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Clinton Impeachment: Statement By Senator Chris Dodd

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 Chris Dodd was a Democratic senator from Connecticut. He served from 1981 until 2011.

Statement by Senator Christopher Dodd (Democrat – Connecticut)

Mr. Chief Justice, my colleagues, 31 days ago at about this very hour we gathered in the Old Senate Chamber in closed session to begin the journey that has brought us to where we are today. We are only hours away from casting what Robert C. Byrd has appropriately described as the most important vote that any of us have cast or are likely to cast in our service as U.S. Senators. For only the second time in our Nation’s glorious history, we, who are temporary custodians of these 100 seats, will decide whether to take the most extraordinary and grave action that could ever be asked of U.S. Senators. A decision to declare war or amend our Constitution pales in comparison to trying the impeachment of a popularly elected President of the United States.

Unlike the House of Representatives, we did not decide to initiate the impeachment action. We did not seek this burden. It has been thrust upon us. Our responsibilities were limited to how to proceed in this trial and what verdict to render.

Despite our procedural differences along the way, the Senate has fulfilled, in my view, Alexander Hamilton’s vision as a `tribunal significantly and sufficiently dignified.’ The credit for that result, I suggest, belongs primarily to Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader, and to Trent Lott, the majority leader. Let history record that these two leaders, saddled with different challenges, led us with patience, fairness, good humor and dignity.

I have listened intently to all of you who have spoken on this matter, and I urge all Senators to add the reason for your vote to this record for, in many respects, it will be our words, our thinking, our rationale that will be revisited in the coming millennium, when and if those who succeed us in this Chamber are ever asked to confront the judgment that is upon us.

The contemporary press will record what decisions we have reached, but the cold, dispassionate eye of history will also scrutinize collectively and individually how we reached our conclusion and what impact this ordeal has had on the Constitution, the Congress, the courts, the Presidency and the maintenance of our tripartite federal system of government.

I agree heartily with those who say we should not decide this matter on the polls and the popularity of this President, but nor should we totally disregard the voices of those who elected this President or who have sent us here to represent them, including the voices of those who voted against us.

It is not entirely insignificant that of the 13 House Republican managers who have presented their case, seven were unopposed in the last election and three were elected with such significant majorities they were virtually unopposed.

I find it disheartening that the passion for conviction of 10 of the 13 House managers may not have been tempered by the voices of dissent within their own congressional districts. I sincerely hope that as we consider the facts of this case, the law in this case, and the impact of removing this President, we will give equal consideration to the impact on the Office of the Presidency.

It is clear from the Federalist papers that the framers wanted a strong, independent and energetic executive, and in the words of Alexander Hamilton, free of `propensity of the legislative department to intrude upon the rights and to absorb the powers of other departments.’

As our presiding Chief Justice properly noted in his book `Grand Inquests,’ the Constitutional Convention that met in Philadelphia in 1787 borrowed many of its ideas from existing governments and from political philosophers, but it did make two original contributions to the art of government. The first was the idea of a Presidential as opposed to a parliamentary system of government.

In the introduction of his treatise on impeachment, I say to my colleague from New York and repeat his words, the noted constitutional scholar, Charles Black, reminds us that the Presidency is a prime symbol of our national unity.

The election of the President is the only political act we perform together as a Nation. Voting in the Presidential election is certainly the political choice most significant to the American people and most closely attended by them. No matter, then, can be of higher political importance than our considering whether, in any given instance, this act of choice is to be undone and the chosen President dismissed from office in disgrace.

Charles Black adds forebodingly, as Pat Moynihan has already noted, everyone–everyone–must shrink from this most drastic of measures. In all candor, I say to you, my colleagues, I saw little evidence in the House majority of shrinking from the drastic measure of impeachment. I revere the Presidency, and I wish all future occupants of the Oval Office to inherit a strong, independent, and energetic office.

Now to the specifics of the case.

I fear the precedent of this impeachment case will come to haunt us. The scandal has seriously bruised every institution that has come in contact with it, but none has been battered more than the executive branch itself. The culpability for this damage lies first and foremost with President Clinton. His illicit affair with a young woman, a subordinate in the west wing of the White House has properly been greeted with universal condemnation.

President Clinton’s subsequent and misleading false statements to his staff, his Cabinet, the country, and others is abhorrent. History will judge his actions and significant lapses of judgments harshly, as it should. If he is acquitted by this Senate, he will not, as some have suggested, get off scot-free. To stand as the only popularly elected President to be impeached will relegate him as the Hester Prynne in the pantheon of our Chief Executives.

Do not allow your decision to convict this President to be influenced by the false and ludicrous notion that he will emerge from this national nightmare unscathed if you vote to acquit.

President Ford is often quoted as having said the grounds for impeachment are whatever the House of Representatives say they are by a majority vote. I do not take issue with that statement, except that it strikes me as somewhat cavalier. In the Senate, the grounds for conviction and removal of a President must not be so loosely fashioned. The grounds for conviction must be restricted to the articles of impeachment as passed by the House.

I am dismayed by the argument of some that conviction can be based on reasons totally beyond the scope of the articles of impeachment. Whether we like it or not, we have a constitutional duty to confine our judgment to the specific accusations. The standard of proof that we use to arrive at our decision is probably up to each Senator, but we do not have a similar luxury to decide what grounds we may use to convict. Those grounds are set by the House and must be proven by very narrow margins on nearly party-line votes.

The House Republican managers have presented us with two articles of impeachment accusing the President of perjury and obstruction of justice. The House managers have very specifically charged the President with violation of the Criminal Code, insisting that the facts prove each and every element of the criminal charges.

While it is certainly true that no person, including the President, is above the law, it is equally true that no President is below the law either. By insisting that this President is in violation of specific crimes in the Criminal Code, have not the House managers, to some degree, deprived the Members of this Senate of the individual judgment when exercising a standard of proof?

The standard of proof in all criminal cases is beyond a reasonable doubt. If those who vote to convict on either count use a lesser standard than would be used in any case of any other citizen, then a vote to take the drastic measure of conviction and removal of a President from office would be based on equal standard of justice.

I find it unsettling while the House Republican managers were passionately asking the Senate to convict this President of criminal charges, two of its most active managers were simultaneously expressing their own reservations.

First, House Manager Lindsey Graham candidly told this Senate, in response to a question, that reasonable people could reasonably conclude to acquit this President. It appeared to me that Manager Graham was less than convinced this President was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Secondly, House Manager Asa Hutchinson, in a moment of candor on a national TV news program conceded he would not try a case such as this one. He now asks us to reach the judgment of conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.

Does it not also strike you as somewhat strange that when given the opportunity to call any of three or four witnesses, the House managers chose not to invite Betty Currie to testify? Other than the President and Monica Lewinsky, no other person was as involved in the allegations brought by the House managers, and yet they made the calculated decision not to take her deposition.

For these reasons and the careful detailed distinction drawn between the inferences made by the House managers and the direct testimony of deposed witnesses, as outlined by our colleague, Carl Levin, I cannot conclude beyond all reasonable doubt that the President is guilty of the criminal charges enumerated in either article of impeachment. Thus, not only do I shrink from this most drastic of measures, I positively affirm we must not remove this President from office.

Some final thoughts. The criminalization of our political process must stop before irreparable damage is done to the institutions of our federal system. It is right to condemn in harsh words the behavior of this President. It should be equally appropriate to condemn the damage done by an independent counsel statute that has spawned runaway, reckless prosecutors that storm the country trampling on our system of justice, completely unchecked by any branch of Government.

The damage this President has caused his office can and will be repaired. The damage of the Office of Independent Counsel and court decisions that allow unlimited discovery in civil lawsuits may be far more difficult to repair. That fragile balance between our three coequal branches of Government is being subjected, I would suggest, to unprecedented strains as a result of the events that have occurred over these past several years.

I would urge our two leaders to include an examination of these issues as part of the agenda in the 106th Congress.

Thank you.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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