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Transcript: Opening statement of Rep. Sensenbrenner
House Judiciary Committee hearing, December 11, 1998
Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin): Mr. Chairman...
HYDE: Ten minutes.
SENSENBRENNER: ... for the past 11 months, the toughest questions I have had to answer come from parents who want to know what to tell their kids about what President Clinton did.
Every parent tries to teach their children to know the difference between right and wrong, to always tell the truth and, when they make mistakes, to take responsibility for them and to face the consequences of their actions.
President Clinton's actions at every step since the media told us who Monica Lewinsky is have been completely opposite to the values parents hope to teach their children. No amount of government education programs and day care facilities can reverse the damage done to our children's values by the leader of our country.
But being a poor example system grounds for impeachment. Undermining the rule of law is.
Frustrating the court's ability to administer justice turns private misconduct into an attack upon the ability of one of the three branches of our government to impartially administer justice. This is a direct attack on the rule of law in our country and a very public wrong that goes to the constitutional workings of our government.
To me, making false statement under oath to a criminal grand jury is an impeachable offense, period. This committee and the House decided that issue by a vote of 417-nothing nine years ago in the Judge Nixon impeachment.
To accept the argument that presidential lying to a grand jury is somewhat different than judicial lying to a grand jury and, thus, not impeachable, is wrong. It sets the standard for presidential truthfulness lower than for judicial truthfulness.
The truth is the truth, and a lie is a lie, no matter who says it. And no amount of legal hair-splitting can obscure that fact.
The evidence clearly shows that President Clinton lied to the grand jury fully 7.5 months after the president's relationship with Ms. Lewinsky hit the front pages.
SENSENBRENNER: Those lies were told because the president was unwilling to admit he repeatedly lied in the Paula Jones deposition in January.
Whatever one thinks of her federal civil rights suit, the Supreme Court decided by a vote of nine to zero that she had the right to pursue it and to gather evidence to support her claims.
Giving testimony under oath at depositions is one way parties to lawsuits are allowed to obtain evidence under our laws. The president lied numerous times at that deposition to obstruct Ms. Jones' pursuing her right to get that evidence.
When Americans come to Washington, 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.
President Clinton's lies in that deposition were directly designed to defeat Ms. Jones' claims. He then lied to his Cabinet and his staff so that they would unwittingly deceive the American public on this issue. And he appeared on TV denying sexual relations with quote "that woman, Ms. Lewinsky."
The president's defenders might claim that he did it to protect the first lady and his daughter. While that might have been true right when the story broke, it wasn't shortly afterwards when all the personal embarrassment possible had already been caused.
He didn't admit to an inappropriate relationship with Ms. Lewinsky until the DNA tests on that famous dress came back. And to this day, he still will not admit to lying at the deposition and to the grand jury, all to evade responsibility for his untruthful testimony.
His repeated and continued failure to accept responsibility for his false testimony has brought us to the point where this committee is on the verge of approving articles of impeachment of a president for only the third time in our nation's history.
Had President Clinton told the truth in January, admitted that he had made a mistake and suffered the consequences then, there would have been no independent counsel investigation on this matter and we would not be debating impeachment here today.
Mr. Clinton has recognized that his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky was wrong. I give him credit for that. But he has not owned up to the false testimony, the stonewalling, the obstructing the courts from finding the truth and the use of taxpayer-paid White House resources to hide and perpetuate his lies.
He has tried to use his apology for private misconduct to evade taking responsibility for the very grave public wrongs done to the judicial system's ability to find the truth. He has used legal hairsplitting and redefinition of words to perpetuate those lies and has continued to do so.
The framers of the Constitution devised an elaborate system of checks and balances to ensure our liberties by making sure that no person, institution or branch of government became so powerful that a tyranny could be established in the United States of America.
Impeachment is one of the checks the framers gave to Congress to prevent the executive or judicial branches from becoming corrupt or tyrannical.
Today, based upon the evidence that the president lied, obstructed and abused power in an effort to prevent the courts from administering equal justice under law, I cast my vote in favor of impeaching William Jefferson Clinton.
I do so with no joy, but without apologies, just as those on this committee who voted to impeach President Nixon 24 years ago did.
Watergate and the Nixon impeachment reversed the results of an overwhelming election and were extremely divisive to our country. But America emerged from that national nightmare a much stronger country and will do so again after this sad part of our history is over.
What is on trial here is the truth and the rule of law. Our failure to bring President Clinton to account for his lying under oath and preventing the courts from administering equal justice under law will cause a cancer to be present in our society for generations.
I want those parents who asked me the questions to be able to tell their children that even if you are president of the United States, if you lie when sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, you will face the consequences of that action even when you don't accept the responsibility for that.
SENSENBRENNER: I yield back the balance of my time. I thank the gentleman.
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