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 Mitch McConnell is a Republican senator from Kentucky. He assumed office in 1985. He became Senate Minority Leader in 2007 and Majority Leader in 2015.
Statement by Senator Mitch McConnell (Republican – Kentucky)
Mr. Chief Justice, as the senior Senator from Kentucky, it is my distinct privilege today to rise and speak at the desk formerly occupied by one of the greatest Senators in the history of our country and the greatest Senator from the commonwealth of Kentucky: Henry Clay.
Henry Clay is best remembered for two things: (1) the Compromise of 1850, and (2) a famous statement he made after being told that advocating the Compromise of 1850 would doom his chances for the presidency. At that critical moment Clay replied: ‘I had rather be right than be President.’
In many respects, William Jefferson Clinton had a similar choice over the past several months. He could do the right thing. Or he could cling to his Presidency–regardless of the costs and regardless of the consequences. Consequences to his family, to his friends, to his aides, to his Cabinet, and, most importantly, to his country.
Time after time, the President came to a fork in the road. Time after time, he had the opportunity to choose the noble and honorable path. Time after time, he chose the path of lies and lawlessness–for the simple reason that he did not want to endanger his hold on public office.
Nowhere is the President’s cold, calculated choice more clear than in the private conversation he had with his confidant and long-time advisor, Dick Morris, just after he raised his right hand to God and testified under oath in a civil rights lawsuit that he had not had any sexual relations with a young intern named Monica Lewinsky.
After that critical denial, the President did what he does best: he put his finger to the wind to determine which path he should take. He asked Mr. Morris to conduct a poll to determine whether the American people would forgive him for adultery, for perjury, and for obstruction of justice. Morris came back with bad news.
The public, in Morris’s words was `just not ready for it.’ They would forgive him for adultery, but not for perjury and obstruction of justice.
The President then faced a fundamental choice. He could tell the truth–and admit that he perjured himself in the Jones suit. Or he could cling to public office–and deny, delay and obstruct.
The choice for President Clinton was clear. He told Morris: `Well, we just have to win.’
And, thus the course was charted. The President would seek to win at any cost. If it
meant lying to the American people. If it meant lying to his Cabinet. If it meant lying to a federal grand jury. If it meant tampering with witnesses and obstructing justice. If it meant falsely branding a young woman with the scarlet labels of liar and `stalker.’ The name of the game was winning. Winning at any cost.
Based on the evidence before the Senate, I want to walk you down the road that Bill Clinton has traveled these past several months. That twisted, tortured road that he has forced the American people and their government to plod along–for what seems to many of us like an eternity.
CROSSROADS #1: AN ILLICIT RELATIONSHIP WITH A YOUNG INTERN
The first fork in the President’s road came on November 15, 1995, when he met a young, White House intern named Monica Lewinsky. He could be her President. He could be her boss. He could even be her friend. Or, he could choose to be in a relationship with her that was clearly inappropriate.
The President chose the wrong path. As we heard Ms. Lewinsky testify, on the day of their first meeting, which also happened to be the day of their first sexual encounter, President Clinton looked at Ms. Lewinsky’s intern pass, tugged on it and said, `This is going to be a problem.’
But the President persisted down that problematic path. He had approximately 10 more sexual encounters with Ms. Lewinsky over the next 21 months.
It is important, however, to note that had the President stopped there, we would not be here. At that point, the President’s defenders could have credibly argued, `it’s a private matter; it’s just about sex.’
But, Bill Clinton didn’t stop there.
CROSSROADS #2: A JOB AND AN AFFIDAVIT AND GIFTS
In December of 1997, the President came to another fork. At that time, he learned the following critical facts:
1. Ms. Lewinsky had been placed on the witness list in the Jones case;
2. Judge Susan Webber Wright had ordered the President to provide information concerning any government employee with whom he had engaged in sexual activity; and
3. Ms. Lewinsky had been served with a subpoena and ordered to produce any gifts she had received from the President.
At this point, the President had a choice. He could tell Ms. Lewinsky to obey the law, tell the truth, and turn over the gifts. Or, he could not.
Again, President Clinton chose the path of lies and deceit. Let’s again, hear this account from Ms. Lewinsky:
`[I]t wasn’t as if the President called me and said, `You know, Monica, you’re on the witness list, this is going to be really hard for us, we’re going to have to tell the truth . . . And by him not calling me and saying that, you know, I knew what that meant. . . .
[A]s we had on every other occasion and every other instance of this relationship, we would deny it.’
The evidence indicates that the President was not interested in the truth, but rather, was only interested in getting Ms. Lewinsky to sign a false affidavit and getting her a job in New York where, from the President’s way of thinking, she was less apt to be contacted by the Jones lawyers.
I must say that I am baffled at how the President of the United States–the leader of the free world–was intimately involved in both of these efforts. The evidence indisputably establishes that the President worked with his close friend Vernon Jordan to secure: (1) a job offer for Ms. Lewinsky in New York, and (2) a lawyer for Ms. Lewinsky to prepare and file her false affidavit. As Mr. Jordan’s testimony made clear, his efforts on behalf of Ms. Lewinsky were at the behest of the President.
The evidence also indicates that during this same time period the President participated in a scheme to conceal gifts in the Jones civil rights suit. Ms. Lewinsky’s testimony is clear that she met with the President on December 28 and suggested to him that she could `put away or maybe give to Betty or give to someone the gifts[.]’ Ms. Lewinsky further testified that later that same day the President’s loyal secretary, Betty Currie, initiated a call to her to pick up the gifts. I find Ms. Lewinsky’s testimony to be credible. Moreover, it is corroborated by Ms. Currie’s cell phone record.
And, of course, the President didn’t stop there.
CROSSROADS #3: FALSE STATEMENTS IN A CIVIL RIGHTS LAWSUIT
The President came to another fork in the road where he had to decide whether to testify truthfully under oath regarding his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky. And, again, the President chose the path of lies and deceit.
He walked into the deposition room, raised his right hand, swore to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and then proceeded to give false statements. In a civil case about alleged sexual misconduct with a subordinate government employee, the President testified under oath that he never had a `sexual relationship’, a `sexual affair’ or `sexual relations’ with a subordinate government employee named Monica Lewinsky.
But, again, as egregious as those actions were, had the President stopped there, we still might not be here.
CROSSROADS #4: TAMPERING WITH A LOYAL SECRETARY
The stakes for President Clinton continued to go higher and higher. Following his deposition, the President had to decide what to do with his loyal secretary, Ms. Betty Currie. And, again, the undisputed evidence shows that the President took the path of lies and deceit.
Contrary to federal obstruction of justice laws and contrary to Judge Wright’s Protective Order instructing President Clinton `not to say anything whatsoever about the questions . . . asked, the substance of the deposition, . . ., [or] any details . . . ,’ President Clinton left the deposition, went back to the White House, and called Ms. Currie at home to ask her to come to the White House the next day–which, I might add, was a Sunday.
At that somewhat surreal Sunday afternoon meeting, the President–in violation of Judge Wright’s Protective Order–told Ms. Currie that he had been asked several questions about Monica Lewinsky at his deposition. Then the President–in violation of the federal obstruction of justice law–fired off a string of fundamentally declarative statements to his secretary.
`You were always there when she was there, right? We were never really alone.
You could see and hear everything.
Monica came on to me, and I never touched her, right?
She wanted to have sex with me and I couldn’t do that.’
And, of course, the President didn’t stop there. According to Ms. Currie, the President again called her into the Oval Office a few days later, and again, repeated the same false statements to her that he had made under oath in his civil deposition.
CROSSROADS #5: FALSE STATEMENTS TO SENIOR OFFICIALS AND TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE
The winding road continued its perilous twists and turns. The President next came to a point where he had to decide whether to tell the truth to his Cabinet, his top aides, and, most importantly, to the American people.
Again, the President rejected the right path, telling his Cabinet and staff that the allegations were untrue. He claimed to his then-Deputy Chief of Staff, John Podesta, for example, that he `never had sex with [Ms. Lewinsky] in any way whatsoever.’ Specifically, he told Podesta that `they had not had oral sex.’ And, the President admits in his grand jury testimony that he knew that his aides could be called to testify before the grand jury. Ultimately, his top aides were called to testify, and they repeated his lies.
And, as everyone in America knows, the President lied to the nation. I do not need to recite the defiant, indignant, finger-wagging denial that the President gave to 270 million Americans who had placed their trust in him as the chief law enforcement officer of this land.
But, it didn’t have to go any further. I think that there’s still a chance that had the President stopped there at that awful, disgraceful moment, we would not be here, today.
CROSSROADS #6: FALSE STATEMENTS TO THE GRAND JURY
On August 17, 1998, the President came to the most important crossroads. He stood before a federal criminal grand jury–a federal criminal grand jury that was trying to determine whether he had committed perjury and obstructed justice. He had one last chance to do the right thing. He could tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth to the grand jury. Or, he could commit perjury.
Again, President Clinton chose the wrong path. During that criminal probe, the President admitted to an `inappropriate’ relationship with Ms. Lewinsky, but continued to falsely deny ever having sexual relations with her, in the face of corroborating evidence that included an undisputed DNA test and the testimony of Ms. Lewinsky and two of her therapists.
The President’s strained, persistent, and–in the words of his own lawyer–`maddening’ denials of the obvious were blatantly and patently false.
The President also declared under oath to the grand jury that his post-deposition coaching of Betty Currie about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky was a mere attempt to refresh his `memory about what the facts were.’ This statement is also blatantly and patently false.
In fact, there is no reasonable interpretation that would make the President’s statements about coaching Ms. Currie to be true. Ms. Currie was not always there. She could not always see and hear everything. She could not know whether the President ever touched Ms. Lewinsky. And, she did not know whether Ms. Lewinsky ever had sex with the President. It is difficult to comprehend how the President could be refreshing his own memory through the act of making false statements to a potential witness.
Moreover, it is my opinion that these false statements by the President under oath were clearly material. A false and misleading denial of a sexual relationship with a subordinate government employee and a false and misleading denial of tampering with a potential witness goes to the very heart of whether the President obstructed justice or committed perjury.
Based on the evidence in the record, I am firmly convinced that the President has committed both perjury and obstruction of justice. He lied to the grand jury about the nature of his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky. He lied to the grand jury about coaching his loyal secretary, Betty Currie. He obstructed justice by encouraging Ms. Lewinsky to give false testimony, by participating in a scheme to conceal gifts that were subpoenaed, by tampering with his secretary on two occasions, and by lying to top aides that he knew could be called to testify before the grand jury.
HIGH CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS
The Senate’s inquiry, however, does not end there. We must decide whether perjury and obstruction of justice are high crimes and misdemeanors. Based on the Constitution, the law, and the clear Senate precedent, I conclude that these offenses are high crimes and misdemeanors.
First, Senate precedent establishes that false statements under oath by a public official are high crimes and misdemeanors. In 1986, I sat on the impeachment committee that heard the evidence against Judge Harry Claiborne. After hearing the evidence, I, along with an overwhelming number of my colleagues, concluded that Judge Claiborne had made false statements under the pains and penalties of perjury by failing to disclose certain amounts of income on his tax forms. The Senate–understanding the gravity of a public official making false statements under oath–voted to remove Judge Claiborne from office.
In 1989, the Senate held impeachment trials against Judge Hastings and Judge Nixon–both of whom had been accused of making false statements under oath. In Judge Nixon’s case, the false statements were made directly to a criminal grand jury. The Senate–again understanding the gravity of a public official, who has sworn to uphold the laws, violating those very laws by lying under oath–voted to remove Judge Hastings and Judge Nixon from office.
My colleagues on both sides of the aisle had no hesitation about removing these federal officials for making false statements under oath. As Senator Herb Kohl explained:
`One might argue, as Judge Nixon does, that his false statements were not material. . . . But Judge Nixon took an oath to tell the truth and the whole truth. As a grand jury witness, it was not for him to decide what would be material. That was for the grand jury to decide. . . .
So I am going to vote `guilty’ on articles I and II. Judge Nixon lied to the grand jury. He misled the grand jury. These acts are criminal and warrant impeachment.’
I think Senator Kohl’s statements accurately reflect the sentiment of the 89 Senators who voted to convict Judge Nixon for lying to a federal grand jury. And, I might add, one of those senators voting to remove Judge Nixon for perjury was then-Senator, now-Vice President Al Gore.
Of those 89 Senators, 48 of us are still here in this distinguished body. Will we send the same message about the corrosive impact of perjury on our legal system or will we simply lower our standards for the nation’s chief law enforcement officer?
Constitution and Federal Law
Second, Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution plainly sets forth that bribery is a high crime and misdemeanor, and our federal laws tell us clearly that perjury and obstruction of justice are equivalent offenses to bribery. In fact, the federal sentencing guidelines actually
mandate a harsher punishment for perjury than for bribery and a harsher punishment for obstruction of justice than for bribery. So, I am completely and utterly perplexed by those who argue that perjury and obstruction of justice are not high crimes and misdemeanors.
If federal law mandates a harsher penalty for perjury and obstruction of justice, how can this Senate–who drafted, debated, and passed those federal laws–now argue that perjury and obstruction of justice are lesser offenses than bribery?
Listen to the Supreme Court’s declaration: `[f]alse testimony in a formal proceeding is intolerable.’ ABF Freight System v. NLRB, 510 U.S. 317, 323 (1994). Moreover, the high Court has labeled perjury as an `egregious offense,’ United States v. Mandujano, 425 U.S. 564, 576 (1976), calling it `an obvious and flagrant affront to the basic concepts of judicial proceedings.’ Id.
Even the President’s own Justice Department understands that our nation of laws cannot tolerate perjury and obstruction of justice. President Clinton and his Justice Department have prosecuted approximately 600 cases of perjury since he came to office. And today–as we debate whether perjury is a serious offense–over 100 people are locked behind bars in federal prison for committing the criminal act of perjury.
Perjury and obstruction hammer away at the twin pillars of our legal system: truth and justice. Every witness in every deposition is required to raise his or her right hand and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help them God. Every witness in every grand jury proceeding and in every trial is required to raise his or her right hand and swear to tell the truth. Every official declaration filed with the court is stamped with the express affirmation that the declaration is true. In the words of our nation’s first Supreme Court Chief Justice, John Jay: `if oaths should cease to be held sacred, our dearest and most valuable rights would become insecure.’
The facts clearly show that the President did not value the sacred oath. He was interested in saving his hide, not truth and justice. I submit to my colleagues that if we have no truth and we have no justice, then we have no nation of laws. No public official, no president, no man or no woman is important enough to sacrifice the founding principles of our legal system.
On this point, I am proud to quote Justice Louis Brandeis–a native of my hometown of Louisville and the man for whom the University of Louisville Law school is named:
`In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the laws scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker; it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.’
William Jefferson Clinton is not and should not be a law unto himself.
CROSSROADS FOR THE UNITED STATES SENATE
President Clinton’s decisions have led the United States Senate to its own critical crossroads. And, now we must choose our path.
We can do the right thing. Or we can lower our standards and allow Bill Clinton to cling to public office–regardless of the consequences to our nation, to our system of justice, and to our future generations.
More than 150 years ago, Alexis de Tocqueville wisely observed that `man rarely retains his customary level in very critical circumstances; he rises above or sinks below his usual condition, and the same thing is true of nations.’
So what will we do this day? Will we rise above or will we sink below? Will we condone this President’s conduct or will we condemn it? Will we change our standards or will we change our President?
AN EARLIER CROSSROADS FOR THE SENATE
As most of you will recall, the Senate faced a similar choice just a few short years ago. It was one of our own who had clearly crossed the line. It was one of our own who had engaged in sexual misconduct and obstruction of justice.
He, like President Clinton, was an intelligent and accomplished man. Senator Carol Moseley-Braun called him `brilliant’ and said he was a man who `ha[d] certainly been fair.’ But, that brilliant and fair man had crossed the line.
At that critical moment in Senate history, we could have taken the wrong path and called it a private matter, saying `it’s just about sex.’ But, my friend, Senator Dianne Feinstein was right when she said: `This is not private, personal conduct. This is conduct that took place in public service, and many of the people involved are themselves Federal employees.’
At that moment, the Senate could have said, `He lied about his conduct to everybody, so lying in an official proceeding is ok.’ Or, we could have said, `He was covering it up before the investigation, so it’s irrelevant and immaterial that he’s covering it up during the investigation.’
The Senate could have said, `We can’t overturn a federal election. After all, he’ll be out of office in a few years.’ Or: `He may be prosecuted in the courts, so there’s no reason for us to act.’
And, finally, the United States Senate could have defended its own member by arguing that, `A United States Senator should be held to a lower standard than others, not a higher standard. After all, there are only 100 U.S. Senators in the country. Any one of them is just too precious to lose.’
But, we didn’t say any of those things. Those doubletalking defenses were reserved exclusively for President Clinton.
During the Packwood debate, we made the tough choice. And, I have to say, that decision was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do in my career in public service. To recommend expelling from the United States Senate a colleague, a member of my own party, and most importantly, a friend with whom I had served in the Senate for over a decade.
We sent a clear message to the nation that no man is above the law. That no man is so important to the well-being of our strong and prosperous nation that we have to compromise the fundamental, founding principles of truth and justice. We chose to rise above, not sink below. Rather than change our standards, we changed our Senator.
Let me also make a political point, here. We Republicans were aware during the Packwood debate that we would likely lose that Senate seat if Senator Packwood was removed from office. So, we had a choice: Retain the Senate seat or retain our honor. We chose honor, and never looked back.
I think that the United States Senate has a clear choice today. Do we want to retain President Clinton in office, or do we want to retain our honor, our principle, and our moral authority?
For me, and for many members in my impeachment-fatigued party, I choose honor.
I want to close my remarks today with an insightful and fascinating statement from Richard Nixon. A few years after his tragic downfall, President Nixon explained:
It’s a piece of cake until you get to the top. You find you can’t stop playing the game the way you’ve always played it. So you are lean and mean and resourceful, and you continue to walk on the edge of the precipice, because over the years, you have become fascinated by how closely you can walk without losing your balance.
Ladies and gentleman of this fine and distinguished body, I submit to you that William Jefferson Clinton has lost his balance. He has lost his sense of right and wrong. Of truth and justice. And, by doing so, he has–to paraphrase Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 65–abused and violated the trust of the American people.
Again, let me quote my esteemed colleague, Senator Dianne Feinstein, who said just a few months ago: `my trust in his credibility has been badly shattered.’
Senator Feinstein is not an island on this issue of shattered trust. There are many others who have expressed similar sentiments. A recent poll confirms what we all know, that is, the American people do not trust their Commander-in-Chief. A majority of Americans believe that
President Clinton has lied to the country and that he will lie to the country again.
The New York Times, which I rarely ever quote, had this to say about the President’s violation of the public trust:
`The American President is a person who sometimes must ask people in the ranks to die for the country. The President is a person who asks people close around him to serve the government for less money than their talents would bring elsewhere. The President sometimes requires that people out in the country sacrifice their dollars or their convenience for national goals. All he is asked to provide in return is trustworthiness, loyalty and judgment. . . . President Clinton has failed that simple test abjectly, not merely with undignified private behavior in a revered place, but with his cavalier response to public concern.’
In 1829, at his home in Lexington, Kentucky, Henry Clay opined that `[g]overnment is a trust, and the officers of the government are trustees[.]’ I believe that fundamental principle to be true, and I believe that William Jefferson Clinton has abused and violated that public trust.
His cold, calculated actions betrayed the trust vested in him by the American people and the high office of the presidency. The President of the United States looked 270 million Americans in the eye, and lied–deliberately and methodically. He took an oath to faithfully execute the laws of this nation, and he violated that oath. He pledged to be the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, and he violated that pledge. He took an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and he willfully and repeatedly violated that oath.
I firmly believe that the evidence establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that William Jefferson Clinton made statements to the federal grand jury regarding the nature of his relationship with a subordinate government employee and the purpose of his post-deposition conversation with a loyal secretary that were false, misleading, and perjurious, and warrant removal from office. Thus, I find the President guilty under Article I.
I believe with equal conviction that the evidence establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that William Jefferson Clinton willfully engaged in a deliberate course of conduct designed to delay, impede, cover up, and conceal the existence of evidence and testimony relating to a Federal civil rights action against him, and that this conduct warrants removal from office. Thus, I find the President guilty under Article II.