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Clinton Impeachment: Statement By Senator Byron Dorgan

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 Byron Dorgan was a Democratic senator from North Dakota. He served from 1992 until 2011.

Statement by Senator Byron Dorgan (Democrat – North Dakota)

Thank you Senator Lott, Senator Daschle, and Mr. Chief Justice for the skill and dignity you have given these proceedings.

I wish every American could see and hear the Senate in these deliberations.

There is a kind of majesty to see the Senate chamber filled with Senators listening to each other in debate and deliberation.

We are different people, coming from different regions with different philosophies, and that is what creates the unique character of this wonderful institution.

I want to tell you briefly today about Teddy Roosevelt.

Over a century ago, Teddy Roosevelt was consumed with grief following the death of his wife and mother who died on the same day. He decided to change his life and move out west. When he stepped off the train in the Badlands of North Dakota, he was wearing a cowboy suit hand-tailored from Brooks Brothers, rimless glasses, a Bowie knife with `Tiffanys’ engraved on the handle, and Sterling silver spurs with his initials on each rowel.

The local cowboys thought he was a joke. One unlucky cowboy picked a fight with Teddy in a Badlands saloon in Medora. In minutes, the cowboy was punched senseless by this funny looking easterner.

And then Teddy Roosevelt was accepted. Being different, looking different didn’t much matter to the folks in the Badlands after that.

Here in the Senate we’re very different people too. No saloon fights here, though. We engage in verbal battles. And the Senate works because we accept each other, and we share a common purpose.

The discussion we are having today reminds me again of the unique skills and passion for our country possessed by each and every member of the Senate.

How do we apply these skills and that passion here and now?

Mark Twain once said, with tongue in cheek, that `the next best thing to a lie, is a true story no one will believe.’

Well, this sorry chapter in our rich history embraces both. Lies, yes! And truth that is almost unbelievable.

We meet here as Senators to consider whether to remove from office a president elected by the American people. In the entire history of our country, the Senate has never voted to remove a president. In fact, it has been tried only once. The Framers of our Constitution made it very hard to do; and they made it, with a 2/3 vote required in the Senate, impossible to do on a `partisan’ basis.

The matter that calls us to this duty is a sordid one.

It is truly a scandal and a drama without heroes and without winners.

It is about a president who should be, and I’m sure is, ashamed of his behavior. Is there anyone here in the Senate who had a sexual relationship with one of their interns? Of course not! The President did. He had a sexual relationship with an intern, and he lied about it, to the country, to all of us, to try to conceal it.

This President has betrayed our trust and I have expressed to him personally how profoundly disappointed I am with his actions.

This matter is also about an Independent Counsel who you and I know has leaked confidential information from secret proceedings of a grand jury, and whose actions in detaining Monica Lewinsky should be troubling to every Senator. And an Independent Counsel who came to Congress with such prosecutorial passion that his ethics advisor resigned in protest.

And it is about many others as well. Major figures and bit players, some who conspired in disgraceful ways, and others who were innocently swept into the maelstrom of a sensational scandal.

But, for all of the intrigue, the matter here is less complicated than some would have us believe.

Here is a short chronology.

Several years after the day she claims that then-Governor Bill Clinton made unwanted sexual advances toward her, Paula Jones appeared at a conservative political gathering to announce she was filing suit against the President.

Some while later, following the Supreme Court ruling that the case could go forward, the President was called to a deposition in the Jones case.

In that deposition, which the Judge later determined to be immaterial, and in a case that was later dismissed, Bill Clinton denied having a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. That was a lie. Oh, I know about the convoluted definition of sex that was used, but I think he lied. But that’s not a matter before us. The impeachment article about that deposition was defeated in the U.S. House.

Following the President’s testimony in the Jones case, the Independent Counsel, appointed three years earlier to investigate a Whitewater land deal, and controversies called Travelgate and Filegate, swung into action to investigate this sex scandal. Linda Tripp was wired, Monica Lewinsky was detained by the Independent Counsel and the FBI, and they told her she shouldn’t call her lawyer. A grand jury began hearing witnesses and after many months the President appeared before that grand jury to answer questions.

Then, one-and-a half months before the 1998 general election, the U.S. House, with cooperation from the Independent Counsel, released to the American public all of their investigative material and the secret proceedings of the grand jury.

Following the election, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee began their impeachment hearings. The Independent Counsel, in a virtual footnote to his presentation before the House on the sex scandal, admitted he had not been able to implicate the President on Whitewater, Travelgate or Filegate–but he got him on the sex matter. And so the House managers and the Independent Counsel used the President’s bad behavior to weave their charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

And finally the U.S. House on a partisan vote sent to the Senate the two articles of impeachment.

That’s the chronology as I see it.

And so we gather–conducting a trial of this sordid mess.

What are we to do? What is our duty? What is, as Lincoln said, `our last full measure of devotion’ to this country.

I am deeply troubled by this President’s behavior. But I am also troubled by the constitutional gravity of removing a President. Some, with a mere wave of the hand seem to say that `it’s not such a big deal.’ But they are wrong. This decision affects the very roots of our democracy.

The selection of the head of government by the governed in a free election is rare. It is still the case in too many countries that power shifts through the barrel of a gun–through raw, naked power and violence.

In our country, the American people choose their President by the simple, elegant act of voting. It is through voting–not fighting–that power shifts. Our governments change without an army marching. With no shots being fired. What a remarkable thing to behold.

The Constitution does contain a very special provision allowing for the removal of a President `for bribery, treason, and other high crimes and misdemeanors.’ It does that because the Framers wanted to provide a method to remove a president who was acting in a manner that threatens the country.

But the Framers worried that a partisan majority could try to remove a President for political gain.

Hamilton, in the Federalist 65 said, `the greatest danger . . . that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of the parties than by the real demonstration of innocence or guilt.’

Mason said that the President should be removed for `great and dangerous offenses’ that amount to `attempts to subvert the Constitution.’ Hamilton wrote that impeachable offenses result from a `violation of public trust’ and `relate chiefly to injuries done to society itself.’

It is also clear that the impeachment process was not meant to punish a transgressor. In fact, the Constitution provides that any such `crimes’ would still be punishable in the criminal justice system.

In short, impeachment is a device to prevent grave danger to the Nation.

I believe that the Framers of the Constitution would be startled by this impeachment effort.

That this impeachment process was passionately partisan in its birth in the U.S. House is not in question. In fact, two of the House managers who brought these articles of impeachment to us called for the impeachment of President Clinton long before they had ever heard of Monica Lewinsky. Seventeen Republican Congressmen had called for impeachment hearings long ago. Theirs was a cause searching for a reason.

Nearly two years ago, before Linda Tripp, before Monica Lewinsky, before Betty Currie, before knowledge of sex with an intern, before a stained dress, before the deposition in the Jones case, before the testimony to the grand jury, two of the House Managers who argued for these impeachment articles had introduced an impeachment inquiry resolution. Representative Bob Barr and Representative Lindsey Graham said then that it was about `the rule of law.’ They were asking for the nullification of an election before they knew the existence of a Monica Lewinsky and before the action that led to the two articles of impeachment now before us.

Isn’t there room to wonder then, that maybe this is exactly the partisan passion that persuaded our Framers to place the impeachment bar just above the vertical leap of those Members of Congress who would carry `fill in the blank’ impeachment papers for every reason and every season.

Take the partisan flavor away. I don’t think the case has been made that the President’s behavior, while reprehensible, poses a grave danger to the Nation. Therefore I cannot vote to nullify the results of the last election. The people chose Bill Clinton and I do not believe the case made against the President meets the constitutional threshold for removing a president.

I respect those here who differ. I do not allege that your guilty vote is partisan. You have reached a different conclusion charge than I did, and I respect you for that.

But I cannot vote for these articles of impeachment. This is not a case of high crimes and misdemeanors. It’s a case of bad behavior by a President who has shamed himself.

But let us not respond to his bad behavior by hurting our country.

Let us not aim at Bill Clinton and hit the Constitution.

I do not vote to support our President. I vote against these articles of impeachment to support our Constitution.

In the final analysis, however, the President should take no solace in this vote. I and others in the Senate have joined in a censure resolution that expresses a harsh judgement about the President’s actions.

Now, it is time for the country to move on.

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