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

Transcript: Opening statement of Chairman Hyde

House Judiciary Committee hearing, December 11, 1998

Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Illinois): Perjury is not sex, obstruction is not sex, abuse of power is not about sex. It's important to understand that none of the proposed articles include allegations of sexual misconduct. The president is not accused of marital infidelity because such conduct is essentially private. When circumstances require you to participate in a formal court proceeding and under oath mislead the parties and the court by lying, that is a public act and deserves public sanction.

Perjury is a crime with a five year penalty. Now what all this boils down to is, what do we think of the oath? Is it a ceremonial formality? Or, does it mean something? We were told there are three pillars to the rule of law. An honest judiciary and ethical bar and an enforceable oath. And this is why the president's lying under oath is so serious. It is an assault on the rule of law. It cheapens the oath, it is a breach of promise to tell the truth. It subverts our system of government.

Now, the Democrats have what really amounts to the so-what defense. Well, articulated in yesterday's Wall Street Journal op-ed page, where a pundit states, Mr. Clinton's behavior has been disgraceful, but it hasn't involved actions against the state. OK, a compendium of prominent Democrats who agree the president lied under oath is long and distinguished and I have it here. But all of them insist the president's lies do not rise to the level of impeachment.

I suggest impeachment is like beauty, apparently in the eye of the beholder. But I hold a different view. And it's not a vengeful one, it's not vindictive and it's not craven. It's just a concern for the Constitution and a high respect for the rule of law.

Now to the charge that we have produced no witnesses whose credibility could be tested by cross-examination. Well, we had Monica Lewinsky's testimony under oath, her immunity grant in jeopardy, if she lied. We accepted her heavily corroborated testimony. I hate to bring up the stained dress again, but we didn't feel the need to bring her in for more testimony.

But if the Democrats had the slightest qualm about her credibility, why didn't they invite her to testify or take her deposition to have her credibility tested? Betty Currie -- we had her testimony under oath. Vernon Jordan -- we had his testimony under oath. If there were any questions, why the Democrats could have called them as witnesses. But all we got from them was a covey of professors, no fact witnesses.

We based our facts the ones we were willing to accept on 60,000 pages of sworn testimony, deposition transcripts, grand jury testimony all under oath and all available to the Democrats. If they doubted this testimony, they were free to take depositions or produce them as witnesses. They did not.

So I wonder about the complaints that they didn't get a chance to test the credibility of the witnesses. Now as a lawyer and a legislator for most of my very long life, I have a particular reverence for our legal system.

HYDE: It protects the innocent, that punishes the guilt, that defends the powerless, that regards freedom, that summons the noblest instinct of the human spirit. The rule of law protects you and it protects me from the midnight fire on our roof or the 3:00 a.m. knock on our door. It challenges abusive authority.

It's a shame "Darkness at Noon" is forgotten or the "Gulag Archipelago," but there is such a thing lurking out in the world called abuse of authority and the rule of law is what protects you from it.

And so it's a matter of considerable concern to me when our legal system is assaulted by our nation's chief law enforcement officer, the only person obliged to take care that the laws are faithfully executed.

Now, we suffered from an abundance of details but it's clear we have, as the National Journal said, "not an occasional minor garden variety perjury but multiple acts of perjury."

We have calculated lawlessness which takes us for fools and chips away at our legal system. Lies about sex are one thing lies under oath by the nation's chief law enforcement officer are another.

Why do we bother to argue the facts. So many of you, certainly not all, but so many of you have pleaded nolo contedere. So, our debate is whether multiple violations of a solemn oath deserves censure or removal.

Incidently, we're did you get your facts on censure, from the Starr report?

What concerns me most deeply in sorting out the many arguments here is the significance of the oath. When the president performs the public act of asking God to witness his promise to tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth that is not trivial.

Whether it's a civil suit or before the grand jury the significance of the oath can not and must not be cheapened. If our proud boast that we're a government of laws and not of men is to mean anything I submit it means everything. It was purchased for us by the lives of countless patriots, some of whom are resting across the Potomac River in a cemetery, but all of whom put the nation's good ahead of their own.

A few words about fairness. I have been relentlessly accused of being unfair. I can only say I have tried. I have tried and I have tried. We have labored under an artificial time constraint that one that I adopted back before the election when the spirit of the age was get this over with. Get this behind us. With -- the country doesn't want this to be dragged out over the next coming year. I bought into that. I agreed it was in the interest of the country, the president, and the Congress to move this along as fast as we could and I believe we could finish it by the end of the year. That was naive.

There are so many things left undone because of time constraints, but now that the election is over and now that the Democrats -- and by the way we did not want to do anything just before the election for fear of being accused of trying to politicize our activities so we held back. But, now that the Democrats have picked up some seats we hear the phrase "lame duck Congress."

Well, we can't have it both ways. We're trying to finish this decently, honorably, fairly within time constraints because I don't want this to spill over into next year. I don't want this to be an endless process. I think it's in the interest of the country to finish it and we have tried out level best and I have tried to grant every request the Democrats have made. Maybe we haven't succeeded but I have certainly tried.

Now, we seek impeachment not conviction nor censure. Those are decisions for the other body, the Senate. We merely decide if there is enough for a trial. The accusatory body should not be the adjudicatory body.

Barbara Jordan pointed it was a wise decision not to have the house that charges be the one that tries. That doesn't mean we don't take our responsibilities seriously but it means we have a different role.

Now, we're told an impeachment trial would be too divisive and too disruptive that it would reverse two elections.

HYDE: We are not reversing any election. Bob Dole will not end up president of the United States if there is an impeachment. We are following a process wisely set down as a check and balance on executive overreaching by our Founding Fathers.

This vote says something about us. It answers the question, just who are we, and what do we stand for? Is the president one of us or is he a sovereign? We vote for our honor which is the only thing get to take with us to the grave. I yield back the balance of my time.

Investigating the President


Friday, December 11, 1998

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