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Clinton Impeachment: Statement By Senator Strom Thurmond

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 Strom Thurmond was a Republican senator from South Carolina. He served from 1956 until 2003. He was initially a Democrat, until he switched to the Republican Party in 1964. He died in 2003, aged 100, the only member of Congress ever to have served at that age.

Statement by Senator Strom Thurmond (Republican – South Carolina)

Mr. Chief Justice, the vote I cast on the articles of impeachment was one of the hardest votes that I have had to make in all my years in the United States Senate, not that I do not think I made the correct decision. While I am saddened that we had to make the judgment we made in this impeachment trial, each of us had a duty to undertake this task, and I do not shirk from duties.

The House Managers performed their duty admirably, making a comprehensive, coherent, and eloquent presentation. The White House attorneys presented a spirited defense. Similarly, due in part to the outstanding leadership of the Senate Majority Leader, I am confident that history will record that we in the Senate exercised our duty to conduct the trial appropriately and fairly. I believe the Founding Fathers would be pleased with the process and procedure.

The purpose of impeachment is not to punish a man. It is not a way to express displeasure or disagreement with a President or his policies. Impeachment is a mechanism designed to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution, the Country, and Office of the Presidency. My primary concern, from the first day of this scandal, was the impact it would have on the Office of the Presidency.

This case is not about illicit conduct or even about not telling the truth about illicit conduct. Instead, the case is about two activities. The first is whether the President intentionally made false statements under oath to a Federal grand jury, to the Judiciary of the United States. The second is whether the President obstructed justice before a United States District Court and a Federal grand jury, again to the Judiciary of the United States.

A Senator’s role in an impeachment trial is a mix of roles from our judicial system, including being part judge and part jury. At least in reviewing the evidence, we do act as jurors, and we should view evidence the way the courts expect jurors to view it. We use our common sense and our knowledge of human behavior based on our everyday experiences in life. In this case, the defense has attempted to take each act, separate it out, and artificially place it in isolation. I cannot view the evidence in this fashion. I cannot ignore common sense.

As to perjury, I have no doubt that the evidence presented to the Senate proves that the President did not tell the truth to the Federal grand jury. He made numerous false statements to make his illicit conduct seem more benign; to make his efforts at witness tampering with his secretary seem innocuous; and to make his testimony in the Paula Jones case appear truthful.

As to obstruction of justice, in my mind there can be no dispute but that the President intentionally interfered with the Judiciary. When the President spoke to Monica Lewinsky about her being a witness in the Paula Jones case, he did not discuss the contents of her affidavit because he did not have to. Based on their previous conversations and the pattern of their relationship, she knew exactly what he meant; he meant for her to file a false and misleading affidavit with the Federal court. When the President spoke to his secretary and suggested to her an explanation for his relationship with Monica Lewinsky that he knew was not true, he was engaged in classic witness tampering. There can be no other acceptable explanation. When the President failed to reveal to the Federal judge during his Paula Jones deposition that the Monica Lewinsky affidavit was false, he was obstructing the fact-finding process of the District Court. I can accept no other explanation.

The President has violated his sacred oath to faithfully execute the laws of the United States. Regardless of the bounds of private conduct and of the importance of allowing people to keep their private lives private, those bounds are broken when someone violates an oath to tell the truth in a court of law. Those bounds are also broken when someone interferes with a court of law in its efforts to find the facts and find the truth.

The President’s conduct in this matter was an egregious affront to the judicial system. We have a Chief Executive who has intentionally decided not to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. Indeed, he intentionally interfered with the lawful duties of a co-equal branch of government. This should not be tolerated.

No one is above the law. I cannot accept the argument that a different legal standard applies to judges than to the President. The Congress has never accepted that

argument before. There is no support for it in the words of the Constitution, which establishes one standard of impeachment for ‘the President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States.’ There is no support for it in the debates at the Constitutional Convention or in the Federalist Papers. Is it reasonable to conclude that our standards for removal from office for criminal conduct is less for the Chief Law Enforcement Officer than it is for civil officers who are appointed to apply the law?

Because the President is the Commander in Chief, I must think about our men and women in uniform. I do not suggest that the President should be strictly subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice during his term in office. However, if we vote not guilty on the articles on these facts, what message do we send to our soldiers about duty, honor, and country? Given that the President is the Chief Law Enforcement Officer, if we vote not guilty, what message do we send American citizens about respect for the rule of law? For that matter, what massage do we send our children and grandchildren for generations to come about the consequences of not telling the truth?

We have been told that we should not remove the President from office because doing so would ‘overturn the results of an election.’ The Senate does not have this power. Our power extends no further than removal of the President, and the law provides that his running mate, the Vice President, takes the oath of office. If the President is removed, the Administration does not change from one party to another. The Constitution wisely provides for continuity. The impeachment process only provides for the removal of the current occupant.

Indeed, we are not engaged in a Constitutional crisis. The Constitution provides the roadmap for what we are doing. We are simply following our Constitutional duty. We did not ask for this burden. It was thrust upon us by the misconduct of the current occupant of the Office of the Presidency.

Before today, perjury and obstruction of justice were clearly high crimes and misdemeanors under the Constitution, My vote is consistent with this. The President is not above the law. The Constitutional standard is no different for him than for anyone else. It is for these reasons that I voted guilty on both articles of impeachment.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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