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Clinton Impeachment: Statement By Senator Harry Reid

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 Harry Reid is a Democratic senator from Nevada. He assumed office in 1987. He has variously served as Senate Majority Leader and Senate Minority Leader.

Statement by Senator Harry Reid (Democrat – Nevada)

Mr. Chief Justice, I extend to you my personal appreciation for the dignity that you have extended to each of us during these proceedings. I also say that I have been disappointed. It appears the vote is going to be very comparable to the vote in the House, down partisan lines, even though during the break I understand two of my colleagues from the other side of the aisle announced that they would not vote for conviction on the articles of impeachment.

But in spite of this, I want to extend my appreciation to the Republican leaders. Senator Nickles has been available any time that there is a problem that has arisen during this proceeding. And you, Senator Lott, have 10 more votes than we have and you on many occasions during this proceeding could have steamrolled us. You chose not to do that. I think that is the reason we have had this feeling of harmony, even though we have had some disagreement on what is going to transpire. So I, again, on behalf of all Democratic Senators, express our appreciation to you for the work you have done.

Often as I stand before this body, I am reminded of the lessons of great books. Today, though, the beginning of a novel keeps running through my mind–Charles Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

I have often felt, these last weeks, as if I were trapped in a work of fiction. Like all really interesting fiction, the story now before us reduces itself to an examination of the human soul–or, to be more accurate, to an examination of human souls. I use the plural because this trial has been about the flaws of two people, each with the gifts to make them great, and of the contrast between them–one who has failed to rise above his flaws and the other who has embraced them. Much of what we call great literature is about the petty failings which destroy great men. It is about how common sins, of which we are all to some degree guilty, bring low the mighty and turn to ashes the fruits of victory in the mouths of monarchs.

We have heard much in this historic Senate Chamber about the judgment of history, but I daresay that, even more than by historians, the truest judgment of these events will be written as novels and plays. On the one level, these works will deal with some or all of the seven deadly sins: Pride, anger, greed, gluttony, sloth, envy, and, yes, especially lust.

But on another level, those plays and novels will deal with the theme of all literature. They will be written about conflicts between great men, great men who are flawed; great men, each with their own public and private failings. We are here to sit in judgment of the President of the United States, a very public man, for his very private failings. Bill Clinton fell from grace. Driven by the private sin of lust, he violated his marriage vows and when his sins were uncovered by his enemies, he tried to conceal them by lying to his wife, his friends, and ultimately to all of us. It is a common story, the sin of lying. It begins in the Old Testament with many examples–Cain, of course, is a good example, who asked, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’–and with the lie, the kiss of Jesus by Judas Iscariot in the New Testament.

It may be the beginning of a great work of art, it may be the first chapter in a summer day’s light reading, but it is not a good reason, it is not the beginning of a good reason, for removing an elected President of the United States.

The core issue is one which has apparently eluded many in this Capitol, but which is obvious to the American people. Great dreams are dreamed by people with human flaws. Great policies and actions are sometimes set in motion by those with broken souls. Great deeds are not always done by good men. Recent history gives us many examples. Winston Churchill, one of my heroes, a man who initially stood alone in leading the defense of Western civilization, was by most standards an alcoholic–at least modern standards. Franklin Roosevelt, Churchill’s stalwart comrade and the author of policies which saved the very lives of families of many in this Chamber today, died in the arms of his lover. Each of us, each one of us in this Chamber, every human being, is flawed. Each of us needs all the forgiveness and forbearing we can be granted by the charity of others.

Bill Clinton has been a friend of the State of Nevada. He has been a friend to me. But he has committed grievous wrongs against his family and his friends. He has dishonored his high office and lowered the standard of public behavior. I have no doubt that he has strayed from the path of goodness. But I do have very real doubts as to whether he perjured himself or suborned perjury. But I have no doubt whatsoever that, under the circumstances of this case, the crimes alleged do not rise to the level of an impeachable offense. Because of what the President did in public and in violation of the public trust, if I have the opportunity I will vote to censure. I will not vote to impeach.

I said a few moments ago that great men are not always good men. But there is an obvious corollary: Good men are not always capable of doing great deeds and they are not even always capable of doing good. I began today by saying this trial was about the flaws of two people. Both are men with God-given gifts. Both are extraordinary in their intellect, perseverance, and dedication to certain core values. Both are capable of great goodness and even good greatness. Both have sinned. One is the President of the United States. His sins are of the flesh and of the spirit. About these I have already spoken. The other is the special prosecutor, Ken Starr, who has pursued the President beyond all bounds of reason and decency. His are the sins of unremitting, undiluted, unrepentant McCarthyism. They are the sins of pride, the sins of anger–they are damning sins indeed.

I don’t use lightly McCarthy’s name or accuse others of his tactics. I am old enough to remember how he misused and abused this sacred Chamber. My friend and my client, the late newspaper publisher, Hank Greenspun, was a victim of his lies, a victim who had the courage to stand up and fight back. Others fought, but many also suffered irreparable harm because of Senator McCarthy.

I know McCarthy’s tactics were the back room stab, the whispered smear, the half-truth, the leaked calumny. I know that he subpoenaed witnesses and forced them to choose between betraying their friends or committing perjury. I know he destroyed the careers of innocent men and women, drove some to suicide and sent others to jail. But at least McCarthy had an excuse, of sorts. For all his lies, leaks and libels, there really was a Communist threat. There really were Communist spies. Some of the people he accused really did commit treason. They were guilty of treason. At least, Mr. Chief Justice, McCarthy and his cohorts had that excuse. Kenneth Starr doesn’t have an excuse.

Before I came to the national legislature 17 years ago, I was a trial lawyer. At various times, I prosecuted and defended people charged with crimes. Long before that, I served as a police officer. I never argued a case in the U.S. Supreme Court, but I tried more than 100 jury trials, hundreds of other cases before various courts, and argued before different appellate courts. I tried criminal cases, lots of them, and I know something about when a case should be pursued and when it should be dismissed. I know something about the impact that a criminal charge has on any man or woman, about how they agonize over telling their children, how they struggle to face the community. I know something about prosecutorial misconduct, and I know something about prosecutorial discretion.

Every American is entitled to equal justice, no matter their rank in society; equal justice but not equally unfair justice.

The independent counsel’s argument throughout his tenure seems to be that any U.S. attorney, any criminal prosecutor would treat any defendant in the same unredeemedly savage and unfair fashion in which Mr. Starr and his office have treated the witnesses, the defendants in peripheral cases and the President of the United States. Almost $60 million has been spent–Whitewater, Filegate, Travelgate and now this. I think not.

No prosecutor of integrity, of principle, of fairness would have tried to bootstrap a sexual affair into something criminal. A truly independent prosecutor would not make deals time after time with organizations established to embarrass the President, cavort with attorneys for Paula Jones, do business with Linda Tripp and others to entrap the President. A fairminded prosecutor would not have leaked salacious details to the press in an effort to force the target to resign from office. And, most fervently, a principled prosecutor would have the common sense and the common decency not to misuse their office to go all out, no holds barred, to `get’ that targeted individual out of pride, anger and envy.

I invite each of you to look at Justice Scalia’s brilliant dissent in the Morrison versus Olson case where he talks about the constitutionality of the independent prosecutor. He predicted what we are now witnessing. Justice Scalia was visionary. Here is one of the things he said:

“The context of this statute is acrid with the smell of threatened impeachment.”

He was right. What else did he say? His opinion was 8 or 9 years ago. He said then:

“. . . Congress appropriates approximately $50 million annually for general legal activities, salaries, and expenses of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice.”

Fifty million dollars the whole year covers everything for the whole civil division of the Department of Justice. We are spending more than that to go after one man. Scalia could see that coming.

He also said, and my friend, the Senator from Vermont, earlier today talked about what Justice Jackson had said, but he also quoted Scalia. Scalia said:

If the prosecutor is obliged to choose his case, it follows that he can choose his defendants. Therein is the most dangerous power of the prosecutor: that he will pick people that he thinks he should get, rather than cases that need to be prosecuted. . .. it is not a question of discovering the commission of a crime and then looking for the man who has committed it, it is a question of picking the man and then searching the law books, or putting investigators to work, to pin some offense on him.

Justice Scalia could see this coming, and we got just what he said we would get.

This is a bad situation. When you have someone of the brilliance of Ken Starr and the viciousness of Ken Starr, you get what we have here today.

I want to use this occasion to say something to the American people, to the people of the State of Nevada, to leave them with the hope that those in high office have not been bereft of all reason, sense and sensibility. What the President did was wrong. It was immoral. I don’t believe it constitutes a crime justifying his removal from office. What Mr. Starr did, and continues to do, is also wrong, and it is also immoral.

But their conduct is not the standard to which we must hold ourselves. We, all of us in Government, can do better. We must do better. The American people have the right to expect that or it doesn’t matter how great we are, how great our ideas or how powerful our values. Set the standard high and judge by that standard. That is how the system is supposed to work, and in the long run it is how our constitutional form of government, with a legacy of more than 200 years, has worked and, with the help of a power greater than any of us, will continue to work.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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