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Clinton Impeachment: Statement By Senator John Breaux

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 John Breaux was a Democratic senator from Louisiana. He served from 1987 until 2005.

Statement by Senator John Breaux (Democrat – Louisiana)

Mr. Chief Justice and my colleagues. Thank you very much, Mr. Chief Justice, as so many people have said before, for serving with your patience and your fairness. If you care to extend your time with us, I would invite you to help preside over my Medicare commission–if you would like to help out in that regard.

I also want to acknowledge and thank our two leaders for the fairness and the patience that they both have exhibited to all of us and the good job they have done keeping this body together, which I happen to think is extremely important as well.

I think it is always very difficult for us to sit in judgment of another human being, and particularly is that very difficult when it involves moral behavior, or moral misbehavior as this case essentially is all about. I was always taught that there was a higher authority that made those types of decisions, but here we are, and that is part of our task.

I think it is also especially difficult to make those kinds of decisions when they involve someone you know and someone you actually deal with in a relatively close relationship, almost on a day-to-day basis. It is difficult when it is someone that you can in private kid with or that you in private can joke with, as is the case for many of us with this accused whom we now sit in judgment of.

I know this President and he is someone I have admired for his political accomplishments and I have admired for what he has been able to do for this country, but also quite well recognize the human frailties that he has, as all of us have. If this were a normal trial, many of us wouldn’t even be here; we would have been excused a long time ago; we would never have been selected to sit in judgment of this President. We would have been excused because of friendship, we would have been excused because we know him, we would have been excused because we campaigned for him and with him, or we would have been excused for the opposite reasons–because he is a political adversary that we have campaigned against, that we have given speeches against, that we disagree with publicly on just about everything he stands for. None of us would find ourselves sitting in judgment of this individual if it were a normal trial. But, then again, it is not a normal trial, and these certainly are not normal times.

For many of us, this is the first time we have ever had a President who has sort of been a contemporary–certainly for me, and many of my colleagues are in that same category. I was here, as many of you in my generation, when President Johnson was here, and served throughout the time of President Johnson all the way through President Bush. I have met them all and knew them all to various degrees but never in the same way that I and many of us know this particular President, because he really is in the same generation as we are. I think we have that feeling, when we talk with him. I mean, many times I feel he knows what I am going to say before I say it and he understands what I am trying to convey to him before I even have say anything about the subject matter.

I think that many of us have had, with him, the same type of life experiences, and that our lives have been shaped by similar events because we really are of the same generation. So it is very difficult, coming from that position and now sitting in judgment of a person for his moral behavior. So I think we have to be extremely careful, those of us who come from this side with that personal friendship and relationship, as well as those who come from the opposite side, as a political adversary. It is very difficult to set those emotions aside and say I am going to be fair in judging someone I just cannot stand politically, that I don’t agree with on anything, and I wish he wasn’t my President; in fact, I supported someone else. So, it is very difficult for all of us to try to set that aside and come to an honest and fair and decent conclusion.

I think the American people have been able to do that. I think they have had a good understanding of what this case is about from the very beginning. They understood what it was about before the trial ever started, they understood what it was about during the trial, and I think they understand what it is all about after the trial. I think they understand what happened. I think they know when it happened, they know where it happened, and they know what was said about it. I think that they were correct from the very beginning.

What we really have is a middle-aged man, who happens to be President of the United States, who has a sexual affair with someone in his office, and that when people started finding out about it, he lied about it, tried to cover it up, tried to mislead people about what happened. I would daresay that this is not the first time in the history of the world that this has ever happened. I daresay it probably will not be the last time that it will happen. It is probably not the first time it has happened in this city.

All of that does not make it right; it does not make it acceptable. It does not make it excusable. It cannot be condoned and it cannot be overlooked. Actions that are wrong have consequences, and now the consequences must be determined by the Senate.

The question here is not really whether anything wrong was done. For heaven’s sakes, everybody knows that what was done was clearly wrong. It was unacceptable. It was embarrassing. It was indefensible and any other adjective you can possibly think of to really describe it. But that is not really the question before us, and we can all agree on that. I think the question is not even whether this was perjury or whether it was obstruction of justice under the terms of the Constitution.

I think the only question before us is whether what happened rises to the highest constitutional standards of high crimes and misdemeanors under the Constitution, justifying automatic removal of this President from the office of President.

I have concluded that the Constitution was designed very carefully to remove the President of the United States for wrongful actions as President of the United States in his capacity as President of the United States and in carrying out his duties as President of the United States. For wrongful acts that are not connected with the official capacity and duties of the President of the United States, there are other ways to handle it. There is the judicial system. There is the court system. There are the U.S. attorneys out there waiting. There may even be the Office of Independent Counsel, which will still be there after all of this is finished.

But we here cannot expand the Constitution in this area. I think history supports my position. I will cite you just a quick two examples. Senator Slade Gorton earlier spoke about the situation with the Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton. As Secretary, he was having an affair with a woman here in this city and they found out about it. He was paying off the husband of the wife that he was having an affair with. He was trying to get her to burn the evidence, which were letters that he had sent, to try to cover it up–criminal acts. But the Congress that was investigating him, came to the conclusion that the behavior was private. It was wrong, it was terrible, it was criminal, but it was private behavior and he was not impeached. Not because, I think, as Slade tried to say, that he wasn’t impeached because he admitted it, he only admitted it when he got caught. But he was not impeached because they decided that it was essentially private behavior. That was in 1792, and Adams and the Founding Fathers were here at that time and they came to that conclusion.

More recently, the situation with President Richard Nixon, I think, is a clear example of what we are struggling with here, to find this connection between official duties and what he did. One of the articles that they accused President Nixon with was that he had, not once, but four times filed fraudulent income tax returns under the criminal penalty of perjury–that he deducted things that he should not have deducted and that he didn’t report income that should have been reported. By a 26-to-12 vote, the House Judiciary Committee said, among other things, that `the conduct must be seriously incompatible with either the constitutional form and principles of our Government or the proper performance of the constitutional duties of the President’s office.’ They said that it did not demonstrate public misconduct, but rather private misconduct that had become public. I think the situation today is very similar.

These are clear examples both in the beginning of our country’s history and very recently about the need for this nexus or connection between the illegal acts and the duties of the office of the President.

Let me conclude by saying I am voting not to convict and remove. But that is not a vote on the innocence of this President. He is not innocent. And by not voting to convict we can’t somehow establish his innocence. If the standard of removal was bad behavior, he would be gone. I mean there would probably be no disagreement about that. But that is not the standard.

I urge a `no’ vote on conviction and removal and ask our colleagues to join in a bipartisan, strong, clear censure resolution and spell out what happened and where it happened and when it happened and what was said about what happened so that history will be able to, forever, look at that censure resolution and study it and learn from what we do today. That, my colleagues, I think is an appropriate and a proper remedy.

Thank you.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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