Impeachment hearing voices

A round-up of the most quotable moments from Wednesday's hearing.

Published December 10, 1998 8:00PM (EST)

The second day of the White House defense brought passionate testimony against impeaching the president from legal experts, including former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld and Clinton counsel Charles Ruff before the House Judiciary Committee. Here are the highlights of the day's hearing:

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Charles Ruff, White House special counsel

"The president knows that what he did was wrong. He has admitted it. He has suffered privately and publicly. He is prepared to accept the obloquy that flows from his misconduct and he recognizes that, like any citizen, he is and will be subject to the rule of law. But, Mr. Chairman, the president has not committed a high crime or misdemeanor. His conduct, although morally reprehensible, does not warrant impeachment, does not warrant overturning the mandate of the American electorate."

"It is within your power -- even if hesitantly exercised -- to decide that even though there is insufficient proof to establish that the president committed perjury, he nonetheless should be impeached. But I suggest to you that even then our oft-criticized legalisms are relevant to you. They are relevant because they were not just dreamed up by scheming lawyers looking for a good closing argument. Instead, they reflect the judgments of lawyers and judges, and yes, legislators through the centuries that we must take special care when we seek to accuse a witness of having violated his oath."

"We will not drag the committee into the salacious muck that fills the referral. Instead, let each member assume that Ms. Lewinsky's version of the events is correct, and then ask, 'Am I prepared to impeach the president because, after having admitted having engaged egregiously wrongful conduct, he falsely described the particulars of that conduct?'"

"The president did not obstruct justice; he did not tamper with witnesses; he did not abuse the powers of his office. The referral's overreaching claims of impropriety are themselves but an attempt to lend artificial weight to allegations of perjury that standing alone the independent counsel knew could not support the result for which he has been such a zealous advocate."

"I suggest to you that any fair-minded observer must conclude that the great weight of historical and scholarly evidence leads to the conclusion that in order to have committed impeachable offense, the president must have acted to subvert our system of government. And, members of the committee, that did not happen."

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Ronald Nobel, New York University associate law professor, former assistant secretary of the treasury for enforcement and undersecretary of the treasury

"A federal prosecutor ordinarily would not prosecute a case against a private citizen based on the facts set forth in the Starr referral."

"Indictments and impeachment that results in acquittal ought to be avoided where possible. No prosecutor would be permitted to bring a prosecution where she believed that there was no chance that an unbiased jury would convict. Almost no one in this country believes that the U.S. Senate will convict the president on any potential article of impeachment. Members of Congress should consider the impact a long and no doubt sensationalized trial will have on the country, especially a trial that will not result in a conviction."

"Federal prosecutors and federal agents, as a rule, ought to stay out of the private sexual lives of consenting adults. Neither federal prosecutors nor federal investigators consider it a priority to investigate allegations of perjury in connection with the lawful, extramarital, consensual, private, sexual conduct of citizens."

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Richard Davis, Watergate prosecutor

"I do not believe that a case involving this kind of conflict between two witnesses would be brought by a prosecutor since it would not be won at trial. A prosecutor would understand the problem created by the fact that both individuals had an incentive to lie -- the president to avoid acknowledging a false statement at his civil deposition and Ms. Lewinsky to avoid the demeaning nature of providing wholly unreciprocated sex."

"The federal criminal justice system is not designed or intended to enforce a code of moral conduct. That's not what we do, or what I used to do, and what the good federal prosecutors do. I'm not saying you can't find an errant one somewhere that will bring charges, but so far as I know, this would be totally unprecedented if such a case were brought."

"Apart from issues of censure, we live in a democracy, and one sanction that can be imposed is by the voters acting through the exercise of their right to vote. President Clinton lied to the American people, and if they believed it appropriate, they were free to voice their disapproval by voting against his party in 1998 and remain free to do so in 2000, as occurred in 1974 when the Democrats secured major gains."

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Thomas Sullivan, former U.S. attorney for Northern District of Illinois

"If the president were not involved, if an ordinary citizen were the subject of the inquiry ... this case would simply not be given serious consideration for prosecution."

"The evidence simply does not support the conclusion that the president knowingly committed perjury and the case is so doubtful and weak that a responsible prosecutor would not present it to the grand jury."

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Edward Dennis Jr., deputy attorney general during the Bush administration

"I believe that a jury would be sympathetic to any person charged with perjury for dancing around questions put to them that demanded an admission of marital infidelity."

"I think that it's fairly clear, and that if a poll were taken of former U.S. attorneys from any administration, you would probably find the overwhelming number of them would agree with the assessment that this case is a loser and just would not be sustained in court."

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William Weld, former governor of Massachussetts and head of the Justice Department criminal division during the Reagan administration

"I think the dignity of Congress and the dignity of the country demands something more than merely censure."

"These are not offenses against the system of government. They don't imperil the structure of our government. The remedy of impeachment is to remove the officeholder, get the worm out of the apple. It's a prophylactic remedy. It is not punitive."

"If any of you are thinking -- we've got to vote yes on impeachment to tarnish the president, he's already tarnished."

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John Conyers, D-Mich.

"Our citizens either support doing nothing under the theory that the president has already been censured or they support an additional resolution of censure. But the important point is that for the vast majority of those who do not want an impeachment, a six-month Senate investigation with all of the attendant political and economic turmoil for all of those who want a proportional and sensible alternative shouldn't be muzzled."

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George Gekas, R-Pa.

"To me, bribery as in the Constitution is less destructive of the structure of government than is perjury committed by the president of the United States."

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Charles Canady, R-Fla.

"I believe that we have an independent responsibility under the Constitution to make a judgment concerning the conduct of the president, and whether he should be impeached or not. And it would be in derogation of our constitutional responsibility to attempt to count noses in the Senate."

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Bob Inglis, R-S.C.

"I'm keeping score, Mr. Chairman, as you know, so this makes panel four, Mr. Craig, the fourth panel, no facts. And Mr. Craig said yesterday to us, 'In the course of our presentation today' -- that was yesterday -- 'and tomorrow' -- that's today -- 'we will address the factual' -- underlined factual -- 'and evidentiary issues directly.' The score now is zero to four. Zero panels, zero witnesses dealing with facts."

By Salon Staff

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