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

Transcript: House Judiciary Committee meeting

SCHUMER: So he made allegations that simply could not be supported in a court, but allowed him to release a salacious report. This casts serious doubt about his impartiality.

Article IV says -- Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution, Mr. Chairman, states that the president may be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors.

The framers intended impeachment to apply to public actions related to affecting operations of government, and not to personal or private conduct, even if that conduct is wrong or may be considered criminal.

My full, written testimony has an in-depth discussion of precedents and opinions on this matter. Let me just say, whether you cite the Federalist Papers or legal scholars -- like Justice Storey (ph) -- the president's actions, while wrong and inappropriate and possibly illegal, are clearly not impeachable.

In conclusion, I'd support a motion of censure, or a motion to rebuke, as President Ford suggested yesterday -- not because it is politically expedient to do, but because the president's actions cry out for punishment, and because censure or rebuke -- not impeachment -- is the right punishment.

It is time to move forward, and not have the Congress and the American people endure a specter of what could be a long -- a year- long focus on a tawdry but not impeachable affair.

The world economy is in crisis and cries out for American leadership without which worldwide turmoil is a grave possibility. The American people cry out for us to solve the problems facing America like health care, education and ensuring that seniors have a decent retirement.

This investigation, now in its fifth year, has run its course. It's time to move on.

HYDE: I thank the gentleman. It is time to move on.

The gentleman from Pennsylvania, Mr. Gekas, is recognized for five minutes.

GEKAS: Mr. Chairman, I will move on.

It is time once again to reassert what the role is of the Congress in these impeachment proceedings, which begin today, with the possibility of a vote to move into an inquiry on impeachment.

The House of Representatives acts as a gigantic grand jury to which referral will be made by this committee, the Judiciary Committee, acting as a kind of prosecutor-investigator body to evaluate the evidence with which to make presentation to the grand jury.

Then the grand jury -- this grand House of Representatives -- would evaluate the evidence and say, in one or another, yes, there is sufficient evidence to allow the trier of fact to conclude that certain offenses -- impeachable offenses -- have indeed occurred.

Keeping that in mind, we have the responsibility of reviewing and re-reviewing the referral by the independent counsel, which in itself is a duty imposed upon us by statute and by the Constitution. In the referral, there are allegations, again, for the evaluation of this committee.

I have had difficulty, for instance, in one allegation in which the independent counsel says, "The president repeatedly and unlawfully invoked executive privilege to conceal evidence of his personal misconduct from the grand jury."

I have difficulty with his conclusion that this assertion of executive privilege on the part of the president was unlawful. But that is not for me to conclude and to come to a firm termination of thinking simply because I have doubts about it.

That is why I have to inquire further into what justification there is for the allegation by the independent counsel, that indeed, it was an unlawful gesture, this assertion of executive privilege.

If I had my way, I would remove that right now as not being worthy of discussion. But we need to inquire further. I could be dead wrong on that.

For instance, the independent counsel goes farther in substantiating that portion of his allegations, that the Supreme Court had spoken on this -- that in similar circumstances, in the case against President Nixon, the assertion of executive privilege was unsatisfactory, and even perhaps illegal. But that's not enough for me. We must inquire further.

We must inquire further.

And so it is, on the question of perjury, to which much commentary has been already attributed by my colleagues. In the courthouse, which is so familiar to all of us, in every seat of every county government of the United States, the entire structure is bolstered not by the concrete of its foundation but by the oath, an oath that's taken by the judge to execute his responsibilities, an oath taken by the jury to exercise its responsibilities, an oath by the sheriff, by the bailiff, by the clerk of court, an oath to administer justice or else all of us lose the chance at justice.

To allow, then, a witness at this courthouse scenario, which is so familiar to all of us, pervert the entire process, the rights of everyone concerned, by giving false testimony, by committing perjury, crushes down against that courthouse and it collapses because of that one fatal flaw that could arise in any single case, whether it's a traffic ticket or murder in the first degree. If we cannot as American citizens recognize the necessity for a strong perjury statute and its enforcement, then we are our own worst enemies in what we feel has to be the furtherance of establishing and maintaining justice in our country.

So I am not yet satisfied that there is guilt or innocence with respect to the perjury allegations but by darn it is worth fuller inquiry by this body.

HYDE: The gentleman's time has expired. Thank the gentleman.

The distinguished gentleman from California, Mr. Berman.

BERMAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

How we conduct these hearings may be as important as the ultimate decisions we reach. Perhaps there's a political gain for Republicans or for Democrats, to spin a public relations angle on every procedural question, every vote, every statement during these hearings. I don't think so.

The only effect of the spinning from either side of the aisle is to cloud thought, and degrade whatever dignity Congress still has left. This public relations spinning makes me dizzy.

Let's seek some common ground. First, every four years, the people vote for president. This popular decision is a defining moment of our constitutional system. The people's vote is almost sacred, and should not be altered except under the most extreme circumstances.

Secondly, the impeachment process is a constitutionally mandated procedure for undoing the people's will, but only when the president is found guilty of treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

Third, the impeachment process is not a legal proceeding, we are not a courtroom. The impeachment process should not be used as a legislative vote of no confidence on the president's conduct or policies.

We are not governed by a parliamentary system. The impeachment process is not a rubber stamp for the latest feedback from the political pollsters, the Constitution vests the House of Representatives, not the Gallup Poll, with the sole responsibility for the impeachment process.

The majority party has an obligation to recognize that high crimes and misdemeanors has a meaning. All felonies are not high crimes and misdemeanors; all high crimes and misdemeanors are not felonies.

Because of the deference the Constitution gives to the person who wins a presidential electoral college vote, the standard for impeachment is far more complicated and subtle than a straight reading of a criminal statute. Our deliberations must reflect that reality.

Fifth, the minority party has an obligation to recognize that a Democratically controlled Congress, at the urging of President Clinton, passed a statute that allowed for the naming of an independent counsel by a three-judge panel. The independent counsel was in turn given the approval by a Democratic attorney general to pursue the Monica Lewinsky matter.

I may feel the connections to Watergate were flimsy and tenuous. I may even regret my vote for the independent counsel statute. But the fact remains no matter what I think, that statute is the law. The attorney general gave the OK.

That same statute requires the independent counsel to report what he believes are grounds for impeachment to the House.

It is our obligation to proceed to decide whether the independent counsel's contentions are in fact grounds for impeachment.

This is not just about sex. But it is colored by sex. That coloration could be viewed by some as irrelevant. That coloration could be viewed by some as mitigating criminal wrongdoing. It is up to this committee to decide, in this uniquely political and legal and democratic forum, the significance of the context and how if at all it affects our determination of whether impeachable offenses have been committed.

I don't share some members' reluctance to release data to the general population. The American people are not children to be protected by Big Brother thought-control government. But the children of America ought to be protected if at all possible from a public exposure of irrelevant, if indeed it is irrelevant, sexually explicit hearings regarding the president.

Toward this end, I suggest that whatever rules of procedure are adopted, our first order of business is to resolve if the events portrayed in the Starr report's narrative rise to the level of an impeachable offense.

Toward the end of finding common ground and at Congressman Delahunt's suggestion, I joined with him and two Republicans, Asa Hutchinson and Lindsey Graham, to request the chair and ranking member forward -- ask the independent counsel to forward at the soonest possible time any new information he believes relevant to these proceedings.

Some of us assume no additional information exists and would like the air cleared. Others read the Starr report and assume there is more to come. Whatever our expectations, we recognize without regard to political implications how vital it is to know the limits and the scope of the proceeding. Our request was forwarded to Mr. Starr. I urged the independent counsel to communicate immediately his intent regarding 595(c) information about any other material he is charged with investigation, if any exists.

This is a difficult and emotional process. Many of us have extremely strong feelings regarding its outcome and procedures. The more we are able to overcome those passions and work together, the better for both parties, the better for America.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

HYDE: The gentleman's time has expired. The gentleman from North Carolina, Mr. Coble.

COBLE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, some House Democrats have in my opinion unfairly and inaccurately accused Republicans of being fiercely partisan and unfair. My Democratic friends asked for a Watergate-Rodino model. Now they claim they don't want it. The moral of that story is you can never get too much of what you don't want. Be careful what you request, it may be granted.


If Republicans had sought to be unfair, it could have been accomplished by stacking the staff deck. During the Watergate hearings, a total of 134 staffers were assigned, 12 of whom represented the Republican side. What have these current Republicans done regarding staffing? One hundred and thirty-four as in the Watergate era? Indeed not.

The staff in the President Clinton investigation is the grand total of 21 -- 14 Republicans, seven Democrats -- not 122 to 12, but 14 to seven. Obviously fair.

The Democratic strategy in portraying Republicans as unfair is designed to divert attention from the issue at hand. And it's obviously effective, Mr. Chairman, because here am I consuming my time refuting their inaccurate claims. But when one is falsely accused and maintains silence, silence then becomes assent.

Now for the issue at hand.

Many say conclude this matter immediately. We do not have the luxury of doing so if we properly discharge our constitutional duty: an inquiry. Not necessarily an impeachment, but an inquiry of impeachment must inevitably follow.

Equal justice under the law, powerful words previously mentioned by my friend from Wisconsin.

We must remain blind to bias and other distractions when applying the laws -- no matter whether we are applying it to an average citizen or to the president of the country.

And we must remain even-handed and impartial before deciding to ascribe guilt or innocence to a person as the truth may warrant.

That, in fact, is what we're doing here today. A society founded upon the rule of law is one which values truth.

Without it, we have no courts which will function. In its absence we have no civil society. This ultimately means that citizens in our republic, regardless of the power they have or the position they hold, must make an obligatory commitment to observe the law.

As Theodore Roosevelt once said, obedience to the law is demanded as a right, not asked as a favor.

And Mr. Chairman, it is my hope that our fellow Americans will be understanding as we continue this process and hopefully conclude, say, sooner rather than later.

Constituents send mixed messages, as each of you know. Calls last week -- one said if I vote to impeach the president -- if I don't vote to impeach the president, never to come back home. A second call said, if I don't conclude this hearing today -- as if I could do that -- she'll never vote for me again, implying that she had voted for me previously.


Yet a third call, my friends, I hope Coble dies a painful death from prostate cancer.

Now I'm not going to be intimidated by that third call.

The first call I'm going to weigh very soberly.

But finally, my friends, Mr. Chairman and my colleagues on both sides, it is we, after we examine the facts and evidence thoroughly, it is we who must exercise our best judgment. I thank the chairman.

HYDE: Gentleman's time has expired. The gentleman from Virginia, Mr. Boucher.

BOUCHER: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. As the committee today establishes the boundaries and the rules of proceeding for its formal inquiry, the most careful consideration should be given to both of the procedural alternatives that will be before the members this afternoon.

Whatever the outcome of the formal inquiry, history will recall the process that we employ. What we do today will become part of the constitutional fabric for future impeachment inquiries.

Just as today we seek the guidance and the instruction of

precedence from the formal inquiries of past years, future congresses, when confronted with allegations of impeachable conduct, will examine closely our decisions in this time.

The rules we set, the process that we employ, the balances we achieve to assure that the rights of all are protected and that the nation's interests are served will influence not just the course of this investigation, but future impeachment investigations as well.

Bearing that reality in mind, I urge that the most careful consideration of these rules be provided.

The activity upon which we are embarked lies at the very heart of our constitutional structure. And it is essential that our decisions today, and in the coming days, be motivated not by a partisan interest, but by the public interest, that they be made not for reasons of expediency, but that they be made with a view toward the lasting effect that they will have.

Later today, I will urge the adoption of a process that meets this test. It will be limited to the matters that have been referred to this committee by the office of independent counsel and those are the matters that today we actually have before us.

It will require that, as a first essential step, the committee conduct a thorough review of the constitutional standard for presidential impeachment which has evolved to us over the last two centuries.

Before the investigation phase of our work begins, we should establish a shared understanding of that constitutional standard, of the fact that the framers of the Constitution did not intend for impeachment to be a punishment for individual misconduct, of the fact that they intended for impeachment to occur only when that misconduct is substantial and is so important to the functioning of the Office of the President that is it is absolutely incompatible with our Constitutional system of government.

Our process will then require that the allegations of the independent counsel each then be compared to the historical constitutional standard, and that only those allegations that meet that threshold test become the subject of our formal inquiry.

These initial steps are essential to an orderly review. They are required for the committee to follow the path so clearly marked for us by the constitutional framers and by our congressional predecessors for the past 200 years.

What we consider later today these procedural alternatives for the conduct of our investigation and our formal review, I urge the members to keep these fundamental principles in mind.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

HYDE: Thank you. The gentleman from Texas, Mr. Smith.

SMITH: Mr. Chairman, we are here to decide whether the serious charges against President Clinton merit further inquiry. We are not here to determine guilt or punishment. If necessary, that is for another time and place.

President Clinton already has admitted to inappropriate behavior that he himself called wrong. And the independent counsel has presented substantial evidence that the president may have lied under oath, obstructed justice, and abused his office.

The committee now has a constitutional responsibility to fulfill. If we are to do so and seek the truth, we must proceed with our inquiry. This will not be an easy task. In fact, it will be a difficult ordeal for all Americans.

But we will get through it. We are a great nation and a strong people. Our country will endure because our Constitution works and has worked for over 200 years.

As much as one might wish to avoid this process, we must resist the temptation to close our eyes and pass by. The inquiry into the president's conduct must go on for one simple reason -- the truth matters.

The president holds a public office we rightly regard as the most powerful in the world. The president serves as a role model for us and for our children. He influences the lives of millions of people. That is why no president should tarnish our values and our ideals.

Actions do have consequences. The difference between right and wrong still exists, and honesty always counts.

We should not underestimate the gravity of the case against the president. When he put his hand on the Bible and recited his oath of office, he swore to faithfully uphold the laws of the United States, not some laws, all laws.

When he swore before a judge to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, he assumed responsibility for doing just that.

Now, it will be up to us to decide if there is sufficient evidence that he violated his sacred public trust. More than 150 newspapers already have called for President Clinton's resignation. Many others have expressed dismay about his behavior. Prominent Democratic leaders have courageously spoken out.

Senator Joe Lieberman -- "The president apparently had extramarital relations with an employee half his age and did so in the workplace, in the vicinity of the Oval Office. Such behavior is not just inappropriate; it is immoral, and it is harmful for it sends a message of what's acceptable behavior to the larger American family, particularly our children."

Senator Robert Kerrey -- "This is not a private matter. This is far more important for our country and threatens far more than his presidency." And former Senator Bill Bradley -- "Any time the president lies, he undermines the authority of his office and squanders the public's trust. And that's what he did."

Certainly, these Democratic leaders know you can't defend the indefensible.

There are others, though, who would like to change the subject; who would like to talk about anybody else but the president, and about anything else except the allegations of lying under oath, obstruction of justice and abuse of office.

Such efforts are an affront to all who value truth over tactics, substance over spin, principles over politics. I hope that there will be a bipartisan vote by the Judiciary Committee today to support Chairman Hyde's inquiry resolution.

Almost 25 years ago a similar vote occurred on a nearly identical resolution by Chairman Rodino concerning President Nixon. Then every single Republican joined the Democrats in seeking the truth.

No one is eager to undertake this task. But good can result and lessons can be learned, such as no one is above the law. If you do something wrong, you must pay a price. If you don't treat others with respect, it can hurt you.

The outcome of this inquiry can be a public reaffirmation of core values: honesty, respect, responsibility. As we go forward, we do so not as partisans, but as fact-finders and truth-seekers. And it is my hope that we go forward together -- the American people and their representatives in Congress -- united in our love of country and in our desire to seek a wise and just result for all.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

HYDE: Thank you. The gentleman from New York, Mr. Nadler.

NADLER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

This committee faces today a task of monumental and historic proportion. The issue in a potential impeachment is whether to overturn the results of a national election, the free expression of the popular will of the American people. That is an enormous responsibility and an extraordinary power. It is not one we should exercises lightly. It is certainly not one which should be exercised in a manner which either is or would be perceived by the American people to be unfair or partisan.

The work of the committee during the Nixon impeachment investigation, commanded the respect and the support of the American people. A broad consensus that Mr. Nixon had to go was developed precisely because the process was seen to be fair and deliberate.

If our conduct in this matter does not earn the confidence of the American people, then any action we take, especially if we seek to overturn the result of a free election, will be viewed with great suspicion and could divide our nation for years to come.

We do not need another "who lost China" debate. We do not need a decade of candidates accusing each other of railroading a democratically elected president out of office or in participating in a disguised coups d'etat.

This issue has the potential to be the most divisive issue in American public life since the Vietnam War.

Our decisions and the process by which we arrive at our decisions must be seen to be both nonpartisan and fair. The legitimacy of American political institutions must not be called into question.

We have had six years of investigations into the life of this president by special prosecutors, House and Senate committees, and assorted free-lance conspiracy theorists. And what do we know?

We know that Vince Foster was not murdered, but committed suicide. We know that nothing has come of the so-called Whitewater scandal. Nothing has come of Filegate, nothing of Travelgate.

What we are left with are 11 allegations stemming from the president's relationship with Ms. Lewinsky, which we must now assess.

In doing so, we need to consider what sort of wrongdoing is impeachable. We need to remember that the framers of the Constitution did not intend impeachment as a punishment for wrongdoing, but as a protection of the -- of constitutional liberties and of the structure of the government they were establishing against a president who might seek to become a tyrant.

In 1974, the House accepted the findings of this committee in which it reported that impeachable offenses -- quote -- "are constitutional wrongs that subvert the structure of government or undermine the integrity of office and even the Constitution itself, and thus are high offenses in the sense that word was used in English impeachments" -- unquote.

And further -- quote -- "Not all presidential misconduct is sufficient to constitute grounds for impeachment. There is a further requirement: substantiality.

"Because impeachment of a president is a grave step for the nation, it is to be predicated only upon conduct seriously incompatible with either the constitutional form and principles of our government, or the proper performance of constitutional duties of the presidential office.

The committee stated the issue clearly. The crucial factor is not the intrinsic quality of behavior but the significance of its effect upon our constitutional system or the functioning of government." Unquote.

We should therefore first determine the standard we will use to determine what is an impeachable offense. As far as I am concerned, we could simply reaffirm the report of this committee adopted by the House in 1974. Then we should inquire which of the 11 allegations, if proven to be true, would meet the standard and would be therefore impeachable offenses.

Only then would it make sense to examine the evidence relating to those allegations, if any, determined to constitute impeachable offenses, in order to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to justify going forward with formal impeachment proceedings.

This is the logical process put forward in the Democratic alternative that will be offered later today. It offers us a fair, deliberative, focused and expeditious procedure. Only this or a similar procedure can guarantee the confidence of the American people in our work. We need to remember that we are tinkering with the results of a free election. Our national unity and the stability of our government depends on the manner in which we exercise the extraordinary power and duty thrust upon us by the Constitution.

HYDE: The gentleman's time has expired.

NADLER: Fifteen seconds?

HYDE: Certainly.

NADLER: Let us exercise that power in the logical and fair manner proposed in the Democratic alternative and not in the unfair and partisan manner in which we have proceeded so far, and which the majority proposal would continue.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

HYDE: Thank the gentleman. The gentleman from California, Mr. Gallegly.

GALLEGLY: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. First I would like to start by complimenting you on your efforts to make this process as open, as fair and as bipartisan as humanly possible. Mr. Chairman, we appreciate that.

In my 12 years in Congress, this is undoubtedly the most serious issue I've ever had to deal with and, without question, the most serious issue that any of us on this committee will likely ever have to deal with.

Both Democrats and Republicans must recognize the gravity of the constitutional responsibility that lies before us. How we comport ourselves and how we resolve the question of whether or not to impeach the president will have implications for our political system and for our nation for many generations to come.

As we investigate these serious charges, I would appeal to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle not to be dilatory or partisan. We should do our best to be even-handed, and we should not let this issue drag on one day more than is absolutely necessary.

Lastly, I would appeal to all my colleagues to concentrate on the facts. So far this whole matter has been a contest of spin, spin, spin and more spin. We should get back to the hard work of analyzing the evidence for the purpose of reaching a just result.

If at the end of our inquiry the facts do not support the charges, the president should be fully exonerated. On the other hand, if the facts support the allegations, we have a duty to move forward. However, either conclusion for or against impeachment must be grounded on facts and on the truth.

For this reason, to arrive at a fair conclusion based on the evidence, I urge all my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this resolution. And Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.

HYDE: I thank the gentleman. The gentleman from Virginia, Mr. Scott.

SCOTT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, the allegations against our president are very serious and deserving of our attention. I don't know of anyone who has condoned his behavior. In fact, the president himself has said that his behavior was inappropriate, wrong, indefensible. He has apologized, said he was sorry and has asked for forgiveness.

The question before us, however, is not whether we like or dislike or condone or condemn certain behavior. Our charge is much different and mandated by the oath we took to protect and defend the Constitution.

Under Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution, we have the responsibility to determine whether any of the president's actions justify exercising Congress' power of impeachment.

And so we ask, even assuming all of the allegations in the 11 counts are true, do any of the independent counsel's allegations rise to the level of impeachable offenses?

If so, we should investigate those allegations. On the other hand, if we continue to focus on charges that even if true do not constitute impeachable offenses, we will continue on a partisan charade simply to embarrass the president and divert attention from the other important issues before Congress and this committee.

Mr. Chairman, I was happy to hear you announce last week that you had directed the Subcommittee on the Constitution to hold hearings on the question of what are impeachable offenses.

Unfortunately, last week's happiness has led to today's disappointment in seeing that we will be voting on whether to open an inquiry before we've had the first hearing on impeachable offenses.

This reminds me of the part in "Alice in Wonderland" where you're sentenced first and then you have the trial. Here, we vote first and then we have the hearing.

The importance of this initial step is crucial in this case, Mr. Chairman, because I am not aware of any constitutional scholar who believes that all of the allegations before us are impeachable offenses as intended by our framers of the Constitution.

In fact, half of the leading authorities interviewed by the "National Law Journal," said that not only did none of the allegations reach that level, but also said that the question wasn't even close.

And so it is in that light that we have to ask -- that we have to consider the standards for impeachment before we go further. And even if we don't adopt a standard, we should at least take a moment to consider the history in prior cases of impeachments rather than simply blurt out unreasoned, partisan feelings about whether or not we want the president to continue in office.

Setting the standard for impeachment was the first thing they did in Watergate. We have not taken time to review either that standard, as outlined by my colleague from New York, or the Republican alternative offered during those proceedings.

But instead, we've taking the first initial step, an irrational process. We have spent the first three weeks releasing thousands of pages of personal information, including salacious details of intimate sexual contact and rumors and innuendo without ever determining whether or not the documents were relevant to allegations we would be investigating.

During Watergate, the committee released only that information which was relevant to articles of impeachment which were adopted. In fact, much of the information in the Watergate proceedings has not been released yet, even though it's been over two decades since the inquiry was concluded.

Instead of following this precedence of releasing only relevant documents, we violated that precedence on a party-line vote. In Watergate, the president's lawyer was able to review and cross-examine information before it was made public. Again, we chose to violate that precedent on a party-line vote.

As the result of our failure to follow a reasoned approach, any decision we make as a result of this process, may have already suffered a devastating erosion of public confidence.

I hope this is not the case but, Mr. Chairman, what is wrong with a fair and reasoned approach? If the president deserves to be impeached, he will be impeached at the end of a fair process just as he will be impeached at the end of an unfair process. The only difference is that the product of a fair process will have legitimacy and respect, while the product of an unfair process will forever lack credibility and support.

I hope that this committee will rise above partisanship and have the courage to pursue a fair process that our Constitution warrants. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

HYDE: The gentleman's time has expired. The distinguished gentleman from Florida, Mr. Canady.

CANADY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It is truly a sad train of events that has brought us to this day.

Like most other Americans, I believe that it is important that the issues confronting us be dealt with expeditiously. They should not be allowed to linger for month after month after month. But it is also important that these issues not be treated as inconsequential and swept under the rug. On the contrary, they must be dealt with through a thoughtful, deliberative process in which we focus on determining the truth and doing our duty under the Constitution.

Today as we consider whether to inquire further into these matters, it cannot be denied that there is substantial evidence before the committee to support the conclusion of the independent counsel that the president is guilty of multiple acts of perjury, obstruction of justice and other offenses. If the allegations of the independent counsel are substantiated, first the president, through obstruction of justice and false statements under oath, sought to conceal the truth in a sexual harassment case. Then, the president engaged in a seven- month cover-up of those earlier offenses, a cover-up which culminated in the president giving a false testimony to the grand jury in August.

The president's lawyers now assert that even if the charges made by the independent counsel are true, the House has no recourse under the Constitution. This assertion is wrong, because the offenses charged, if proven, would constitute serious violations of the president's constitutional duty to take care that the laws of faithfully executed, violations that do undermine the integrity of the president's office, violations that subvert the public respect for law and justice which is essential to the well-being of our constitutional system.

Such conduct falls within the scope of high crimes and misdemeanors as demonstrated by the history of the adoption of the Constitution and the impeachment cases over the last 200 years.

As a fall-back position, the president's lawyers argue that before we institute an impeachment inquiry, we must adopt a fixed definition of impeachable offenses. But in support of this argument, they do not cite a single impeachment case, not one solitary case, in which this committee adopted a fixed standard for impeachment as they suggest we must do now.

In the Nixon case, this committee never adopted a fix definition or standard for impeachable offenses, not before the inquiry, not during the inquiry, not at the end of the inquiry. It is certainly true in the Nixon case, after the House had voted to commence an impeachment inquiry, the staff of the Judiciary Committee prepared a report on constitutional grounds for presidential impeachment. But that report itself acknowledged that it offered, and I quote, "no fixed standards for determining whether grounds for impeachment exist," close quote. The staff recognized, as Mr. Hyde noted earlier, that judgments concerning application of the constitutional standard must await full development of the facts.

More importantly, the inappropriateness of attempts to articulate a fixed standard for impeachable offenses was recognized by the founders. Alexander Hamilton, in the "Federalist" number 65, stated that impeachment proceedings cannot be tied down by strict rules in the delineation of impeachable offenses.

Of course, it would be inappropriate for the committee to recommend the commencement of an impeachment inquiry in the absence of evidence that the president may be guilty of conduct rising to the level of an impeachable offense. The members of the committee have considered, and weighed the pertinent background and history in reaching the judgment we reached today.

Every member of this committee is keenly aware of the significance of the decision before us. We make that decision in full awareness that we are accountable for it to the people who elected us. When the president's lawyers argue that the commencement of an inquiry is for no stated reason at all, they that we are here today, and the reasons are serious.

Not long after the Constitution was adopted, one of the framers one of the framers wrote: if it were to be asked what is the most sacred duty, and the greatest source of security in a republic, the answer would be, an inviolable respect for the Constitution and laws, the first growing out of the last. Those, therefore, who set examples which undermine or subvert the authority of the laws lead us from freedom to slavery.

They incapacitate us for a government of law. And whatever proceedings we undertake in this matter, Mr. Chairman, it is our solemn duty to set an example that strengthens the authority of the laws and preserves the liberty with which we have been blessed as Americans.

HYDE: The gentleman's time has expired. The distinguished gentleman from North Carolina, Mr. Watt.

WATT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. From the outset, I have been critical of the process...

HYDE: Excuse me, Mr. Watt, can you see the lights down there from...

WATT: I certainly can't, Mr. Chairman.

HYDE: All right. Jim, would you move the lights to where they can see them? We'll start you again, Mr. Watt. Can you see them now? All right. All right? OK. I'm sorry.

The distinguished gentleman from North Carolina, Mr. Watt.

WATT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. From the outset, I have been critical of the process we have followed. I spoke against and voted against the original resolution which passed the House, and have spoken and voted against each committee action to release more materials to the public.

My opposition to releasing materials to the public has had nothing to do with whether the materials were favorable or unfavorable to the president. Recall that none of us even knew what these materials contained before we cast our first vote on releasing them. My opposition has been based on two principles.

First, the Independent Counsel statute was passed solely to assure investigations with integrity of alleged illegal or impeachable conduct in the highest places in our government. The information obtained in such investigations was clearly intended to be used as evidence in either a criminal prosecution or in an impeachment process -- i.e., for either a legal purpose or for a constitutional purpose.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, our process in this country has always assured those accused of an offense certain due process rights: the freedom from unwarranted pretrial publicity; the right to be tried in a proceeding that assures due process of law; and the right not to be tried in the press or in the court of public opinion.

The process the House and this committee have followed to date has violated these two principles. Today, as firmly as I have throughout the process, I reaffirm my believe that the process we have followed is unfair, unprecedented and un-American.

But the majority of the House and the majority of this committee spoke, and we gave the public sexually explicit hearsay, gossip and other information -- information obtained by the independent counsel to be used for legal and constitutional purposes. We released to the public so members of the public could make their personal and political judgments. And they have. People have made their personal judgments.

And let me say straight up that I have not had a single constituent who condones what the president did. But that's not the end of the story.

People have also made their political judgments. Many who never supported the president anyway have used it as a reaffirmation of their existing disdain. Many have separated personal life from public policy and said move on. Many have made their political judgment about whether the president should or should not resign. But that, too, is not the end of the story.

There's nothing in our Constitution which mandates that Congress weigh in on the political judgment about whether the president should or should not resign. Nothing in our Constitution mandates that we as members of Congress make either our own personal judgment based on our own personal standards or that we make a political judgment. But what our Constitution does mandate us to do is to make a constitutional judgment based on a constitutional standard.

And on whether we meet and honor that mandate, the stability and foundation of our nation -- indeed, the very rule of law -- depends. On whether we meet and honor that mandate, history will certainly judge us.

In meeting and honoring that mandate, it seems to me that the starting place should be putting politics aside and having a clear understanding of what our founding fathers and our+ historical precedents say the constitutional standard means. Without that, we have no standards, and the process will become majority rule and partisan politics, as usual.

I pray that my colleagues will rise to this challenge to put our constitution, the rule of law and the principles our founding fathers left for us above politics. Our oath of office calls us to do this.

I say to my colleagues, please answer the call.

HYDE: I thank the gentleman from North Carolina.

The distinguished gentleman from South Carolina, Mr. Inglis.

INGLIS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I wonder first whether I should get those lights so I make sure I don't go over your...

HYDE: If -- if Jim will move the light so he can see it.

INGLIS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

This proceeding, I believe, is about the search for truth. And it's about finding the truth in a very unfortunate circumstance, and the inquiry gives us the opportunity to find that truth.

And it occurs to me that we are very fortunate at this point to have agreement on that. Apparently, our colleagues on the other side of the aisle are going to offer an alternative, both of which our -- our alternative and theirs -- would call for an inquiry. The question is the scope, the question is how it should be done.

But the good news is apparently we're in agreement that an inquiry is warranted. Now, there are some this morning who are rhetorically saying that there should not be an inquiry; that basically their minds are made up, there is no need to further pursue this matter, and it just doesn't matter anyway.

For those, I think there is a very high burden, a very high burden of proof to say that it doesn't matter, we should just move along. I wonder what they would do with the very lengthy report from Ken Starr? I wonder what they would do with the very significant corroboration there? I suppose they just have to say that it just doesn't matter. My hope is that America will continue to be a place of commitment to a central truths, a place of freedom coupled with responsibility. And really that is what we're about here.

The question is whether the truth matters. And there are some who seem to be saying that the truth really doesn't matter.

It doesn't matter whether the president lied under oath in the Paula Jones deposition or before the grand jury. It just doesn't matter whether the president obstructed justice. It doesn't matter whether the president tampered with witnesses.

Basically, I think what those people who would assert that have to be saying is that power is what matters -- power unconstrained by principle. And the risk for us there is that that seems to me to be the sure prescription for tyranny and what the founders wanted to avoid. They wanted a constitutional republic where power was constrained by truth.

As John Adams said, you know governed the -- he coined the phrase, apparently in 1774, "a government of laws and not of men." And if we're going to stick to that now, we must pursue the truth without regard to politics, without regard to the maintenance of power by any one individual. Surely this president is not above the law. None of us are above the law. And we must seek the truth now.

Now, I firmly believe that this is a matter that will define us as we go into the next century. I'm happy to see that most of our colleagues have mentioned the tremendous historical significance of what we're doing here.

And some have mentioned it in the context of the presidency and of this president.

But I think there's something even greater at stake, and that is, as a culture, are we going to declare as we go into the next century that truth matters.

And again, some would have us say here today it really doesn't. But I would hope the conclusion we draw -- not just in this committee as we go forward with this inquiry, but on the full -- floor of the full House, is that truth does matter. And if we reach that conclusion as a culture, then we'll be prepared for the next American century sure that the way -- that where we started is where we will continue: a constitutional republic committed to certain essential truths.

And I thank the chairman for this time.

HYDE: I thank the gentleman. The distinguished gentlelady from California, Ms. Lofgren.

LOFGREN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I think today is a day that is not only a sad one for our American republic but also one that is serious and has grave implications for our American political system. The public is very concerned about what we're doing here, and I've always found that when you have a concern, when you're losing your way, you can look to beacons and find your way. And today, if we put our Constitution first, we will be able to find our way through the thickets and threats that face us and our country and find a result that will serve us on into the next century.

You know, I've been giving a lot of thought to the processes that we have been using, and it occurs to me that we would be better off if we spent more time reading what George Mason and James Madison said to each other than what Ms. Lewinsky and Ms. Tripp said to each other. It seems to me that there are members of the House of Representatives, perhaps even members of this committee, who have very striking differences -- even confusion -- on what the term "high crimes and misdemeanors" means in our constitutional system of government. And that's why we need to spend time talking about our Constitution and what the role of impeachment is in that wonderful system.

There's some who say that a high crime and misdemeanor is a low crime, in which case we certainly wouldn't need to involve the Congress in reviewing it. We could just call in a jury, a judge, a prosecutor and a defense counsel and be done with it. There are others who say that a high crime and misdemeanor is to punish any kind of misconduct, to enforce good behavior. And if that's the case, we will have a parliamentary system of government instead of a constitutional one.

You know, in England, impeachment was used as a tool by parliament to tame the king, but it was altered when our Constitution was written, because we don't need to tame the king: We have three branches of government that are ruled by laws. And because, as George Mason and James Madison said on September 8th of 1787, we may have no bill of attainder, we need to have a specific form of reference for the use of impeachment, and it is very limited. It is limited to those actions that are so serious, that so threaten our constitutional system of government that we may not wait for the next election to take action. Ben Franklin referred to it as the alternative to assassination.

So we believe that before we begin chasing facts, we ought to know what is the relevance of the facts we are chasing, what are we attempting to prove. And that is why the proposal that will be later revealed is so important to so many of us. We need to know and have and reach a common understanding of what is an impeachable offense, what is a high crime and misdemeanor.

I understand that there will be hearings after the vote is taken today. But I think that that really is an abdication of our obligation in the Constitution and not consistent with Madison's endeavor to be specific and to avoid ex post facto laws.

Even our rule that we are operating under, H. Res 525 commits this committee to review the report and report back to the full House. That includes what constitutes grounds for impeachment, something that is never once referenced in the report from the independent counsel and that we have spent no time addressing.

Finally, we must act not as Democrats or as Republicans in this matter, but as Americans, because what we do will have an impact not just on the current holder of the presidency, but our very system of government on into the future. If we fail to discharge our duties properly, we will add instability to our American political system at a time when the world looks to us for leadership -- not only politically, but economically.

So I hope that we can avoid the admonition in the Federalist Papers 65. "There always will be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt."

Let us avoid that admonition from Alexander Hamilton.

HYDE: I thank the gentlelady.

The distinguished gentleman from Virginia, Mr. Goodlatte.

GOODLATTE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Chairman, the consideration of an inquiry of impeachment against the president of the United States is a serious matter.

This issue has serious consequences for the nation.

But serious matters require serious consideration. This committee has a constitutional duty and a moral duty to examine the charges against the president and to follow the truth wherever it leads.

The charges against the president include perjury, witness tampering and obstruction of justice. These are serious charges -- charges that cannot be wiped away by a mere wink and a nod, an apology or someone's interpretation of the latest public opinion poll.

The standard that we follow and the standard we teach our children is that no person is above the law, including the president of the United States.

The question before this committee is did the president intentionally obstruct justice, mislead our judicial system and the American people as part of a calculated, ongoing effort to conceal the facts and the truth, and to deny an average citizen her day in court? And were other offenses, such as perjury and witness tampering committed as part of this effort leading to a betrayal of the public trust?

The chairman of this committee during the Watergate inquiry, Peter Rodino, focused on this standard in his historic constitutional grounds for presidential impeachment when he wrote, "The framers intended impeachment to be a constitutional safeguard of the public trust."

The state ratifying conventions provide evidence of this point as well, as framers in North and South Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia all discussed impeachment in terms of violating the public trust.

Amid the intense glare of the moment, we must keep in mind that what this committee is considering today is not impeachment or articles of impeachment. Nor is it about matters for which the president has apologized.

Rather the committee must decide, in light of the documented allegations of serious crimes committed by the president, all of which the president has repeatedly denied, whether we should take the next step in the constitutional process by fully and completely investigating the charges, and whether sufficient grounds are well- founded and whether sufficient grounds exist for the House of Representatives to exercise its constitutional power to impeach.

The historic, fair and proper forum for the development of these documented allegations and for their consideration in light of the constitution is an inquiry of impeachment. It is during an inquiry that all the evidence, both supporting the president's case and calling it into question, is examined and evaluated.

It is during an inquiry that the president, his lawyers and his defenders present their case.

It is during an inquiry, not before, that the committee, after careful consideration of the facts and the historic precedents, applies it to the constitutional standard for impeachment.

Finally, it is during an inquiry that the committee determines whether the president's conduct meets that standard in violation of his oath to faithfully execute the office of president of the United States and in disregard of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.

Mr. Chairman, after reviewing the documented allegations before this committee, all of which the president has denied, after careful consideration of the Constitution and the statements of its framers, and after examining the precedents for proceeding to the next step in the constitutional process, I believe that inquiry of impeachment against President Clinton is necessary.

The serious decision we make today is not about the next election, it is not about partisanship and is not about interpreting opinion polls: It is about upholding the rule of law and the Constitution and following the truth wherever it leads.

If we did not proceed with this inquiry of impeachment, the committee would be doing a grave disservice to our Constitution, our House of Representatives and our sacred trust with the American people.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

HYDE: I thank the gentleman. The distinguished gentlelady from Texas, Ms. Sheila Jackson Lee.

JACKSON LEE: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman for this opportunity, and thank the ranking member, Mr. Conyers, for his leadership in these procedures that we will undertake today.

Truth does matter, Mr. Chairman, and the Constitution matters as well. It is with great humility and somberness that I sit here today as an American, representing the essence of our new America -- a nation filled with those who render justice and those who need it.

This nation, however, is not second-rate. Ours is a nation that should not accept second-class justice for any American, be he or she president or citizen.

Americans should never return to the time when some were held as chattel and others could not vote or hold property. I, for one, will never accept a second-class justice for any American and we should not seek it today.

This morning, my friends, the world is watching us -- not so much for what they expect the committee to do, but what they hope we will do. And that is to remove partisan politics from this process, and rather to move constitutionally, calmly and deliberatively in reviewing the facts. Any other actions would be premature and partisan.

Unfortunately, as Justice Thurgood Marshall chastised the court in Payne v. Tennessee (ph), "Power, not reason, may be the currency of this day's decision-making."

Twenty-five years ago, this committee undertook the constitutional task of considering the impeachment of Richard Nixon. The process was painstaking, careful and deliberative. And both the nation and the world were reassured that America's 200-year-old Constitution worked.

Impeachment is final, nonappealable, without further remedy, a complete rejection of the people's will. And thereby, I believe, it must be done fully, beyond a doubt, without rancor or vengeance, complying with every woven thread of the Constitution.

Today, by contrast, the world and the American people have been alternatively puzzled, confused and appalled by the reckless media circus our automatic dumping of documents has produced.

With all the talk of Watergate in the air, I think it is time to remember four basic points we learned in 1974 and seem to have forgotten since then: first impeachment. That is the decision of the House to accuse the president -- in this instance, of treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors -- is the end of careful process of investigating the facts, considering whether they establish a threat to our constitutional form of government and deciding to require the Senate to conduct a trial.

We have not yet undertaken any of the responsibilities the Constitution imposes on us. Instead, we have let our gender be completely driven by the views of an independent, individual counsel, mentioned no where in the Constitution.

In Watergate, by contrast, this House did not begin a formal inquiry until after extensive investigation by the Judiciary Committee and after Senate hearings.

Before we can talk responsibly about this impeachment inquiry process today, we need to do two things.


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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