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Clinton Impeachment: Statement By Senator Larry Craig

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 Larry Craig was a Republican senator from Idaho. He served from 1991 until 2009.

Statement by Senator Larry Craig (Republican – Idaho)

I promised to share with the people of Idaho and the nation what comments I made in the closed session of the Senate deliberating on the impeachment of President Clinton.

What I told my colleagues as we deliberated was this:

If we were in a church, the minister would admonish us from the pulpit to hate the sin and forgive the sinner. But we’re not in a church.

If we were in a court of law, the judge would tell us to hate the crime, and punish the criminal. But we’re not in a court of law.

We’re part of a constitutionally-directed impeachment tribunal, and our job is to love the Constitution and protect the office of the president. Our decision should not be about saving or rejecting William Jefferson Clinton, but about protecting the office of the president and keeping our Constitution strong.

I believe he committed the crimes and acts charged in the articles of impeachment, and I will vote to convict and remove him from office.

That was my statement to the Senators in closed deliberations, and I stand by it today.

But this statement was not the full explanation of my vote and my reasoning that I believe is owed to the people of Idaho and the nation. Therefore, let me take a few moments now to clarify why I voted to convict President Clinton on the articles of impeachment.

First, I believe the House made its case on the facts. I was persuaded by what I saw, read, and heard that the president deliberately lied under oath in the case brought by Paula Jones to enforce her civil rights. I was also persuaded that he encouraged others to lie under oath and committed other acts designed to obstruct justice. In reaching these conclusions, it was important to me that the Senate is not bound to a specific constitutional or statutory standard in judging the evidence; instead, each Senator is left to his or her own experience and conscience. That is both the political and judicial nature of the impeachment process prescribed by the Constitution.

However, reaching this conclusion about the facts does not trigger automatic conviction and removal of the president. A Senator must still resolve two questions: whether the acts committed were the kind of `high crimes and misdemeanors’ warranting removal from office, and whether the interests of the nation are served by removal. Impeachment by the House expresses that chamber’s opinion on those two questions, but it is up to the Senate to render final judgment.

And it is these two questions that have caused the most perplexity in this impeachment process–not to mention the most furious debate, hand wringing, and logical contortions.

For example, we have heard much during these proceedings about proportionality–in other words, about ensuring that the punishment or sanction fits the crime. Some of our colleagues have suggested that while the crimes of perjury and obstruction of justice may rise to the level of impeachable offenses, that conclusion is not inevitable on every set of facts. More to the point, they argue there is something in this particular case that diminishes the seriousness of the offense or renders it a private, as opposed to public, crime: perhaps the context of the misdeeds, or the subject matter of the perjury, or the motive behind the obstruction of justice.

Yet considerations such as these have not prevented the government from prosecuting citizens who committed such crimes. Furthermore, while we are not bound by statutory definitions of crimes here, these arguments frustrate the very goal our Founders had in mind when they established the extraordinary remedy of impeachment: to protect the executive office and the nation from a lawless president. The Framers of the Constitution believed that governments are established in the first place to protect the rights of the governed. It follows that the most serious breach of duty in public office–the most serious threat to the order of society itself–is for the enforcers of the law to break the law. How much more grave that breach becomes when it is committed by the one individual in the nation who personifies the federal government: the president. How much more abhorrent it is when, in covering up his crimes, that president exploited the very public trust he betrayed.

There is no question in my mind that perjury and obstruction of justice are the kind of public crimes that the Founders had in mind, and the House managers have demonstrated these crimes were committed by the president. As for the excuses being desperately sought by some to allow President Clinton to escape accountability, it seems to me that creating such loopholes would require tearing holes in the Constitution–something that cannot be justified to protect this president, or any president.

This brings me to the final question: whether the public interest will be served by the president’s removal from office. Let me say there are those in my State who have been seeking this result ever since the president was elected, because they simply don’t agree with him. I, too, generally disagree–sometimes loudly–with President Clinton’s approach to public policy.

However, political and policy differences are emphatically not the focus of this question. Instead, the Founders intended us to focus on the safety of the nation. That is a very high threshold, appropriate to the serious impact of the vote we must case. In this case, many are arguing that our nation is not at risk; we’re prosperous; the government is not collapsing; there is no immediate or external threat to the country.

But I would submit that if a generation of young people are taught by our actions in this case that a lie carries no consequences, then the nation is at risk. If our citizens conclude that lawlessness in the highest office is acceptable, that their elected representatives are complicit in that corruption, and that nothing can be done to stop it, then the nation is at risk. If future presidents think they can go further in lying or obstruction of justice when they apply the `Clinton Indicator,’ then the nation is at risk. If the Executive Office of the President is occupied by an individual who is generally believed to have lied and betrayed the public trust–if the symbol, the icon of the presidency is compromised, the nation is at risk.

Some have suggested that removing this president from office would put the nation at risk. That is false argument and something no one should fear. Instead, we should place our faith in the Constitution and the wisdom of its Framers, who provided a roadmap for a peaceful, swift, and orderly transition of power to the vice president. That transition poses no threat to the nation.

On the other hand, I believe exonerating President Clinton with a vote for acquittal does create a threat to our nation. In short, I am convinced that the nation is at risk today–not because of the possibility of the president’s removal through the impeachment process, but because of the damage he has caused to the Executive office of the President, and the damage that continues to be done by his remaining in office.

For all these reasons, I believe my vote to convict and remove this president from office is an appropriate response, a necessary response, a constitutionally-compelled response.

I said at the beginning of this process that it would be my goal to ensure that we proceeded in a fair and constitutional manner. I believe we have done so–and managed along the way to generally rise above partisanship and the politics of the day. While I fundamentally disagree with many of my colleagues in the final result, I salute them for their sincerity and the seriousness of their purpose. No matter what the result, the Senate discharged its constitutional duty well.

However, reluctant as I am to say it, I do not believe this sorry chapter in our history is closed. On the first day of this trial, as I watched the Chief Justice take the chair, I was angry–profoundly angry that this president had brought this nation to this point because of his own self-gratification, setting what was good for himself above what was good for the nation. It is unconscionable what the president has put the country through, continues to put the country through, and will continue to put the country through for his own personal and political ends. My differences with the president on this point transcend party or policy; I am saddened that this sorry chapter will continue, that the book will be open and the pages of this chapter will be turning as long as this president remains on office. Our young people, our citizens, our Constitution deserve a better end to a better story.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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