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Clinton Impeachment: Statement By Senator Daniel Akaka

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 Daniel Akaka was a Democratic senator from Hawaii. He served from 1990 until 2013.

Statement by Senator Daniel Akaka (Democrat – Hawaii)

Mr. Chief Justice and esteemed colleagues, I rise to offer my thoughts on the momentous decision we will render shortly. At the start, I deeply regret that the American people have been denied the opportunity to hear the Senate’s final deliberations on the impeachment charges against President Clinton. I say this because I have been thoroughly impressed with the thought, tenor, and passion brought to this deliberation by my colleagues on both sides of the aisle. I wish the American people could have the opportunity to observe what I have had the privilege of witnessing for the past two days. Whether seated in the gallery, watching on television, listening on radio, or following on-line, the public would have benefitted tremendously from the opportunity to hear, in real time and full context each of our remarks. The opportunity to read a transcript later this week in the Record will not come close to viewing these proceedings. It lacks the power of the moment.

When I took the oath to do impartial justice on January 7, 1999, I knew, as one of 100 Senators, that I was assuming the unique role of judge and juror in the Senate impeachment trial of William Jefferson Clinton. Over these weeks, I have listened to the presentations by the House Managers, the White House counsel, and the President’s defense team without prejudice. I have analyzed the video testimony of Monica Lewinsky, Vernon Jordan, and Sidney Blumenthal, and read numerous grand jury transcripts, the referral from the Independent Counsel, and the House report and related documents.

The House of Representatives approved two articles of impeachment by straight party line votes after bitter and divisive partisan debate, forwarding to the Senate the impeachment articles to remove the President of the United States as authorized by the Constitution. At the same time, the partisan nature of the House action invites challenge to its legitimacy. And, although we have more often than not voted along party lines during the impeachment trial, I am proud of this body and its genuine effort to pursue a bipartisan course during our trial of the President. We have disagreed without being disagreeable.

The body has not strayed too far from the comity and tone that marked our first bipartisan caucus to set the framework for this proceeding.

We have taken the admonition of the senior Senator from West Virginia to heart and avoided descending into the pit of caustic partisanship and recrimination.

After reviewing volumes of evidence and weighing weeks of presentations before the Senate, I have concluded that a case has not been made on either of the articles of impeachment against President Clinton. Conviction and removal from office, as charged by the House Managers, is simply not warranted.

The record does not sustain the level of proof necessary to convict and remove the President. Certain facts are indisputable: the President lied to the American people and to his wife and daughter about an extramarital affair; he lied to his staff; and he was misleading in his deposition in the Jones v. Clinton civil suit and his grand jury testimony.

However, impeachment is not a Constitutional means to punish a President `when he gets out of bounds,’ as proposed by the House Managers. The constitutional standard is whether high crimes and misdemeanors were committed, and that test has not been met.

In 1974, the House Judiciary Committee rejected an article of impeachment against President Nixon based on the filing of a false tax return. I was reasoned that the President’s misleading tax return was unrelated to his duties as president, although a minority believed the count was unsupported by the evidence. Thus we see that all crimes that may be punishable by the courts are not punishable by impeachment.

Rather, impeachment is narrowly limited by the Constitution to offenses of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

After listening to many presentations on this issue, I am convinced that impeachment and removal from office should only be used for crimes against the country or threats to our national security.

Our founding fathers carefully defined the terms of impeachment in a manner that establishes a high threshold and requires the charges to be of an egregious nature. That is why the Senate has only once before held an impeachment trial for a President.

The House Managers recommend impeachment because it is the only way in which the President’s misconduct can be punished. Yet, I remind my colleagues that the President remains subject to criminal and civil penalties after he leaves office in two years.

As I will point out, the facts and other evidence accumulated and presented to the Senate do not meet the constitutional standard for impeachment and removal that our founding fathers established.

Article One charges the President with perjury before the grand jury in August 1998, for willfully giving false testimony under oath in a judicial proceeding. Yet to prove this charge the House Managers introduced material from the Jones suit during their Senate presentation even though the House rejected an article of impeachment dealing with Paula Jones suit. Nonetheless, despite this blurring of the lines between criminal and civil matters, a perjury conviction requires that the testimony be material to the case at hand. Judge Susan Webber Wright’s rulings in the Jones case specifically excluded evidence concerning Monica Lewinsky because it was immaterial.

Furthermore, Thomas Sullivan, former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, testified before the House Judiciary Committee that perjury `can be particularly arcane, including the requirements that the government prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew his testimony to be false at the time he or she testified, that the alleged false testimony was material, and that any ambiguity or uncertainty about what the question or answer meant must be construed in favor of the defendant.’ Mr. Sullivan also noted that generally, `federal prosecutors do not use the criminal process in connection with civil litigation involving private parties,’ because, `there are well established remedies available to civil litigants who believe perjury or obstruction has occurred.’

Article Two charges the President with seven different instances of obstruction of justice. The House Managers insist that the evidence shows that these separate acts constitute a deliberate attempt by the President to obstruct justice. The White House argues that the President did not seek to influence witnesses nor impede discovery. Legal scholars have argued that the lumping together of these seven charges would cause most courts to throw out the charges, and witness testimony undermines the House charges. After the smoke cleared from the charges and countercharges, it was evident to me that the connections between the actions of the President and the actions by the witnesses were circumstantial, at best.

Moreover, I agree with White House counsel Charles F. Ruff, who in his closing arguments said of the House Managers, `I believe their vision to be too dark, a vision too little attuned to the needs of the people, too little sensitive to the needs of our democracy.’

In the obstruction of justice count, the Managers charge the President with asking Monica Lewinsky to lie, a charge that she denies in two dozen depositions, and testimony given under the protection of immunity. There is no evidence that the President ever asked her to provide a false affidavit in the Jones case or to testify falsely. Vernon Jordan, the President’s close friend and advisor, testified that although he met with Ms. Lewinsky and was given a draft of the affidavit, he refused to review the document and referred the young woman to her attorney for advice and counsel.

The House Managers say the President is guilty of obstructing justice when he ordered his secretary, Betty Currie, to retrieve gifts given by the President to Monica Lewinsky. However, Ms. Lewinsky’s testimony, on a number of occasions, indicates that it was she who asked Mrs. Currie to keep the gifts, not the President.

The House states that the President asked Vernon Jordan to intensify an on-going job search in Ms. Lewinsky’s behalf after Judge Webber Wright ruled that Paula Jones’s attorney could investigate the President’s sexual relations with state or federal employees.

Mr. Jordan and Ms. Lewinsky first met in November 1997, a month before Ms. Lewinsky was listed as a witness in the Jones case. Sinister motives do not appear to be involved in the inquiries by Mr. Jordan on her behalf that led to two job rejections and one job offer. Efforts by the House Managers to link the job search and the affidavit unravel when the dates on which Mr. Jordan and Ms. Lewinsky first met, when Ms. Lewinsky’s name first appeared on the Paula Jones case witness list, and the drafting of the affidavit are analyzed.

The President, Ms. Lewinsky, and Mr. Jordan have testified that no one was seeking Ms. Lewinsky’s silence, and Ms. Lewinsky further testified that she realized in October 1997 that she would not be returning to the White House for employment and she renewed her job search in New York City.

The additional testimonies of Ms. Lewinsky, Mr. Jordan, and Mr. Blumenthal added no new information to the case against the President. I voted against deposing these witnesses since they already had been deposed many times.

Moreover, we each received thousands of pages of testimony from the grand jury, various depositions, statements given under oath, and documents relating to the impeachment charges. We know that Ms. Lewinsky had been questioned on at least 23 separate occasions, including after the President’s grand jury testimony and as recently as January 22, 1999, by the House prosecutors before testifying February 1, 1999, on video. During arguments in favor of deposing Ms. Lewinsky, House Manager Bryant urged the deposition because he believed the Senate should observe her demeanor, her tone, and her tenor in responding to questions.

I respectfully disagreed with Mr. Bryant then, as I do now. My decision was bolstered when I viewed Ms. Lewinsky’s videotaped testimony in which she reaffirmed her grand jury testimony. I saw no purpose in bringing her to the witness table again, nor Mr. Jordan, who had been questioned five times, nor Mr. Blumenthal, who has answered questions under oath four times. These witnesses did not change their testimonies, nor did they provide information that was omitted in previous testimony.

The witnesses’ statements are a matter of record, and they comprise thousands of pages encompassed in the volumes of testimony and sworn affidavits that are the basis of the House articles of impeachment. I concur with House majority counsel David Schippers who said during the House Judiciary impeachment proceedings, `As it stands, all of the factual witnesses are uncontradicted and amply corroborated.’

In conclusion, I cannot overstate my disappointment with the actions of the President. He deliberately misled the American people and greatly diminished the public’s trust in the office of the presidency. However, I have concluded that the two articles of impeachment, as drafted and presented by the House, fail to meet the level of high crimes and misdemeanors, and I will vote to acquit the President.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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