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

Transcript: Solomon's opening statement to House Rules Committee

September 10, 1998

REP. GERALD SOLOMON: I do have a brief opening statement, after which I will yield to Mr. Moakley for any statement he might have and then I will yield to other members of the committee for any statement they might have as well.

Today, ladies and gentlemen, the Rules Committee embarks on one of the most unfortunate and difficult tasks many of us have faced in public service -- certainly mine -- in the last 20 years. The committee must set forth a procedure by which the House of Representatives may fulfill its constitutional duties under Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution, which is "the sole power of impeachment." And it's what we're here for today.

This is a responsibility that none of us take lightly when we swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States and we do not take it lightly now.

The framers of the Constitution deliberately designed our system of government to make this a constitutional responsibility and not a partisan one. To whatever end these deliberations may lead us, it is imperative that the Rules Committee and ultimately the House -- House of Representatives -- adopt procedures which best allow for a fair, not only bipartisan, but nonpartisan, determination of the facts involved.

Yesterday the Independent Counsel delivered a communication to the House of Representatives pursuant to the Independent Counsel law. He was required to do that by law. That law, which was first enacted in 1978 under different leadership of this House -- Democratic leadership -- and re-authorized in 3 instances since then, most recently in 1994, and it requires an independent counsel to "advise the House of Representatives of any substantial or credible information which the independent counsel receives which may constitute grounds for an impeachment."

That is the law of the land and the independent counsel was required by that law to submit the communications that we are considering here now.

Without question, in some senses, we are in uncharted waters. There has never been a report from an independent counsel detailing possible impeachment offenses by a president. Indeed, the independent counsel statute itself was an outgrowth of the Watergate era. However, we are guided very much by precedent and by history in this matter, as is often the case in the House of Representatives. We always try to follow precedent.

The resolution before us will enable the House through the deliberations of the House Judiciary Committee to responsibly review this important material and to discharge its duty, particularly with respect to the availability of the contents of this communication to members of this Congress, to the public and to the media. It is important that the American people learn the facts regarding this matter. And that isn't just members of Congress, that is we, the American people.

As directed by the speaker, no one -- no member or congressional staffer -- has seen the communication transmitted yesterday. Not one page; not one word of it.

However, it is the understanding of the Rules Committee, as outlined in the letter of transmittal from Judge Starr, that the communication contains the following: 445 pages of a communication which is divided into an introduction, a narrative and a so-called "grounds"; another 2,000 pages of supporting material is contained in the appendices which may contain grand jury testimony, telephone records, videotaped testimony and other sensitive material; and 17 boxes of other supporting material.

The method of the dissemination and potential restrictions on access to this very, very critical information is outlined in the resolution before the Rules Committee today, which has at this moment -- does appear on website for the American people to look at.

The resolution provides the Judiciary Committee with the ability to review the communication to determine whether sufficient grounds exist to recommend to this House -- and that's what they will be charged with -- to reccommend to this House that an impeachment inquiry be commenced.

The resolution provides for an immediate release of the approximately 445 pages comprising, again, an introduction, a narrative and a statement of so-called grounds. This will be printed as a House document and it will be made availbe to members, to the press and to the public within the House after passage on Friday morning.

Now, there are technical difficulties involved because we're waiting for the computerized transmittal document that we can begin to print this immediately after the hearing, immediately after the Congress acts on Friday. The balance of the material will be deemed to have been received in executive session, but will be released from the status on September 23, 1998.

That is a much longer time than some of us felt was necessary. However, from the very persuasive arguments of Mr. Hyde and Mr. Conyers, we have extended that time to September 28, again, trying to be as fair and open as we possibly can.

Again, the balance of the material will be deemed to have been received in the executive session, but will be released on that date unless, of course, the Judiciary Committee votes not to release portions of it. Materials released will immediately be printed as a House document. That means it will, there again, be available to all the members, to the press and to the American public.

As to the receipt by the House of transcripts and other records protected by the rules of grand jury secrecy, committees of the House have received such information on at least five occasions -- and this is important to recall -- all in the context of impeachment actions. This precedent dates all the way back to 1811 and as recently as the impeachment on judges, I believe, in the late 1980s.

The resolution further provides that additional material compiled by the Judiciary Committee during the review will be deemed to have been received in the executive session unless it is received in an open session of the committee. And that is up to you gentlemen.

Also, access to the executive session material will be restricted to members of the Judiciary Committee, and such employees of the committee as may be designated by the chairman after consultation with the ranking minority member, Mr. Conyers.

Finally, the resolution provides that each meeting, that each hearing or deposition of the Judiciary Committee will be in executive session unless otherwise determined by the committee, and then again, that is at your discretion, gentlemen.

The executive sessions may be attended only by Judiciary Committee members, not by other members of the Congress, and employees of the committee designated by the chairman, again, after consultation with the ranking minority member.

The resolution before us attempts to strike an appropriate balance between House members' -- and the public's -- interest in reviewing this material, and the need to protect innocent persons. And that is very, very important.

It is anticipated that the Judiciary Committee may require additional procedures of investigative authorities to adequately review this communication in the future. It is anticipated that those authorities will be the subject of another resolution before this committee next week. And we will again consult with the ranking members on this committee and with the ranking members on your committee, Mr. Hyde, in trying to arrive at a resolution that will allow you to do that.

It is important to note that this resolution does not authorize or direct an impeachment inquiry. And I hope that is perfectly clear. It is not the beginning of an impeachment process in the House of Representatives. It merely provides the appropriate parameters for the Committee on the Judiciary, the historically proper place to examine these matters, to review this communication and to make a recommendation to the House as to whether to commence an impeachment inquiry.

That is what you are being charged with by this resolution.

If this communication from Independent Counsel Starr should form the basis for future proceedings, it is important for the Rules Committee to be mindful that members may need to cast public, recorded, and extremely profound votes in the coming weeks or months. It is our responsibility to ensure that members have enough information about the contents of the communication to cast informed votes and explain their decisions, based on their conscience and to their constituents.

In summation, let me just say that Democrats and Republicans disagree about many things in this institution and that's probably as it should be. But no one disagrees about the honor and integrity of our friend Henry Hyde. He is one of the most judicious members in this body, and I have said on several occasions, as I did to my great hero and yours, Henry, Ronald Reagan, that you would make an excellent Supreme Court Judge. I am very very happy that he did not have to opportunity to follow through on that, because we need you desperately here today in your capacity. We are fortunate again that you were not elevated to that position.

Likewise, the gentleman from Michigan, Mr. Conyers, has many years of experience on the Judiciary Committee, including service there in 1974, which was one of the critical years of this Congress. He is extremely knowledgeable, he is tenacious to say the least. I've had encounters with him in the past and he usually wins. And we look forward to his service and leadership in this very, very important matter.

This is a very grave day for the House of Representatives, indeed it is a solemn time I think, in our nation. Today we will do what we are compelled to do under the Constitution not because we desire it, but because, my friends, it is our duty to do it. In order to most judiciously fulfill these constitutional duties, I encourage all of the members to approach this sensitive matter with the dignity and decorum which befits the most deliberative body in the world.

Speaker Gingrich spoke of it on the floor. I would encourage all members that they -- they control themselves. I, for one, am an emotional person. I've been known to speak out sometimes without using proper decorum. And I pledge I will not do that and I hope that no other member does. We need to treat the presidency with respect. We need to treat this body with respect.

Having said that, I will yield to my good friend, the ranking member, Mr. Moakley, for any statement he might have.


Thursday September 10, 1998

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