Chuck Grassley

United States Senator from Iowa





Grassley Statement Regarding His Votes For Both Articles of Impeachment

Feb 11, 1999

Grassley Statement Regarding His Votes For Both Articles of Impeachment

There are many losers and no winners in this impeachment trial. There are no heroes. There are lots of lessons to be learned. My prayers for healing go out to all those who were ensnared in this web of controversy.

In reflecting on this case, and my role in it under the Constitution, the word "sad" comes to mind. I did not relish sitting in judgment of a twice-elected, popular president. I would prefer to make history in other ways. I also regret the nature of the subject of this case. It's not easy having our entire society suddenly thrust into an open, non-stop debate about things that usually make us blush.

Some say that this impeachment effort is part of a right wing conspiracy. A Republican plot to get a Democrat president. Let's look at how we got here, and see if that argument holds up.

We are here because the President did wrongful acts, and he admits that. We are here because of the independent counsel law.

The President himself led the charge to reauthorize the Independent Counsel Act. Thirty-three of my colleagues on the other side were in the Senate at the time. All but one voted for reauthorization.

On June 30, 1994, the President signed the reauthorization bill. He issued a statement. Here's what he said:

"This law, originally passed in 1978, is a foundation stone for the trust between the Government and our citizens... Opponents called it a tool of partisan attack against Republican Presidents and a waste of taxpayer funds. It was neither. In fact, the independent counsel statute has been in the past and is today a force for Government integrity and public confidence."

Those were the President's own words.

Before reauthorization, it was the President himself who advocated appointment of a Special Prosecutor. That appointment was made by the President's own Attorney General. After reauthorization, the Attorney General supported the appointment of an Independent Counsel. The Independent Counsel was then appointed by a special three-judge panel, as required by the law.

Also under the law, the Attorney General can initiate the dismissal of the Independent Counsel if he oversteps his bounds or acts improperly. Not only was this never done by the President's Attorney General, but in contrast, she even agreed several times to expand his jurisdiction, including to cover the Monica Lewinsky matter.

Also under the law, the Independent Counsel is obliged to send to the House of Representatives any evidence of crimes that might be impeachable.

In short, this case came about through a legitimate, legal process. It's a process that historically was vigorously defended by the other side. There are various checks and balances built into the process. They are designed to prevent abuse by the Independent Counsel. But they were never triggered, even though the President's own Attorney General could move for dismissal.

No, this President is in this predicament because of his own wrongdoing. There is no conspiracy.

The President's actions are having a profound impact on our society. His misdeeds have caused many to mistrust elected officials. Cynicism is swelling among the grassroots. His breach of trust has eroded the public's faith in the office of the presidency. The President's wrongdoing has painted all of us in Washington with a rather broad brush.

In the past 12 months, thousands of Iowans have registered their opinions. One letter from a middle school principal speaks volumes.

At an assembly to mark the new school year, a video was presented to the student body. It was called, "Attitude is Everything." The video was about all-American heroes. College athletes; Olympic medalists; astronauts; world leaders.

Logically, the video also included President Clinton. The school principal wrote to me the following. He said, when the President's picture appeared, the entire student body ? ages 11 to 14 ? snickered. He said their spontaneous reaction struck a chord. He wrote:

"Although they may not fully understand the adult connotations and political ramifications... they do know that if you want to be trusted and respected, you must tell the truth... [A]s an educator in Iowa's public schools for the past 16 years... our students' reaction to President Clinton's picture is one of the saddest moments I can recall. In that instant, I realized how deeply his conduct has affected our country."

There's that word "sad" again. It seems to come to the fore in people's minds over this case. Over this President's conduct. And over the impact it's had on our country.

The true tragedy in this case is the collapse of the President's moral authority. He undermined himself when he wagged his finger and lied to the nation on national TV, denying a relationship with Ms. Lewinsky. That did more damage to his credibility than any other single act.

There was no better reason than that for resignation by this President. I did not personally call for his resignation. That's something the President should decide on his own. But once you loseyour moral authority to lead, you're a failure as a leader. FDR once spoke of the Presidency in thisway. He said, "The Presidency is not merely an administrative office... It is pre-eminently a place of moral leadership." Mr. Clinton should take note.

Next, there's the issue of abuse of power and authority. The President used his position to enter into an improper relationship with a subordinate. Not just a subordinate. A young intern. He later used his power to find her a job.

Another abuse of power: The full powers of the White House were unleashed to stonewall the process and to attack the credibility of all who investigated him. This White House has perfected the art of constructing stone walls around the truth. I fear that future White Houses will learn from these experts, and refine and improve their own truth-fighting arsenals. Truth and openness will be casualties.

Last, there's the issue of the poor example the President's actions serve for the nation, especially for our youth. Is it now okay to lie because the President does it? And in the same manner, by wordsmithing? As in, "It depends on what the meaning of ?is' is." I received a call recently from the mother of a teenage son in Des Moines. All last year, she thought the investigation of the President was a wasteful, partisan witch hunt. She was totally against the investigation and the impeachment.

And then, her son got into some serious trouble. It involved lying. She confronted him with what he had done wrong. Her son responded, "What I told you is the truth as I understood it at that time."

The mother grew furious, she said. At that moment, she said, she knew the damage that his conduct had done to her family, and to the country. At that point, she said, she changed her position in favor of impeachment.

These are all questions and issues that emerge from the broader contours of this case, outside the narrow charges in the articles.

With respect to the impeachment charges, many of the President's arguments are based on contorted interpretations of the facts. These interpretations aren't credible, in my view. They represent lawyering at its best, some would say, at its worst.It is clear to me that the President committed serious crimes when he coached his secretary, Betty Currie, and when he misled his aides Sidney Blumenthal and John Podesta. Each of these aides was slated to be a witness in official court proceedings. I believe, based on the evidence before the Senate, that the President lied to these witnesses so that they would repeat those lies before official court proceedings. That is obstruction of justice.

In addition, I find it very interesting that a power lawyer like Vernon Jordan would be so active in the job hunt for Ms. Lewinsky. Regardless of what she felt or thought, I believe that the President was arranging to get her a job. That way, she wouldn't provide harmful testimony in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit. Again, this is obstruction of justice.

These actions weren't just outrageous and morally wrong. They were also illegal. They were a direct assault on the integrity of the judicial process. I feel I have no choice but to conclude thatthe President is guilty of the offenses charged under Article II.

The first Article of Impeachment charged that the President committed perjury on several occasions. While I'm not convinced that he committed perjury on each occasion charged, I believe he did commit perjury when he lied about his efforts to obstruct justice: the fourth count.

I don't believe the President's statement that he was merely trying to refresh his memory when he spoke with Betty Currie about his relationship with Lewinsky. And, I simply don't believe the President's statement that he was only trying to protect himself from embarrassment when he concocted elaborate lies about Ms. Lewinsky, and then conveyed those lies to his aides.

The President was not forthright when he testified before the grand jury. Time and time again, he gave answers that were misleading and sometimes deliberately false. The American people have a right to expect their president to be completely truthful. And the American people have a right to expect their president to be truthful when placed under oath. I voted guilty on Article I as well.

These were not easy decisions. They are the product of much reflection, deliberation and soul searching. And so they leave me with a good conscience. I believe my votes reflect the truth of what happened in this case.

The Senate has closed this chapter in American history. It may not be the final chapter in this story. Nonetheless, our decision in this impeachment trial will stand against the test of time. You only truly understand the present when it is past. In that respect, future generations will serve as jury. And in the end, history will serve as the final judge.