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Clinton Impeachment: Statement By Senator Richard Lugar

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 Richard Lugar was a Republican senator from Indiana. He served from 1977 until 2013.

Statement by Senator Richard Lugar (Republican – Indiana)

Mr. Chief Justice, for the first time in 120 years, and only for the second time in U.S. history, the Senate is about to conclude a Presidential impeachment trial. Our Founding Fathers viewed the power to remove a President as a necessary constitutional safeguard, but they wanted to make certain that the process was sufficiently difficult that the will of the voters would be overturned only for the gravest of reasons. They wrote the words ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ as a threshold, but left it to us to determine what transgressions met this standard. All of us have endeavored to fulfill this enormous responsibility.

From the beginning of the consideration of impeachment last year, many Members of Congress in both parties have made public statements expressing their opinions that the President lied to a federal grand jury and that he obstructed justice on numerous occasions. These judgments are apparently shared by large majorities of the American people as illustrated in frequent public opinion polls. The same polls have consistently found that a large majority of Americans do not want the President to suffer the Constitutional consequence of these breaches of law, namely, removal from office.

Since the House voted for impeachment, almost all 45 Democrats and some Republicans in the Senate have voiced their skepticism about voting to remove President Clinton from office. Early in the trial, 44 Democrats voted to dismiss the impeachment proceedings outright. Thus, a two-thirds majority vote needed for a guilty verdict has never been a likely outcome of the trial.

In the background, most Senate Democrats and several Republicans have worked on a motion to censure President Clinton. Our distinguished colleague, Senator Feinstein, drafted a censure resolution that attracted substantial bipartisan support and was published in the New York Times of February 6, 1999. It stated:

Whereas William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States, engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate employee in the White House, which was shameless, reckless and indefensible;

Whereas William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States, deliberately misled and deceived the American people and officials in all branches of the United States Government;

Whereas William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States, gave false or misleading testimony and impeded discovery of evidence in judicial proceedings;

Whereas William Jefferson Clinton’s conduct in this matter is unacceptable for a President of the United States, does demean the Office of the President as well as the President himself, and creates disrespect for the laws of the land;

Whereas President Clinton fully deserves censure for engaging in such behavior;

Whereas future generations of Americans must know that such behavior is not only unacceptable but also bears grave consequences, including loss of integrity, trust and respect;

Whereas William Jefferson Clinton remains subject to criminal and civil actions;

Whereas William Jefferson Clinton’s conduct in this matter has brought shame and dishonor to himself and to the Office of the President; and

Whereas William Jefferson Clinton, through his conduct in this matter, has violated the trust of the American people: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the United States Senate does hereby censure William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States, and condemns his conduct in the strongest terms.

Citizens might ask how a Senator could vote for a resolution stating that President Clinton ‘deliberately misled and deceived the American people and officials in all branches of the United States Government’ and ‘gave false or misleading testimony and impeded discovery of evidence in judicial proceedings’ and yet fail to vote ‘guilty’ on articles of impeachment that specifically mention perjury and obstruction of justice. The answer to that question is at the heart of understanding the Senate trial.

With few exceptions, Senators recognize that the Constitution gives only one outcome to a verdict of ‘guilty,’ namely, removal from office. At the same time, many Senators are shocked by conduct which they call ‘shameless, reckless, and indefensible,’ and they want their constituents to know that they have not been fooled or overwhelmed by Presidential charm. They have taken the initiative to explicitly denounce the bizarre conduct and the extraordinary corruption of this President. Members of both parties have deplored the fact that the President conducted an illicit sustained physical sexual relationship in spaces close to the Oval Office and publicly denied this to his family, his staff, and in televised statements to the world only to see all of the elaborate cover-up collapse after DNA tests on the dress of a young woman.

But the impeachment trial of President Clinton is not about adultery. The impeachment trial involves the President’s illegal efforts to deny a fair result in the suit brought by Ms. Paula Jones. I have no doubt that the President worked deliberately to deny justice in this suit. In doing so, he lied to a federal grand jury and worked to induce others to give false testimony, thus obstructing justice.

Ms. Jones has often been described as a small person in our judicial system. In contrast, the President, who at the time of his inaugural takes a solemn oath to preserve and protect equal justice under the law for even the most humble of Americans, is a giant figure. As Senators who also take a solemn oath, we must ask ourselves the fundamental question: ‘Is any man or woman above the law?’

The legal defense team for the President does not admit that there is adequate proof of either perjury or obstruction of justice. They contend that Senators must embrace a theory of ‘immaculate obstruction’ in which jobs are found, gifts are concealed, false affidavits are filed, and the character of a witness is publicly impugned, all without the knowledge or direction of the President, who is the sole beneficiary of these actions. The President’s lawyers further contend that such crimes are, in any event, insufficient to remove the President. The drafters of the Constitution would have rejected these rationalizations for the indefensible Presidential misconduct at issue. They were political men with a profound reverence for the sanctity of the oath and our entire system of justice. They did not suggest that Senators park their common sense and their stewardship for the security of our country at the Senate door as they entered into an impeachment trial.

In fact, we have discovered in this trial that the founding fathers wanted the Senate to act as ‘triers’ of fact and in the roles of both trial court and jury. Most importantly, they wanted us to act as guardians of the Constitution and thus the liberty and the rights under law of each individual American. Liberty itself is directly threatened when a President subverts the very judicial system that secures those rights.

During this trial, I have concluded that the prosecutors made their case. I will vote to remove President Clinton from office not only because he is guilty of both articles of impeachment, but also because I believe the crimes committed here demonstrate that he is capable of lying routinely whenever it is convenient. He is not trustworthy. Simply to be near him in the White House has meant not only tragic heartache for his wife and his daughter but enormous legal bills for staff members and friends who admired him and yearned for his success but who have been caught up in his incessant ‘war room’ strategies to maintain him in office. Senator Feinstein begins her censure resolution with the appropriate word ‘shameless.’ The President should have simply resigned and spared his country the ordeal of this impeachment trial and its aftermath.

We have been fortunate that this damaged presidency has occurred during a time of relative peace and prosperity. In times of war or national emergency it is often necessary for the President to call upon the nation to make great economic and personal sacrifices. In these occasions, our President had best be trustworthy–a truth teller whose life of principled leadership and integrity we can count upon. Some commentators have suggested that with the President having less than two years left in his term of office, the easiest approach is to let the clock expire while hoping that he is sufficiently careful, if not contrite, to avoid reckless and indefensible conduct. But as Senators, we know that the dangers of the world constantly threaten us. Rarely do two years pass without the need for strong Presidential leadership and the exercise of substantial moral authority from the White House.

Of particular concern are the implications of the President’s behavior for our national security. As Commander-in-Chief, President Clinton fully understood the risks that he was imposing on the country’s security with his secret affair in the White House. Even in this post-Cold War era, foreign intelligence agents constantly look for opportunities for deception, propaganda, and blackmail. No higher targets exist than the President and the White House. The President even acknowledged in a phone call with Ms. Lewinsky that foreign agents could be monitoring their conversations. Yet this knowledge did not dissuade the President from continuing his affair. With premeditation, he chose his own gratification above the security of his country and the success of his presidency. Then he chose to compound the damage by systematically lying about it over the span of many months.

I believe that our country will be stronger and better prepared to meet our challenges with a cleansing of the Presidency. The President of the United States is the most powerful person in the world because we are the strongest country economically and militarily, and in the appeal of our idealism for liberty and freedom of conscience. Our President must be strong because a President personifies the rule of law that he is sworn to uphold and protect. We must believe him and trust him if we are to follow him. His influence on domestic and foreign policies comes from that trust, which a lifetime of words, deeds, and achievements has built.

President Clinton has betrayed that trust. His leadership has been diminished because most Americans have come to the cynical conclusion that they must read between the lines of his statements and try to catch a glimmer of truth amidst the spin. His subordinates have demeaned public life by contending that ‘everybody does it’ as a defense of why the President has erred so grievously. But every President does not lie to a federal grand jury. Every President does not obstruct justice. The last President to do so was President Nixon, and he had sufficient reverence for the office to resign before the House even voted articles of impeachment.

The impeachment trial must come to an end. The Presidency will be strengthened and our ability as Americans to meet important challenges will be strengthened if we begin to restore our faith in the truth and justice that our government must exemplify and preserve. It will not be enough simply to condemn the tragic misdeeds of President Clinton. He must be removed from office as the Constitution prescribes, and we must celebrate the strength of that same Constitution which also provides a path for a new beginning.

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice. I yield the floor.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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