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Clinton Impeachment: Statement By Senator Gordon Smith

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 Gordon Smith was a Republican senator from Oregon. He served from 1997 until 2009.

Statement by Senator Gordon Smith (Republican – Oregon)

Mr. Chief Justice, colleagues, first let me thank the Chief Justice for the dignity he has lent to this trial. I have so appreciated the keenness of his intellect and the fairness of his spirit.

I also join the Senator from Mississippi in thanking these two magnificent men who lead this Chamber. I express to you, my colleagues, the genuine affection that I feel for each of you. I am often asked the question, who do you like and who do you dislike? The ones I especially like are very easy to name; and then when it comes to those I dislike, I cannot name one. I genuinely thank you for allowing me to participate with you in this difficult and historic time.

I want to also thank my colleague, Ron Wyden, for his comments about me yesterday. When Ron and I ran for the Packwood seat, I think America–and certainly Oregon–saw one of the most difficult and mean elections in the history of our State. Yet since that time, when I won the Hatfield seat, Ron and I have become friends. It was a remarkable thing to both of us that by doing something as simple as having a joint town hall meeting, Republican and a Democrat from the same State, it led to a full-page story in the New York Times. That is a sad commentary.

The truth of the matter is that if Ron Wyden and I can become friends and do things to the credit and benefit of our State, so can you all. I actually believe that this trial will bring us closer together over time, and I hope lay a foundation for some very good work in the 106th Congress.

Today, as Oregon’s other Senator, I will cast two votes to convict and remove the President of the United States. Reaching this verdict has been a very difficult ordeal for me, and I would like to tell you why. This Mr. Smith did not come to Washington, DC to oppose President Clinton. Indeed, over the last 2 years there have been many issues, ranging from the expansion of NATO to the promotion of free trade and the fight against big tobacco, in which I have supported him and worked closely with him. As I have met with President Clinton in his office, traveled with him aboard Air Force One, he has consistently treated me with great civility and has often inspired me with his eloquence.

To be in his presence is to experience the magic of his enormous personal and political talents. It is the magnitude of his talents that makes the magnitude of his misdeeds so disappointing. There can be no doubt that President Clinton’s conduct has made a mockery of most of his words, or that his example has been corrosive beyond calculation to our culture and to our children. These personal conclusions, however, do not provide a constitutional basis for his removal. Only his high crimes could justify such a vote.

As you know, the House of Representatives argued two articles of impeachment to us. Article I alleged four instances of perjury before a grand jury; Article II alleged seven instances of obstruction of justice.

The House managers presented us with volumes of direct and circumstantial evidence, and the White House lawyers worked skillfully to plant the seeds of reasonable doubt. But as the trial progressed, I found that these seeds of doubt could only grow in proportion to my ability to suspend common sense. I struggled throughout the trial to find a way to acquit the President, if possible, on both or at least one of the articles. But in the end, the facts kept getting in my way. The stained blue dress. The Dick Morris poll asking whether the President could get away with perjury. Monica in tears in the Oval Office being told she could not come back to the White House, and then being threatened that it is a crime to pressure the President in that way.

These facts and so many, many more led me to the logical, inescapable conclusion that what began as private indiscretions became public felonies. It is even more ironic to me that I had not made up my mind on article I until Mr. Ruff was in his closing arguments. We had just seen a videotape of Mr. Blumenthal saying that what he had been told was a lie, and we saw Mr. Ruff play the videotape of Mr. Clinton’s grand jury testimony in which he said, ‘What I told him was truthful but misleading.’ That was a lie. And it was to a grand jury. It revealed the calculations of his mind to obstruct justice. So common sense caught up with this juror.

Having concluded that the President did, indeed, commit perjury and attempt to obstruct justice, I had to ask if these offenses were high crimes and misdemeanors as contemplated by the founders of this Nation. Like many of you, I found answers and comfort in the Federalist Papers Essay No. 65 written by Alexander Hamilton spoke directly to the ultimate power of impeachment. You remember his words; I won’t repeat them. They will be in the Record many times.

When Senator Moynihan speaks, he is kind of like E.F. Hutton to me–I listen. He had a wonderful statement yesterday about the kinds of impeachable offenses. He cited the example of Justice Chase and President Johnson.

Senator Moynihan said that they were nearly impeached for their opinions, and to have done so would have been wrong. But it is not Bill Clinton’s opinions that affect my vote, it is his conduct.

Now, what is his conduct here? Last night, I think we all saw a brilliant statement by Senator Edwards. I think we saw firsthand why he has made so much money talking to jurors. We are seeing right now why I had to make my money selling frozen peas. I went through the same calculations as Senator Edwards, but I want to point out to you some very different reasoning that led me to come down on the other side. See, Senator Edwards is talking about what you do when you talk to a jury about taking someone’s life or their liberty. That is not what we are doing here. We are talking about protecting the public trust, protecting the Constitution. So the arguments that he made ultimately aren’t the ones that we ought to be using to decide whether to remove President Clinton from office.

Now, what was so bad about President Clinton’s conduct? The scales that Senator Edwards spoke to us about, the fulcrum of justice, won’t work if President Clinton’s conduct is sanctioned by this body or by any court. What President Clinton did was an attack on the Government, and specifically on the judicial branch of Government. You see, the courts aren’t supposed to write law, though, Mr. Chief Justice; they do too much of that. The courts don’t have any power to raise taxes or appropriate money, and they can’t raise an army or send a navy. They can find the truth and act upon the truth. And if what Bill Clinton did is OK, then we have weakened the weakest of the branches of our Government, and that is a high crime under the Constitution.

I mentioned Mr. Hamilton. I think it is worth noting again that after the publication of Federalist Paper No. 65, he became the Secretary of the Treasury for President George Washington. He also became involved in an adulterous relationship with a woman named Maria Reynolds. Her husband, upon learning of the affair, demanded of Mr. Hamilton a job at the Treasury Department in exchange for keeping his silence and keeping Mr. Hamilton from personal humiliation and political scandal. Hamilton refused Mr. Reynolds a position on the public payroll, but he agreed to pay him blackmail from his personal funds. News of this arrangement soon found its way to Mr. Hamilton’s opponents. When confronted, without being under oath, Hamilton confessed the truth and the whole truth. He knew and respected the boundaries between the public and the private. He wrote them down for our country, and he lived his life within those boundaries, never veering recklessly over the line of impeachability.

Consider the painful contrast this creates when measured against the public life of President Clinton. When his scandalous conduct with a subordinate female became entwined with another woman’s civil rights action against him, which a unanimous Supreme Court ruled that she had the right to bring, President Clinton set about to cover himself by lying to his staff, to his Cabinet, to the Congress, and to the country. And then, as the evidence so clearly shows, it demonstrates that when brought to court–the weakest of our branches of Government–and placed under oath, he lied again and again and again.

Now, in the end, I suspect this place is going to divide pretty much down the middle. I simply sound a warning note to raise your awareness to the fact that, ultimately, history and biographies and accounts yet to be revealed, facts yet to be uncovered, shoes yet to drop, will determine which of us voted right. But we have to decide on the evidence today, and the evidence to me is clear. Soldiers and sailors are discharged and punished for far less than what the President did. And judges are impeached by the House and removed by the Senate for far less than this. Indeed, we have to ask, is the President to be held to a lower standard than those he sends to war or those he appoints to dispense justice? I cannot and I never will agree to such a low standard for the Presidency of the United States.

Pollsters tell me how strongly Americans and Oregonians feel about this case and how conflicted their feelings. Large majorities have concluded that the President is guilty of the felonies charged. Yet, large majorities have also concluded that they do not want him to be removed from office. These numbers remind me that the demands of justice are sometimes hard. I hope, however, that we remember obedience to the law will protect our liberties as nothing else can.

You see, political prisoners around the world look to the United States for hope, not because we have a popular President, but because we have laws to protect us from a popular President. If the President of the United States is allowed to break our laws when they prove embarrassing to him or conflict with his political interests, then truly some public trust has been violated, a trust which, as Hamilton says, ‘relates chiefly to injuries done immediately to society itself.’

These felonies are impeachable offenses, and the Constitution makes our duty clear, even though it appears harsh and difficult. When the Chief Justice calls my name, ‘Senator, how say ye?’ I will say guilty twice, because I refuse to say that high political polls and soaring Wall Street indexes give license to those in high places to act in low and illegal ways. Perjury and obstruction of justice are high crimes, and they are utterly inconsistent with any Federal office–ours as well, but especially with the office of the President of the United States.

I harbor no illusions that two-thirds of the Senate will vote as I will. Therefore, I hope the President will spend the balance of his office repairing the damage done to his family, our democratic institutions, and our country. I will continue to support his proposals when I believe they are right, and I will oppose them when I believe them to be wrong.

Now, the other man in this Chamber that I deeply regard–and because I am so junior I do it from a distance–is Senator Robert Byrd. I have appreciated his public struggle with this issue because it has validated my own struggle. When he said this last week on ‘This Week with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts,’ he could have been speaking my words: ‘We have to live with the Constitution. We have to live with our consciences.’ And so do I.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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