February 23, 1999 - Issue: Vol. 145, No. 28 — Daily Edition106th Congress (1999 - 2000) - 1st Session
IMPEACHMENT TRIAL OF PRESIDENT WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON
(Senate - February 23, 1999)
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[Pages S1791-S1793] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] IMPEACHMENT TRIAL OF PRESIDENT WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON Mr. SESSIONS. Mr. President, the Constitution of the United States requires the Senate to convict and remove the President of the United States if it is proven that he has committed high crimes while in office. It has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty that President William Jefferson Clinton has persisted in a continuous pattern to lie and obstruct justice. The chief law officer of the land, whose oath of office calls on him to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, crossed the line and failed to protect the law, and, in fact, attacked the law and the rights of a fellow citizen. Under our Constitution, such acts are high crimes and equal justice requires that he forfeit his office. For these reasons, I felt compelled to vote to convict and remove the President from office. THE FACTS Facing a lawsuit the United States Supreme Court had upheld against him, President Clinton had to make a decision. He could tell the truth or lie and obstruct justice. He took the course of illegality. This case is not about an isolated false statement, it is about the President of the United States using his office, his power, his staff, and his popularity to avoid providing truthful answers and evidence that was relevant to a civil lawsuit. President Clinton's actions demonstrated a pattern of untruth and disdain for the legal system he had sworn to uphold. OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE President Clinton resisted the lawsuit from the time it was filed. Among other defenses, he argued that he, as the President, was not subject to the civil legal system while in office. The Supreme Court unanimously rejected this proposition. His legal arguments having failed, the President began to use illegal means to defeat the action. Since the truth would be damaging, he took steps to see that the truth concerning his relationship with Monica Lewinsky would never come out. President Clinton began his obstruction of justice by denying to the court material truths. He first filed with the court false answers to written questions, interrogatories, under oath. He then bolstered his lies to the court by procuring from Monica Lewinsky a supporting false affidavit which he filed with the court. When questioned at his deposition about the truthfulness of the Lewinsky affidavit, President Clinton, without any hesitation, told the court that it was ``absolutely true''. The President then proceeded, confident in his obstruction of the truth, to lie repeatedly under oath about their relationship in the deposition. Indeed, the President orchestrated a scheme to deceive the court, the public and the grand jury. The facts are disturbing and compelling on the President's intent to obstruct justice. When Monica Lewinsky received a subpoena for the gifts, the President knew that if they were produced, his relationship would be revealed. I believe Monica Lewinsky's testimony that she discussed with the President what to do [[Page S1792]] with the gifts. I also believe that Betty Currie got the gifts from Monica Lewinsky and hid them under her bed only after approval from the President. Secreting evidence under subpoena is a crime. The President secured a job for Ms. Lewinsky in large part because he wanted her to file a false affidavit and to continue to cover up their true relationship. The President coached his personal secretary twice to ensure that if she were called as a witness in the civil case she would not contradict his testimony given the day before. The President intentionally lied to aides in an effort to have them mislead the public and the grand jury. This is to me a clear pattern of obstruction of justice. The most conclusive proof of obstruction of justice, however, is the most obvious. Clearly, the President succeeded at defeating the right of the Paula Jones attorneys to get discovery as they were entitled. He got away with it. But for the indisputable DNA evidence that was only produced when Ms. Lewinsky confessed seven months later, the obstruction would have continued to be successful. Even when confronted with this evidence at the grand jury in August the President chose to confuse the definition of words that have plain meanings instead of telling the truth. PERJURY From a strictly legal point of view the perjury count was not as clear as it might first appear. In fact, standing alone these perjury charges may have failed to be impeachable. However, the President made his false statements as part of a continuous pattern to obstruct justice and deceive. This pattern establishes the necessary criminal intent. The President before the grand jury continued to deny facts and details that are by their very nature important in a sexual harassment suit. The President also intentionally deceived the grand jury regarding his participation in the concealing of the gifts and lied regarding his effort to obstruct justice by coaching Betty Currie. His admissions, though significant, steadfastly failed to cover any issues that would establish that his previous actions were in violation of the law. The President denies that these statements are false. However, he has no reservoir of credibility left after he so persistently lied to public for seven months. In my judgment these statements, which were aggravated by continuous lying to the American people, are sufficient under the circumstances of this case to warrant conviction on this article. The President was not obligated to appear before the grand jury, but if he chose to do so, he was obligated to tell the complete truth. Each statement must be individually evaluated in a perjury case. The President's statements that he did not believe he had violated the law and that he was not paying ``a great deal of attention'' to his lawyers when they gave false information to the court are not credible. Even so, I believe they are too subjective in nature to be defined as clear acts of perjury under the law. The President's response to clearly worded questions were intentionally designed to be misleading and deceptive; however, the Supreme Court has held in Bronston v. United States 409 U.S. 352 (1973) that it is not perjurious for a witness to give an unresponsive answer even if the witness intends to mislead his questioner. With this in mind, I conclude that the other charged statements, not delineated above, are misleading and false but not perjurious. I wish it were not so, but the President is a practiced liar. In summary, this President has deliberately, premeditatedly, and with calculation set about to defeat the justice system by criminal acts which include perjury and obstruction of justice. THE LAW AND PRECEDENT Contrary to the stunning argument by the President's attorneys, there is just one impeachment standard for Presidents and judges. It is found in Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution, which states, The President, Vice President, and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. Advocates on both sides of this case agree that federal judges are civil officers of the United States. As civil officers, they ``shall be removed'' on impeachment and conviction of high crimes and misdemeanors. The President's attorneys in this case have argued that there is a different standard for impeachment and removal of federal judges. The President's attorneys made a clever argument that the ``good behavior'' clause, which refers to a judge's tenure, sets a separate standard of impeachable conduct for federal judges. They cite in support of this proposition Article III, Section 1 of the Constitution, which states: The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior courts, shall hold their offices during good behavior, and shall, at stated times, receive for their services, a compensation, which shall not be diminished during their continuance in office. Historical research clearly shows that when the Constitution was drafted and ratified, the phrase ``good behavior'' had nothing to do with impeachment. The clause simply referred to the term of office and compensation for a federal judge. It is generally accepted that the legislative branch's power to actually remove a federal judge, a member of a separate and co-equal branch of government, is limited to impeachment. Before the American Revolution, American colonial judges were not independent. They served at the pleasure of the British king and could be dismissed at his command. The British monarch also controlled the salaries of colonial judges. Americans recognized that an independent judiciary was a fundamental component of a free society. In fact, they included the lack of an independent judiciary as part of the ``long train of abuses'' in the Declaration of Independence: ``[King George III] has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount of payment of their salaries.'' In response, the framers of the Constitution delineated through Article III, Section I, that federal judges would not serve at the whims of Congress or the President. Moreover, Alexander Hamilton, a drafter of the Constitution, addressed the impeachment standard for judges in Federalist #79, one of a series of essays explaining the Constitution. In that essay he writes: The precautions for [federal judges'] responsibility are comprised in the article respecting impeachments. . . . This is the only provision on the point, which is consistent with the necessary independence of the judicial character, and it is the only one which we find in our own constitution in respect to our own judges. Thus, the Constitution provided but one standard of removal of judges and it is the same one applied to the President. In our history there has been only one effort to impeach a judge on the ``good behavior'' standard, and that effort failed. In 1805, the Jefferson administration encouraged an impeachment of Justice Samuel Chase, an outspoken justice of the Supreme Court and member of the opposition Federalist party. Chase was impeached for his conduct while sitting as a circuit judge. The Senate acquitted Justice Chase and thus redeemed the drafters' original intent that judges can only be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors. So let any notion that judges may be impeached under a different standard be put to rest. That conclusion is inconsistent with the Constitution and not supported by history. It is easy to understand why the President's attorneys found it necessary to argue that federal judges may be removed under a different impeachment standard. The reason is that if the President is guilty of the same conduct that has led to the impeachment, conviction, and removal of three federal judges in the last thirteen years, and if the constitutional standard is the same, and if the substance of the allegations are the same, then he too must be removed. In 1986, the Senate convicted federal judge Harry E. Claiborne of three articles of impeachment that involved fundamental dishonesty: Judge Claiborne was convicted for knowingly filing false tax returns. Like every American who pays income tax, Judge Claiborne certified under penalty of perjury that his tax returns were true. For two years, he submitted such returns when he knew them to be false. He was subsequently impeached, convicted and removed. The President's lies in this case were, in my opinion, worse because [[Page S1793]] they constituted a frontal assault on the integrity of the justice system. The President did not lie on a form to hide income from the government; he lied under oath before a federal judge in an official proceeding to defeat a civil rights lawsuit filed by an American citizen. Under Senate precedent, that is impeachable conduct. Another example of recent Senatorial precedent is the Hastings case. In 1989, the Senate convicted Judge Alcee Hastings of Florida on seven of twelve articles of impeachment that were presented by the House. Judge Hastings was alleged to have taken a bribe to alter the outcome in a case before his court. Judge Hastings was convicted in the Senate on seven articles of impeachment. Judge Hastings was convicted for knowingly making false statements to the jury in his own bribery trial at which he was acquitted. In the same year, Judge Walter Nixon was convicted by the Senate for lying under oath before a grand jury. Judge Nixon corruptly attempted to obstruct justice by denying his efforts to intervene in a state court prosecution for a friend--a case unrelated to his duties as a federal judge. In the present impeachment case, we are not dealing with a blank slate. The Senate's actions in earlier cases are our clearest guide on how to proceed in the trial of President Clinton. The Senate has demonstrated three times in the last thirteen years that perjury by civil officers of the United States requires removal. It is inconceivable that equally reprehensible conduct by the President in this case should not also lead to his conviction and removal. By not so acting, the result will be an immediate lowering of our standards for impeachment and that standard will apply to judges as well. This argument defines us down, reducing the dignity of the Presidency and the Congress. PERSONAL OBSERVATIONS As one who loves the law and who has spent the better part of his professional career trying cases, I understand in a profound way just how important it is for justice that citizens tell the truth in court. As a federal prosecutor, I presented thousands of cases to a grand jury and tried hundreds. On many occasions I have seen witnesses tell the truth, even when it was very painful for them. Many have been driven to tears but still they honored their oath. Millions of Americans honestly fill out their tax returns and pay large sums of money simply because they are honest and believe in the rule of law. Such integrity is a source of great strength for our country. The rule of law and the need for integrity in our justice system is why perjury cases are prosecuted in America. About seven years ago when I was still the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, a case came before me. My own city of Mobile had as its chief of police a strong African-American who aggressively worked to reform the office, establish community-based policing, and work to create a new level of discipline. Opposition grew and lawsuits were filed against him. A young police officer, who had been the Chief's driver, testified in a deposition in a federal lawsuit against the Chief. He stated that the chief of police had ordered him to ``bug'' the patrol cars of other police officers and that he had a secret tape recording giving him this illegal order to commit a crime. The deposition was released quickly to the newspapers. The city council, police department, and the people were in an uproar. Under careful questioning by an experienced FBI agent, the young officer admitted that he had lied in the deposition regarding the tape recording. As United States Attorney, it was my decision whether the officer would be prosecuted for his perjury. His counsel argued that he was young, that he did lie but had corrected his false testimony at a later time. He argued that we should decline to prosecute. After reflection and review, I concluded that a sworn police officer who had told a plain lie under oath, even a young officer, should be prosecuted in order to preserve the rule of law and the integrity of the system. Our office prosecuted that case. The officer was convicted, and that conviction was later affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. For me personally, I have concluded that I cannot hold a young police officer to a different and higher standard than the President of the United States. In sum, it is crucial to our system of justice that we demand the truth. I fear that an acquittal of this President will weaken the legal system by suggesting that being less than truthful is an option for those who testify under oath in official proceedings. Whereas the handling of the case against President Nixon clearly strengthened the nation's respect for law, justice and truth, by sending a crystal clear message about the requirement for honesty, the Clinton impeachment may unfortunately have the opposite result. Finally, it is important to pause a moment to reflect on truth itself. I believe that we live in a created and ordered universe and that truth and falsehood are real. They are capable of being ascertained. I reject the doctrine of relativism that suggests everything is OK. We must always strive to hold the banner of truth high. Indeed, the pursuit of truth wherever it leads has been a hallmark of our civilization and is the single quality that has made us such a vibrant and productive nation. Of course, none of us are perfect and we often fail in our personal affairs, but when it comes to going to court, and its comes to our justice system, a great nation must insist on honesty and lawfulness. Our country must insist upon that for every citizen. The chief law officer of the land, whose oath of office calls on him to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, crossed the line and failed to defend the law, and, in fact, attacked the law and the rights of a fellow citizen. Under our Constitution, equal justice requires that he forfeit his office. For these reasons, I felt compelled to vote to convict and remove the President from office. Some will not agree with my conclusion. In that case, or if I have otherwise offended you in any way during this process, I ask for your forgiveness. I have sincerely tried to bring to bear the training and experience that I have had, along with the values with which we were raised in Alabama, to decide this important matter. ____________________