model. He said in essence: "Want a role model, look to the President."

Do not underestimate, my friends, the corrupting and cynical signal we will send if we fail to enforce the highest standards of conduct on the most powerful man in the nation.

Finally, I want to address a question that my good friend, Senator Byrd, raised over the weekend in a television show. After declaring that the President had lied and obstructed justice, and after concluding these acts were impeachable offenses, Senator Byrd, for whom I have great respect, noted that it was very hard, in his judgment, to impeach a president who enjoyed the public popularity that this President enjoys.

Let me respond to that. Popularity is not a defense in an impeachment trial. Indeed, one of our Founding Fathers addressed this issue of popularity directly in the oft-quoted Federalist Papers: "It takes more than talents of low intrigue and the little arts of popularity" to be President. And, popularity isn't a pillar of Character Counts.

What if a President committed the same acts as those alleged in this trial but he was presiding over a weak economy, a stock market at a three-year low, 12 percent unemployment, 16 percent inflation and a nation worried about their job security and families? I wonder if this would be a straight party line vote. I just wonder.

Conversely, I wonder if you had a President who committed one of the impeachable crimes enumerated in the Constitution--bribery or treason. And the facts were obvious and clear: he gave a job to someone in exchange for a $5,000 bribe and the entire episode was on video tape. In this hypothetical, what if this bribery-perpetrating President was very popular but the House, nonetheless, impeached him. It would be the Senate's responsibility to hold a trial. In this example, economy is strong, the country is at peace, everyone's stock market investments are soaring. Would we then interpret the Constitution to provide a popularity defense? Would we create a "booming economy exception" to the conviction and removal clause of the Constitution? I doubt it. I doubt it very much. Let me repeat, temporary popularity of a President cannot be a legitimate defense against impeachment.

The President has committed high crimes and misde meanors, in violation of his oath of office. He lied under oath. He obstructed justice. His behavior was unworthy of the Presidency of the United States.

Thus, I sadly conclude that the President is guilty of the charges made against him by the House of Representatives and I will vote to convict him on both counts before the Senate.

Thank you, Mr. President.

Investigating the President


Friday, February 12, 1999

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