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

Transcript: House Judiciary Committee meeting


HYDE: The committee will come to order.

It is the intention of the chair to conduct today's meeting in the following manner:

First, I will make opening remarks for a period not to exceed 10 minutes. And then Mr. Conyers, the ranking Democrat, will be recognized to make opening remarks for a period not to exceed 10 minutes.

After the conclusion of those two statements, each member will be recognized for five minutes to make an opening statement. The chair normally likes to be liberal on the five minutes, but I think you can understand, with all of the members here doubtless seeking to make an opening statement, we will have to be rather rigid on the five minutes, so I ask you to not ask for extensions of time, if possible.

Second, we will then receive a presentation from Mr. Schippers for a period not to exceed one hour and a presentation from Mr. Lowell for a period not to exceed one hour.

Thirdly, I will offer a resolution relating to the authorization of an investigation of whether the House should undertake its constitutional responsibility to impeach the president of the United States of America. At that point, members will be recognized under the five-minute rule to offer amendments to the proposed resolution.

And fourth, I will offer proposed committee rules of procedure for the impeachment inquiry. At that point, members will be recognized under the five-minute rule to offer amendments to the proposed rules of procedure. I think if we respect the time constraints that we have, we can finish this, this evening, and we're going to make every effort to do that.

Mr. Conyers.

CONYERS: Mr. Chairman, I concur with the procedure that you've outlined. I think it's fair, and I think it leads to an orderly beginning of this very serious matter before us.

Thank you.

HYDE: I thank my friend.

The chair recognizes himself for 10 minutes.

On September 18th, the House of Representatives passed a resolution with strong bipartisan support, 363 to 63, directing the referral from the office of independent counsel to this committee with instructions that it be reviewed and released by the 28th of September, unless the committee thought certain information should be held back in the interest of privacy or to protect innocent people.

The House thus placed in our care the task of reviewing more than 60,000 pages of materials in less than three weeks, and ultimately, deciding what should be placed in the public domain.

We have not always agreed on how to handle this information, but we have agreed on the vast majority. I believe we can also agree that we could not have accomplished this daunting assignment if not for the tireless work of the committee's staff, both Democratic and Republican, who worked day and night -- sometimes around the clock -- to prepare these materials for our review. These men and women rose to the occasion, and our gratitude goes out to them.

On September 11th, the office of independent counsel transmitted materials to the House of Representatives that, in his opinion, constituted substantial and credible evidence that may constitute grounds for impeachment of the president of the United States.

The appointment of an independent counsel had been recommended by Attorney General Janet Reno and appointed by and served under the direction of the United States Court of Appeals. Judge Starr was selected by a three-judge panel appointed by the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Today, it's our responsibility and our constitutional duty to review those materials referred to us and recommended to the House of Representatives whether the matter merits a further inquiry. Let me be clear about this: We are not here today to decide whether or not to impeach Mr. Clinton. We are not here to pass judgment on anyone.

We are here to ask and answer this one simple question: Based upon what we know now, do we have a duty to look further or to look away?

We are constantly reminded how weary America is of this whole situation, and I dare say, most of us share that weariness.

But we members of Congress took an oath that we would perform all of our constitutional duties, not just the pleasant ones.

As Chairman Peter Rodino stated in 1974 -- quote -- "We cannot turn away out of partisanship or convenience from problems that are now our responsibility, our inescapable responsibility, to consider. It would be a violation of our own public trust if we, as the people's representatives, chose not to inquire, not to consult, not even to deliberate, and then pretend that we had not, by default, made choices." Close quote.

This will be an emotional process, a strenuous process, because feelings are high on all sides of this question. But the difficulties ahead can be surmounted with good will and an honest effort to do what is best for the country.

In the first year of the republic, Thomas Paine wrote, "Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it."

For almost 200 years, Americans have undergone the stress of preserving their freedom and the Constitution that protects it. We're going to work expeditiously and fairly. When we have completed our inquiry, whatever the result, we will make our recommendations to the House.

We will do so as soon as we can, consistent with principles of fairness and completeness. I anticipate several objections to our procedures from our Democratic friends, the first of which deals with their demand that we establish first, before proceeding with any inquiry, what the standards are for impeachment.

We don't propose, however, to deviate from the wise counsel of former Chairman Peter Rodino, who during the Nixon impeachment inquiry published a staff report rejecting the establishment of a particular standard for impeachment before inquiring into the facts of the case.

Let me quote from Chairman Rodino's report. Quote -- "Delicate issues of basic constitutional law are involved. Those issues cannot be defined in detail in advance of full investigation of the facts. The Supreme Court of the United States does not reach out in the abstract to rule on the constitutionality of statutes or of conduct.

"Cases must be brought and adjudicated on particular facts in terms of the Constitution. Similarly, the House does not engage in abstract, advisory or hypothetical debates about the precise nature of conduct that calls for the exercise of its constitutional powers.

"Rather it must await full development of the facts and understanding of the events to which those facts relate." Close quote.

The 20th century has been referred to often as "the American Century." It is imperative we be able to look back at this episode with dignity and pride knowing we have performed our duty in the best interests of the entire country.

In this difficult moment in our history lies the potential for our finest achievement -- proof that democracy works.

I yield to the gentleman from Michigan, Mr. Conyers.

CONYERS: Thank you, Chairman Hyde. And to my colleagues all, we meet today for only the third time in the history of our nation to consider whether or not to open an inquiry of impeachment against the president of the United States.

For more than 200 years, we have been guided by that brilliant legacy of our founding fathers and of our Constitution which generation after generation has helped us endure the difficult political and social questions that face us.

I am quite certain that the drafters of that document might shake their heads in puzzlement at the action that is proposed by the majority that we take here today.

By now, we're all familiar with the constitutional standard for impeachable offenses -- treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors.

One of our great founding fathers, George Mason, said that the phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors refers to presidential actions that are great and dangerous offenses, or attempts to subvert the Constitution."

Alexander Hamilton, in the Federalist Paper Number 65, wrote that "Impeachable offenses relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to society itself."

Two hundred years later, this committee was called upon to consider the standard for impeachment of a president in 1974. And at the risk of dating myself, I remain the only member of the committee serving today who was there then.

Our staff issued a report in February of that year that has become a model for scholars and historians alike. The report concluded that "impeachment is a constitutional remedy addressed to serious offenses against the system of government. And it is directed at constitutional wrongs that subvert the structure of government or undermine the integrity of office and even the Constitution itself."

Those words are as true today as they were in 1974. An impeachment is only for a serious abuse of official power or a serious breach of official duties. On that, the constitutional scholars are in overwhelming agreement.

The failure to even articulate a standard of impeachment against which the evidence can be measured, a step the 1974 committee took prior to any investigation, is not only failure of this investigation into the president. The tactics of the investigation into the president have also, in my judgment, been an offense to the tradition of this great country and to the common sense of the American people.

Only yesterday we learned that Judge Starr may have himself misled the American people regarding his contacts with President Clinton's political adversaries and his coordination with Paula Jones' attorneys for over a year before he sought to investigate the so- called Lewinsky matter.

Then Mr. Starr, month after month, apparently leaked raw grand jury material to the press -- not for legal reasons, but only to embarrass the president of the United States, an act for which Mr. Starr, himself, is currently being investigated.

Then the Republican leadership directed this committee to dump tens of thousands of pornographic, raw, grand jury material on the citizens of this land, and denied the president any semblance of due process rights in doing so.

Now, I believe the American people have a deep sense of right and wrong, of fairness and of privacy. And I believe this investigation has offended those sensibilities.

Who are we in this country and what is it that we stand for?

Do we want to have prosecutors with unlimited powers, accountable to no one, who will spend millions of dollars investigating a person's personal life, who then haul before grand juries every person of the opposite sex the person has had contact with, who then record and release videos to the public of the grand jury questioning of the most private aspects of one's sex life.

Now there's no question that the president's actions were wrong. I submit to all of you that he may be suffering more than any of else will ever know.

But I suggest to you, my colleagues across the aisle, in every ounce of friendship that I can muster, that even worse than an extramarital relationship is the use of federal prosecutors and federal agents to expose an extramarital relationship.

Yes, there is a threat to society here, but it is from the tactics of win -- a win-at-all-costs prosecutor determined to sink a president of the opposition party.

Our review of the evidence, sent with the referral, convinces many of us of one thing: There is no support for any suggestion that the president obstructed justice or that he tampered with witnesses or abused the power of his office.

A couple of examples -- the referral alleges that the president attempted to find Ms. Lewinsky a job in order to buy her silence, but the evidence, the Starr evidence makes clear that the efforts to help Ms. Lewinsky find a job began in April of 1996, long before she was ever identified as a witness in the Jones case.

And she herself testified that no one ever asked me to lie and I was never promised a job for my silence. Likewise while the referral contends that the president tried to hide gifts he had given her, the evidence makes clear that Ms. Lewinsky and not the president initiated the transfer of those items to the president's secretary.

Finally, by alleging abuses of power by the president, the independent counsel has simply repackaged his basic allegation of lying about sex in a quite transparent effort to conjure the ghost of Watergate.

Finally, president -- the president's statement under oath in the dismissed Paula Jones case were legally immaterial to the case and would have never have formed the legal basis for any investigation -- again raising the specter that this investigation may have been tainted with politics. This is not Watergate. It is an extramarital affair.

Americans know and want to finish this and 99 percent of the facts are already on the table. The investigatory phase will far less significant than in previous congressional inquiries.

There are only a handful of witnesses that can provide us probative information, all of whom have been before the grand jury three, four, five and six times. It is unlikely that any of the witnesses will change their testimony.

In fact, much of this investigation, quite amazingly, turns on whether or how Mr. Clinton touched Ms. Lewinsky. It sounds like a parody, but it is not. It is what Speaker Gingrich and many Republicans are proposing with this resolution.

The open-ended Republican proposal will be seen exactly for what it is, if it's brought forward this morning, a means for dragging this matter out well past the upcoming elections. An open- ended impeachment inquiry threatens to subvert our system of constitutional government. There is no need for this investigation to be open-ended when we can, because of its limited factual predicate, close it down within six weeks.

Mr. Chairman, over the past weeks you and I have worked more closely together than in any other time of our careers. And I want to thank you for many untold efforts that you've made, including providing committee Democrats the Watergate rules of operation, which we sought.

We have worked in a bipartisan manner on some of the issues that have confronted us, and while your hands may have been tied by your leadership on others, you know as well as I that whatever action this committee takes, must be fair, it must be bipartisan for it to have credibility. The American people deserve no less and history will judge us by how well we achieve that goal.

Thank you very much.

HYDE: Thank you very much, Mr. Conyers. And now for 5 minutes, for purposes of an opening statement the chair is pleased to recognize Mr. Sensenbrenner from Wisconsin.

SESENBRENNER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Today we begin a task second only in gravity to Congress's power to declare war. It is important at the outset to note that this debate is not about the fact that President Clinton had an affair with Monica Lewinsky, and then lied about it to his family, his staff, his cabinet and to the American public. It is about Judge Starr's finding that the president violated his oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth in a successful attempt to defeat Paula Jones' civil rights suit against him.

The material before us contains evidence that President Clinton perjured himself in the Paula Jones deposition and in his testimony before the grand jury, knowingly had his lawyers submit a false affidavit in the Jones case, conspired to conceal gifts he had given Monica Lewinsky, tampered with witnesses and obstructed justice.

What's the difference between lies about an affair to family and friends and those made under oath during legal proceedings? Plenty. Our legal system is based upon the courts being able to find the truth. That's why there are criminal penalties for perjury and obstruction of justice. Even the president of the United States does not have a license to lie. Deceiving the courts is an offense against the public in that it prevents them from administering justice.

Every American has a constitutional right to a jury trial. The jury finds the facts. The citizens on the jury cannot correctly find the facts if they don't get truthful testimony. When Americans come to visit their capitol city, they see the words "equal justice under law" carved in the facade of the Supreme Court building. Those words mean that the weak and the poor have an equal right to justice as do the rich and the powerful.

If the evidence against the president is true, it's clear his wrongful conduct was designed to defeat Paula Jones' legal claims against him, claims the Supreme Court in a 9-to-nothing decision said she had the right to pursue. Paula Jones' suit claimed her civil rights were violated when she refused then-Governor Clinton's advances, and was subsequently harassed at work, denied merit pay raises and subsequently forced to quit. She had the right to get evidence showing other women such as Monica Lewinsky got jobs, promotions and raises after submitting to Mr. Clinton.

When someone lies about an affair they violate the trust their spouse and their family place in them. But when they lie about an affair in a legal proceeding, they prevent the courts from administering equal justice under the law.

She had the right to get evidence showing other women, such as Monica Lewinsky, got jobs, promotions and raises after submitting to Mr. Clinton.

When someone lies about an affair, they violate the trust their spouse and their family place in them. But when they lie about an affair in a legal proceeding, they prevent the courts from administering equal justice under the law. That is an offense against the public made even more serious when a poor and weak person seeks the protection of our civil rights laws against the rich and the powerful.

The president denies all the allegations. Someone is lying and someone is telling the truth. An impeachment inquiry is the only way to get to the bottom of this mess. It will give Congress and the American public one last chance to get the truth and the whole truth.

If this inquiry uncovers the whole truth, we will have gone a long way to putting this sad part of our history to rest.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

HYDE: The gentleman from Massachusetts, Mr. Frank.

FRANK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

People have talked about what divides us on this committee, but I think there was one thing that I know from my conversations with my colleagues across the committee that unites us. Almost all of us wish we weren't here. Almost all of us think this is an unfortunate situation. It's not why we came here. We came here to try and make public policy to improve people's lives. But this is part of our duty, and we do it. The question is how do we do it?

The chairman phrased the issue quite clearly that we will deal with as a threshold issue. And it is the scope of this inquiry. We have debated the question of time, although we appear to be getting some convergence on that. The last I heard, we were talking about November 25th. The chairman was talking about the end of the year. If one assumes we're not too busy on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, that timetable starts to look somewhat similar.

But timing is really a secondary issue. Timing is driven by scope. The question we have to deal with, and the question that will be presented in our resolution is this -- Do we look into what Kenneth Starr has referred to us, or do we get into an open-ended effort to find something somewhere that could justify continuing this process?

Kenneth Starr has given us a very incomplete report. For more than four years he has been studying the Whitewater matter, the FBI files, the Travel Office and other matters. He began this year -- more than three years after the start of his operation -- to look into Monica Lewinsky.

Now, he gives us the most recent thing he's looked into, and we have silence on the others. I think that's clearly because Mr. Starr, reflecting his bias, follows the principle that if you don't have anything bad to say, don't say anything at all.

But that ought not to be the cue for this committee. What we have is this problem and I think, as we've talked about it, there is a fear on the part of many who want to destroy Bill Clinton, who didn't like the '92 election, who didn't like the '96 election, and would like to undo it. There is a fear that the matters in the Starr referral do not carry enough weight to justify an impeachment.

The chairman, himself, in a very fair way, yesterday -- apparently on television -- said that he did not think there were now votes in the Senate for impeachment, and that wouldn't be the case unless public opinion moved.

What we have to resist -- and I do not impute this to the chairman, but there are other people who, I think, have this motive -- what we have to resist is an effort to keep going to try and move public opinion.

The chairman said we shouldn't look away, we should look further. I agree. What we shouldn't do, however, is adopt a resolution which says "Let's look around. Let's see what we can find. Let's see if we can find something in Whitewater or the FBI files or the Travel Office, or the campaign finance office."

I sat in two congressional hearings on Whitewater -- once under Democrats, once under Republicans. Next door, in the Burton Committee, they have investigated ad infinitum, perhaps ad nauseum. We have had investigations into all of these things.

No one has yet come up with anything.

And that's why we resist so strongly, a resolution that says -- Let's just look into the whole thing. A resolution that said -- Let's take what Kenneth Starr said about Monica Lewinsky and that matter and let's look into it -- would be overwhelming adopted.

Some of my colleagues agree with my friend from Michigan that even that doesn't justify going further. The problem, however, for many of us is we did create a statute and appointed an independent counsel.

I don't think much of the job he's done, but he's there and he has that statutory responsibility and, therefore, I think we have to look at what he said. But let's look at what he said. Let us not turn this into an impeachment inquiry in search of a high crime. Let's look at what Mr. Starr charged the president with and decide.

I must say, having read the Newt Gingrich report and having read the Richard Nixon report, that by those standards, I do not believe that what Mr. Starr has accused the president of justifies impeachment.

That has not been the historical standard for those kinds of misdeeds. But what we have is a recognition -- I am afraid -- on the part of others that the Starr report does not rise to the appropriate level, that they cannot get the president on that -- although, it's certainly is to the president's discredit and it's certainly could lead to some harsh criticism of the president -- and what we object to is a resolution which is so open-ended as to keep hope alive that we can find something so negative about the president, even in ground that has been gone over so frequently. That's why we propose an inquiry that is only about the Starr referral and Monica Lewinsky.

HYDE: Thank the gentleman. The gentleman from Florida, Mr. McCollum.

MCCOLLUM: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. What we're embarking upon today is something none of us really want to be doing. We're looking into the question of whether we have an impeachment inquiry of the president of the United States.

Impeachment is not good for the country. The inquiry is not good. It would be better if we were not here today. But unfortunately, the circumstances are grave and the situation merits our at least inquiring, it seems to me.

The issue is not whether the president should be impeached today. That's an issue for another day for us to decide and we shouldn't prejudge any of the facts or the evidence until we've heard that, if indeed we go forward with an inquiry.

The question today for us is -- Do the allegations that have been presented to us by Kenneth Starr in his report merit further investigation?

Some say they do not. I think most of us say they do and are only debating the manner in which we proceed. This is not about jaywalking. It's not about driving under the influence. Those are not major crimes for which any president would be impeached.

But I would suggest to you that what it's about is whether or not we can sustain the constitutional form of our government without going forward at this point.

It's about the separation of powers in three branches of government: the legislative, the executive and judicial. It's about whether or now what the president may have done, if gone without punishment, without being impeached, without being removed from office, would undermine the judicial system, the third branch of our government.

There are serious questions that have been posed here. If it were proven that the president of the United States committed the felony crime of lying under oath in a deposition in a sexual harassment case, or if it were proven that the president of the United States committed the felony crime of lying to a grand jury under oath, or if it were proven that the president of the United States obstructed justice by trying to encourage someone to file a false affidavit or encouraging other matters that would conceal the evidence from a court or grand jury, would -- if that were the case, if those were proven, would it undermine our system of justice if the president of the United States were not impeached or removed from office?

And I would submit that indeed it would undermine our system.

It would undermine it because, when you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth when you take an oath, when you become a witness in a court, you are doing what is necessary to make our system of justice work.

Truthfulness is the glue that holds our justice system together. When people believe that the president of the United States can lie, commit perjury and get away with it, what are they going to say the next time they have to go to court? And thousands of them do every day in this country and they're expected to tell the truth when they get on the witness stand or face the crime of perjury.

I would suggest to you that it should be noted that, today in our federal system, there are 115 people serving time in federal prison at this present moment for perjury before a grand jury or a federal court -- 115 people.

I don't know if the president committed these crimes of perjury. But if he did, they alone, it seems to me, would merit impeachment and removal from office.

We know for a fact -- and I'd like exhibits put up, I could, to show this -- that Judge Walter Nixon, Jr. was impeached on May 10, 1989 by a vote of 417-0 by the House of Representatives for committing perjury.

It says right there, in the course of his grand jury testimony, and having duly taken the oath that he would tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, Judge Nixon did knowingly and contrary to his oath make material false or misleading statements to a grand jury, and he was impeached 417 to nothing.

The next exhibit, please. Judge Alcee Hastings, now one of our colleagues, was impeached on August the 3rd 1988 by a vote of 413 to three for a similar lying under oath for perjury.

It seems to me that these are serious matters. I don't know again whether the president committed perjury. That's what it's all about for us to determine that.

But whether or not he committed even the other matters of witness tampering or obstruction of justice or all of the other allegations that Kenneth Starr has presented to us as major, serious, felony criminal offenses, even if it were only shown to us that the president of the United States lied under oath and committed perjury in the civil deposition he took, or even more seriously, before the grand jury, when he testified just a month or so ago, if that is all that's proven, that's enough for us to impeach and enough for him to be thrown out of office. And if we were not to do that, I submit it would undermine our constitutional system and destroy the foundation of our judicial system.

So it's serious today. We do have the basis for going forward with an investigation and an inquiry resolution, and I submit that's what we will do before the end of the day.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

HYDE: I thank the gentleman. The very distinguished gentleman from New York, Mr. Schumer.

SCHUMER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And Mr. Chairman, I would like to take this opportunity to tell the American people about the decision I have reached in this case and how I've reached that decision.

After a careful reading of the Starr report and other materials submitted by the office of independent counsel, as well as a study of the origins and history of the impeachment clause of the Constitution, I have come to the conclusion that given the evidence before us there is no basis for impeachment of the president.

I believe that given the evidence before us the only charge possible against the president is that he lied to the grand jury and at the deposition about his extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky. Even assuming the facts presented by the OIC thus far to be true, that crime does not rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors cited in the Constitution.

It is my view that the president should be punished and that Congress should quickly reach consensus on a suitable and significant punishment. Then we should move on and get back to solving the serious problems, like the deepening economic crisis abroad and issues close to home -- like education, health care and security for seniors.

Mr. Chairman, the OIC has basically made three allegations against the president: perjury, obstruction of justice and abuse of power. And they all stem from the admitted improper relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

To me it's clear that the president lied when he testified before the grand jury -- not to cover a crime, but to cover embarrassing personal behavior. And yes, an ordinary person in most circumstances would not be punished for lying about an extramarital affair. But the president has to be held to a higher standard, and the president must be held accountable. That said, the punishment for lying about an improper relationship should fit the crime.

The OIC's case for obstruction of justice is not supportable by the evidence. Monica Lewinsky herself volunteered that no one had asked her to lie or promised her a job in exchange for silence. Indeed, her efforts to find a job preceded any notion that she might have to testify in the Paula Jones case or any other case.

The abuse of power claims by the OIC are in my view the most frivolous. To suggest that any subject of an investigation, much less the president, with obligations to the institution of the presidency is abusing power and interfering with an investigation by making legitimate legal claims using due process and asserting constitutional rights is beyond serious consideration.

It is the charges of obstruction of justice and abuse of power where I believe that Ken Starr seriously overreached. He knew that if this case was only about sex and lying about sex that it would not be found impeachable by Congress.


Investigating the President


Monday, October 5, 1998

    Schippers, Lowell briefings before Judiciary panel, part 1 | 2
    House Judiciary Committee meeting opening statements, part 1 | 2 | 3
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