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Sen. Kerrey's closed-door impeachment statement

Released into Congressional Record, February 12, 1999

Sen.J. Robert Kerrey (D-Nebraska): Mr. President, in the impeachment case of President Clinton I have read the depositions, reviewed the massive volume of evidence and carefully followed the detailed presentations of both the House managers and the President's counsel. The instructions for my decision come from two places: the oath I took to do impartial justice and the Constitution of the United States.

Nebraskans, including me, are angry about the President's behavior. We find it deplorable on every level. It has permanently and deservedly marred his place in history. But impeachment is not about punishing an individual; it is about protecting the country. We punish a President who behaves immorally, lies and otherwise lacks the character we demand in public office with our votes. Presidents are also subject to criminal prosecution when they leave office.

Impeachment must be reserved for extreme situations involving crimes against the state. Why? Because the founders of our country and the framers of our Constitution correctly placed stability of the republic as their paramount concern. They did not want Congress to be able to easily remove a popularly elected President. They made clear they intended a decision to impeach to be used to protect the nation against only the highest of crimes.

On December 19, 1998, the House of Representatives, on an almost straight party-line vote, approved and delivered to the Senate two articles of impeachment. The Constitution permits me to judge and decide upon only these articles, not to wander through all of the President's conduct looking for any reason for removal.

Some Nebraskans have told me the President should be removed from office by the Congress because he is no longer trusted, has lost the respect of many, and has displayed reprehensible behavior. As strong as those feelings are, the Constitution does not provide for overturning an election even if all of these things are true.

Three recent letters to the editor in the Omaha World-Herald help make the point. The first, from a man in Kearney, says that by voting to dismiss the trial, I "voted to support sexual harassment," among other things. A second, from Honey Creek, Iowa, raises allegations regarding the President and China, says he is "dangerous" and urges Senator Hagel and I to "oust him now." The third, from Omaha, reminds readers of an often quoted comment I once made about the President's credibility and asks how, in light of that, I could vote to leave him in office.

However, the House did not charge the President with these offenses. Impeachment is not a judgment of a President's character, all his actions, or even his general fitness for office. We make those decisions every four years at the ballot box. Our job in contemplating the extraordinary step of overturning an election is to judge only those charges the House actually brought.

Because the premium on Constitutional stability is so high, I decided to judge the case against the strictest possible standard: proof beyond a reasonable doubt. In other words, the President can be convicted only if there is no reasonable interpretation of the facts other than an intent to commit perjury and obstruction of justice. The following is a summary of my analysis of this case:

Article One accuses the President of perjury in his August 17, 1998, testimony to a Federal grand jury, during which he waived his rights against self incrimination. Most important in determining guilt or innocence is the rule of law governing perjury, which makes it clear that a person has not committed perjury just because they misled or even lied. Perjury occurs when a false statement is made under oath with willful intent to mislead in a material matter. Lying is immoral; perjury is illegal. I should not accuse the President of ignoring the rule of law and then ignore it myself in making a judgment.

After reading and watching the President's grand jury testimony, listening to the arguments of the House managers and the President's lawyers, discussing this case with prosecutors and reviewing the impeachment trial of U.S. District Judge Alcee Hastings, I have concluded the President did not commit the crime of perjury beyond a reasonable doubt. I frequently found the President's testimony maddening and misleading, but I did not find it material to a criminal act.

Article Two accuses the President of obstructing justice in seven instances. The House managers relied on circumstantial evidence, saying that common sense provides only one conclusion about why the President acted the way he did. However, the direct evidence, including the testimony of Monica Lewinsky herself, rebutted the circumstantial evidence. Second, while the House managers were correct in saying that common sense could lead to a conclusion that the President intended to obstruct justice, common sense could also lead to other reasonable conclusions about the reasons for his actions. Third, with respect to the allegations of obstructing justice in the civil case, Paula Jones' lawsuit was thrown out, then eventually settled. In the end, justice was done.

As reprehensible as I find the President's behavior to be, I do not believe that high crimes and misdemeanors as defined by the Framers have been proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Accordingly, I will vote to acquit on both Articles. My vote to acquit is not a vote to exonerate. While there is plenty of blame to go around in this case, the person most responsible for it going this far is the President of the United States. He behaved immorally, recklessly and reprehensibly. These were his choices. In the final analysis, they do not merit removal, but they do merit condemnation.

While I am confident this vote is the right one--not just for this case, but as a precedent for future Congresses and Presidents too--I understand that reasonable people could reach the opposite conclusion. The bitterness in America on both sides of this debate has saddened me. I hope and pray that with this vote behind us the people's Congress can return without rancor to the important work of our country.


Investigating the President

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Friday, February 12, 1999

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