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Clinton Impeachment: Statement By Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell

The following is a statement from the Senate’s closed deliberations on the Articles of Impeachment against President Clinton, excerpts of which senators were allowed to publish in the Congressional Record for Friday, February 12, 1999.

Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell was a Republican senator from Colorado. He served from 1993 until 2005.

Statement by Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Republican – Colorado)

Mr. Chief Justice and colleagues, my friends, I am not going to try to dazzle you with my knowledge of the law which is minimal, or the forty hand-written pages I’ve taken during these proceedings. But, I signed the same oath you did with a pen that should have had on it ‘United States Senate,’ but did not. It said, ‘Untied States Senate.’

We were asked to turn the pens back in. I heard they are going to be valuable collectors’ items, and I am not turning mine in. I want to see what it’s worth.

And there you have it. An imperfect Senator being asked to judge an imperfect President.

One of our colleagues noted yesterday that we all come from different backgrounds. It’s true and, perhaps, I am living proof that the greatness of this nation because I could be here at all.

The same body where someone named Daniel Webster, John F. Kennedy and Harry Truman once served also welcomed a mixed blood kid from the wrong side of the tracks. The offspring of an alcoholic father and a tubercular mother; in and out of orphanages; a law breaker and high school drop out who lied, cheated, stole and did many other shameful things make me a poor judge indeed of someone else who used poor judgment.

I would rather take a beating than to judge someone else for their indiscretions. But, as one of our colleagues said yesterday, `We didn’t ask for this.’

Still, with all my own human failings, I, like you, must try to separate them from the rule of law. I wish I had the historical knowledge of Senator Byrd or the legal knowledge of Orrin Hatch or the government experience of John Warner. But, I don’t–I must use common sense.

I want to tell you an anecdote–about a conversation I had with the President right after he made his rather startling confession before this nation and a group of reverends which I watched from my Denver office as millions of others were also watching at the same time.

I was so moved by his statement that I wrote him a personal note telling him how sorry I was for what his family was going through. I told him I would not be one to pile on; that I would make no statements to the press; nor would I be a party to the impeachment process going on in the other body.

As I look around this room, I see several others who subscribed to that same conduct as this proceeding moved to the Senate and took on soap opera proportions, and members of both parties ran pell mell to the cameras at each recess.

I sit right there in the back row fifteen feet from the cloakroom. But, at each recess by the time I walk to the cloakroom and glance at the TV, some of my colleagues have already sprinted somewhere else to be in front of the cameras. As you know, I used to be on the U.S. Olympic Team, and I tell

my speedy friends–you could have made the team.

About three days after I wrote to the President, he called me to thank me for my note and we spoke for about 15 minutes. I asked him how his family was dealing with it and he told me they were having good days and bad, but it was hardest on his daughter, Chelsea, because she was away at college without the family unit to console her. He told me he would keep my note always. I felt badly then, and I do now.

As I look around this room in which so many great people in our history have spoken and I read their names written in the desk drawers along with those who no one remembers, I tell you that I like this President.

He came through a difficult childhood as I did, and I genuinely like him and feel sorry for both him and his family. But after agonizing as many of my Senate friends have, I remember the first question my then nine-year-old son, Colin, asked me 17 years ago when I told him I was going to run for public office. He asked, `Dad, are you going to lie and stuff?’

I told him, `No.’ I don’t have to learn how to lie–I still remembered how to lie from my delinquent days. I’m still trying to forget it.

I told him, human frailties not withstanding, elected officials should not `lie and stuff.’

Every one of us knows that when we step into the public arena, we are judged by a different standard. Being honest and truthful becomes more important because we must set the examples.

As a senator, if I ever forget it, this body will not have to throw me out because I will have brought it on myself, and I’ll save this body the time and expense and resign.

I would not fear being thrown out. When I was young and not yet house-broken, I was thrown out of a lot of places. I swore a lot of oaths–not when I went in, but when I came out.

There is a difference: one is about anger in private–the other is about honor in public. If we are not going to honor our oath, why don’t we get rid of it and have an every-man-for-himself kind of elected official?

Better yet, let’s change it. Mr. Chief Justice, you could say: `Senators-elect. Raise your right hand and repeat after me: `On my honor, I’ll do my best, to help myself and lie like the rest.’

I took a solemn oath–perhaps it is the only thing in common I share with John F. Kennedy, Harry Truman and Daniel Webster as well as the founders of this nation–and that is why honoring it is all the more important to me.

Simply speaking, the President did, too. And, so even though I like him personally, I find I can only vote one way. And that is guilty on both articles.

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice. I yield the floor.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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