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Clinton Impeachment: Statement By Senator Charles Grassley

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 Charles Grassley is a Republican senator from Iowa. He assumed office in 1981.

Statement by Senator Charles Grassley (Republican – Iowa)

Mr. Chief Justice, my fellow Senators, as this trial nears the end, we have to ask the question how we got here with a tragedy like this. There are many losers. There are no winners. There are surely no heroes. There are lots of lessons to be learned, and I think all of our prayers ought to go out to those who were ensnared in the web of controversy.

In reflecting on this case and my role in it under the Constitution, the word `sad’ comes to mind. I have not relished sitting in judgment of a twice-elected, popular President. I would prefer to make history in other ways. I also regret the nature of the subject of this case. It is not easy having our entire society suddenly thrust into an open, nonstop debate about things that ought to make all of us blush.

Some say that this impeachment effort is part of a right-wing conspiracy, it is a Republican plot to get a Democratic President. Let’s look at how we got here and see if that argument holds up.

We are here because the President did wrongful acts and he admits to that. We are here because of the independent counsel law. The President himself led the charge to reauthorize the Independent Counsel Act. Thirty-three of my colleagues on this side of the aisle were in the Senate at that particular time. All but one of you voted for reauthorization.

On June 30, 1994, the President signed that reauthorization bill. He issued a statement and here is what he said:

This law, originally passed in 1978, is a foundation stone for the trust between Government and our citizens. . .

He says,

Opponents called it a tool of partisan attack against Republican Presidents and a waste of taxpayer funds. It was neither. In fact, the independent counsel statute has been in the past and is today a force for Government integrity and public confidence.

Those were the words of President Clinton, June 30, 1994.

Before reauthorization, it was the President himself who advocated the appointment of a special prosecutor. That appointment was made by the President’s own Attorney General. After reauthorization, the Attorney General supported the appointment of an independent counsel. The independent counsel was then appointed by a special three-judge panel, as required by law.

Also under the law, the Attorney General can initiate the dismissal of an independent counsel if he oversteps his bounds or acts improperly. Not only was this never done by the President’s Attorney General but, in contrast, she even agreed several times to expand his jurisdiction, including to cover the Monica Lewinsky matter.

Also under the law, the independent counsel is obliged to send to the House any evidences of crimes that might be impeachable.

In short, this case came about through a legitimate, legal process. It is a process that historically was vigorously defended by this side of the aisle. There are various checks and balances built into the process. They are designed to prevent abuse by the independent counsel, but they were never triggered, even though the President’s own Attorney General could move for dismissal.

No, this President is in this predicament because of his own private wrongdoing and because of public policy he pursued. There is no conspiracy.

The President’s actions are having a profound impact, of course, upon our society. His misdeeds have caused many to mistrust elected officials. Cynicism is swelling among the grassroots. His breach of trust has eroded the public’s faith in the office of the Presidency. The President’s wrongdoing has painted all of us in Washington with a very broad brush.

In the past 12 months, thousands of Iowans have registered their opinions with me. One letter from a middle school principal speaks volumes.

At an assembly to mark the new school year, a video entitled `Attitude is Everything’ was presented to the student body. The video was all about American heroes–college athletes, Olympic medalists, astronauts and world leaders.

Logically, the video also included President Clinton. The school principal wrote to me the following. He said, when the President’s picture appeared, the entire student body–ages 11 to 14–snickered. He said their spontaneous reaction struck a chord. He wrote:

Although they may not fully understand the adult connotations and political ramifications. . .they do know that if you want to be trusted and [if you want to be] respected, you must tell the truth. . ..[A]s an educator in Iowa’s public schools for the past 16 years. . .our students’ reaction to President Clinton’s picture is one of the saddest moments I can recall. In that instant, I realized how deeply his conduct has affected our country.

Mr. Chief Justice, there is that word `sad’ again. It seems to come to the fore in people’s minds over this case, over this President’s conduct, and over the impact it has had on our country.

The true tragedy in this case is the collapse of the President’s moral authority. He undermined himself when he wagged his finger and lied to our people on national television, denying that relationship with Ms. Lewinsky. That did more damage to his credibility than any other single act.

There was no better reason than that for the resignation of the President. I did not personally call for his resignation in August. That is something the President should decide on his own. But once you lose your moral authority to lead, you are a failure as a leader. FDR once spoke of the Presidency in this way:

The Presidency is not merely an administrative office. . ..It is preeminently a place of moral leadership.

Mr. Clinton should take note.

Next, there is the issue of the abuse of power and authority. The President used his position to enter into an improper relationship with a subordinate–not just a subordinate, a young intern. He later used his power to find her a job.

Another abuse of power: The full powers of the White House were on lease to stonewall the process and to attack the credibility of those who investigated him.

This White House has perfected the art of stonewalling around the truth. I fear that future White Houses will learn much from these experts and will refine and improve their own truth-fighting arsenals. Truth and openness will be casualties.

Last, there is the issue of the poor example the President’s actions serve for the Nation, especially for our youth. Is it now OK to lie because the President does it? And in the same manner, by wordsmithing, by trying to figure out what the meaning is of the word `is’?

I received a call recently from a mother of a teenage son in Des Moines. All last year, she thought the investigation of the President was a wasteful, partisan witch hunt. She was totally against the investigation and impeachment.

And then her son got into some serious trouble, and it involved lying. She confronted him with the wrong. Her son responded: `What I told you is the truth as I understood it at the time.’

The mother grew furious, and she said at that moment she knew that we couldn’t have a President like Bill Clinton. She knew firsthand the damage that his conduct had done to her family and to our country. At that point, she said she changed her position in favor of impeachment.

These are all questions and issues that emerge from the broader contours of this case, outside the narrow charges in the articles.

With respect to the impeachment charges, many of the President’s arguments are based on contorted interpretations of the facts. These interpretations aren’t credible. They represent lawyering at its best or, as some would say, at its worst.

It is clear to me that the President committed serious crimes when he coached his secretary, Betty Currie, and when he misled his aides, Sidney Blumenthal and John Podesta. Each of these aides ended up being a witness in official court proceedings. I believe, based on the evidence before the Senate, that the President lied to these witnesses so they would repeat those lies before official court proceedings. That is obstruction of justice.

In addition, I find it very interesting that a power lawyer like Vernon Jordan would be so active in the job hunt for Ms. Lewinsky. Regardless of what she felt or thought, I believe the President was arranging to get her a job. That way, she wouldn’t provide harmful testimony in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit. Again, obstruction of justice.

Mr. Chief Justice, these actions weren’t just outrageous, and, more important, morally wrong, but they were also illegal. They were a direct assault on the integrity of the judicial process. The President is guilty of the offenses charged under article II.

The first article charges that the President committed perjury on several occasions. While I am not convinced he committed perjury on each occasion charged, I believe he did commit perjury when he lied about his efforts to obstruct justice. That is the fourth count.

I don’t believe the President’s statement that he was merely trying to refresh his memory when he spoke with Betty Currie about his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky, and I don’t believe the President’s statement that he was only trying to protect himself from embarrassment when he concocted elaborate lies about Ms. Lewinsky and then conveyed those lies to his aides.

The President was not forthright when he testified before the grand jury. Time and time again, he gave answers that were misleading and sometimes deliberately false. The American people have a right to expect their President to be completely truthful, as they can expect you and me to be completely truthful. And the American people have a right to expect their President to be truthful, especially when placed under oath. I will vote guilty on article I as well.

Mr. Chief Justice, these were not easy decisions. They are the product of soul-searching, as it is for all of you. So they leave me with a good conscience. I believe my votes reflect the truth of what happened in this case.

The Senate is about to close this chapter in American history. It may or may not be the final chapter in this story. Nonetheless, our decision in this impeachment trial will stand against the test of time. You only truly understand the present when it is past. In that respect, future generations will serve as our jury and, in the end, history will serve as the final judge. Thank you.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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