Clinton Impeachment: Statement By Senator Jesse Helms

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 Jesse Helms was a Republican senator from North Carolina. He served from 1973 until 2003. He died in 2008.

Statement by Senator Jesse Helms (Republican – North Carolina)

Mr. Chief Justice, 26 years ago this past November, I was first elected to serve as a United States Senator from North Carolina. I had not believed it possible that I would be the first Republican directly elected to the U.S. Senate by the people of North Carolina.

I have often told many of the thousands of young people with whom I have visited during the past 26 years that one of three commitments I made to myself on that election night in November 1972 was that I would never fail to see a young person, or a group of young people, who want to see me.

That was one of the most meaningful decisions I ever made. I am told that I have met with something in the neighborhood of almost 70,000 young people according to our records for the past 26 years.

These are wonderful young Americans and I am persuaded that they are by all odds the most valuable treasure held by our country.

For the better part of the past year, these young people have almost without fail asked me about what they described as `the problems’ of President Clinton. The vast majority of the time, the young people have talked about the moral and spiritual principles so deeply etched in the hearts of those patriots whom we today call our Founding Fathers–or the Framers of our Constitution–or both–when America was created.

So, in the first few weeks of this New Year 1999, I have begun my remarks to the young visitors with the recitation of two statements that I sincerely believe have much to do with whether (and how) this blessed nation can and will survive.

The first statement: `A President cannot faithfully execute the laws if he himself is breaking them.’

The second statement: `The foundations of this country were not laid by politicians running for something–but by statesmen standing for something.’

The first statement was voiced by a former distinguished Democratic U.S. Attorney General of the United States, The Honorable Griffin Bell.

The second was sent to me at Christmas time by a friend whose name and voice I suspect is familiar to most if not all Senators, my dear friend, George Beverly Shea, who for so many years has thrilled and inspired millions as he stood beside Billy Graham and, singing with that remarkably deep voice `* * * How great Thou art.

Our trouble today is that the American people every day, must choose between what is popular and what is right. There is a constant deluge of public opinion polls telling us which way to go, almost without fail showing the popular way.

But I must put it to you that we will, at our own peril, look to opinion polls to decide how we vote, when the real need is to look to our hearts, to our consciences and to our soul. So many decisions are made in the Senate–be it on the fate of treaties, or legislation, or even presidents–decisions having implications, not merely for today, but for generations to come, reminding that if we don’t stand for something, the very foundations of our Republic will crumble.

Perjury and obstruction of justice are serious charges, as nobody knows better than you, Mr. Chief Justice, charges that have been proved during the course of this trial. Therefore, the outcome of this trial may determine whether America is becoming a fundamentally unprincipled nation, bereft of the mandates by the Creator who blessed America 210 years ago with more abundance, more freedom than any other nation in history has ever known.

There is certainly evidence fearfully suggesting that the Senate may this week fail to convict the President of charges of which he is obviously guilty. What else can be made of the behavior of many in the news media whose eyes are constantly on ratings instead of the survival of America?

This trial has been dramatized as if it were a Hollywood movie trivializing what should be respected as our solemn duty.

The new media technology is creating an explosion of media outlets and 24-hour news channels–and a brand new set of challenges.

A friend back home called me after an impressive presentation by one of the House managers and said, `You know, Jesse, I found Asa Hutchinson persuasive. But I had to tune into CNN to see whether it was effective–because I knew without the media’s immediate stamp of approval, it wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference.’

He had a valid point. Mr. Chief Justice, the awesome power of the media with its instant analysis is frightening. A political event occurs. The TV commentators immediately offer their lofty opinions; overnight surveys are taken and many politicians are all too often cowed into submission by poll results.

In these proceedings, the House Managers of course provided a forest of evidence clearly indicating that the President of the United States perjured himself before a federal grand jury and obstructed justice. The imaginative White House attorneys of course chopped down a few trees here and there–and then proclaimed that the whole forest had burned down. The press gallery bought that whole concept.

Some years ago, there was a western movie starring Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne called `The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.’ Jimmy Stewart portrayed a tender-footed young lawyer who ran afoul of the local outlaw, Liberty Valance.

Through a twist of fate, the character played by Jimmy Stewart received credit for ridding the county of the outlaw, even though it was John Wayne’s gun that brought Liberty Valance down. Yet it was Stewart who rode public acclaim into a political career in the United States Senate, while Wayne’s character faded into obscurity.

Late in life, Stewart’s character, still a Senator, returned from Washington to attend John Wayne’s funeral. Stewart felt guilty, of course, that the truth of Wayne’s heroism remained untold. He related the entire story to the local newspaper, only to find the editor totally disinterested.

`When the legend becomes fact,’ the editor said, `print the legend.’

With its vote on Articles of Impeachment, the United States Senate is preparing to add to the legend of this whole sordid episode, Mr. Chief Justice. We have the facts before us and we should heed those facts because truth must become the legend.

We must not permit a lie to become the truth.

A couple of weeks ago, a Falls Church Episcopal minister, the Reverend John Yates delivered a remarkable sermon to his parishioners. The Reverend Dr. Yates had this to say about lying–and liars:

“. . .if a person will lie, and develops a pattern of lying as a way of life, that person will do anything. Someone who becomes good at lying loses his fear of being discovered and will move on to any number of evil actions. He becomes arrogant and self-assured. He comes to believe he is above the law. You should fear people like this. If such a person is caught red-handed in a lie and confronted with the evidence, that sort of man or woman will be forced to admit it, but he won’t like it. It will make him angry and vengeful. He will do all he can to move and leave it behind. It’s what the Bible calls evidence of a seared conscience, not a sensitive conscience, but a seared conscience.”

If we allow the lies of the President of the United States of America to stand, Mr. Chief Justice, then I genuinely fear for America’s survival.

Shortly before his death, Senator Hubert Humphrey visited this chamber for the last time. He knew it was the last time; we knew it was the last time. Hubert’s frail body was wracked with cancer, his steps were halting, his voice feeble. But as he walked down the aisle, Hubert saw me standing at my desk over there. He walked over to me, arms outstretched. Tears welled up in my eyes as Hubert hugged me softly saying, `I love you’.

I loved Hubert Humphrey too, Mr. Chief Justice, and I told him so.

Hubert and I disagreed on almost all policy matters, large and small. Often Hubert got the better of me in debates, a few times I did it to him. But I loved Hubert Humphrey because we agreed on so much more–duty, honor, patriotism, faith and justice, the very essence of America.

But we are obliged to ponder: What is the essence of America now? Public life once was about honest debate on the merits, but it is now often a debate on the merits of honesty. And it was the President of the United States who brought us where we are today.

In November of 1955, a young editor named William F. Buckley undertook an ambitious mission, now completed. Bill had decided to start a conservative journal of ideas that would fuel an entire political movement.

In his `Publisher’s statement’, printed in the very first edition of National Review, he declared that his magazine `stands athwart history yelling `Stop!’

Mr. Chief Justice, I plead with Senators to look around and see what Bill Clinton’s scandal has wrought. National debate is now a national joke. Children tell their parents and teachers that it’s okay to lie, because the President does it. Our citizens tune out in droves, preferring the daily distractions of everyday life to an honest appraisal of the depths to which the Presidency of the United States has sunk.

If this is progress and if this is the path history is taking, the Senate does have an acceptable alternative:

We simply must summon our courage and yell, ‘Stop tampering with the soul of America’.

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