LI, House Judiciary Committee discussed on WBBM Afternoon News Update


Li serves then and in nineteen seventy four on the house Judiciary Committee he was tasks in the summer of nineteen seventy four together with his colleagues in evaluating and voting on as most of the house managers here have articles of impeachment those articles included the crime of obstruction of justice abuse of power an obstruction of Congress but unlike how house managers indeed the entire house forty five years earlier a later in December two thousand nineteen proceeded here bipartisan consensus in nineteen seventy four among both house Democrats and house Republicans was the order of the day indeed it became apparent then that narrow partisan views aside the house Judiciary Committee would step into the breach only in so far as evidence of criminal presidential conduct warranted it the tapes of oval office conversations involving the president provided that evidence the Supreme Court in a fact overruled a claim of executive privilege and ordered the release of the tapes to the house Judiciary Committee as a result three days later the high crime of obstruction of justice including supporting perjury tethered to a second article of impeachment two days after that alleging abuse of power was approved by the house Judiciary Committee by a vote of twenty seven to eleven and twenty eight to ten respectively the second article of impeachment alleged among other things unlawful use of the CIA and its resources including covert activity in the United States and interference with the law enforcement actions of the FBI to advance the cover up that is the criminal conspiracy to obstruct draw justice charged in the first article of impeachment the crimes alleged were serious involving unlawful electronic surveillance of an opposing political party a hush money out of the White House safe to burglars and other co conspirators to silence cooperation with law enforcement and attempts to alter testimony under oath six Republican house committee members joined all twenty one Democrats in supporting those two articles my congressman was among those six Republican house members another one of the six was then a young congressman from Maine who later became a member of this body serving with distinction as a senator and later as president Bill Clinton secretary of defense that young congressman was bill Cullen a third of the six was representative call bill Butler a Republican from Virginia whose papers are housed at Washington and Lee university in Lexington Virginia in the state where I grew up and where I later went to law school together these six Republicans made history they did so with no sense of triumph in today's parlance no fist pumps but only in the words of my congressman with deep reluctance and only because the evidence was clear and unmistakable of unlawful activities by the president in a criminal cover up that was in the concluding language of the first article of impeachment contrary to his trust as president as for the third article in the Nixon impeachment that article charging obstruction of Congress did not enjoy bipartisan support but instead was voted on by the house Judiciary Committee along party lines by a vote of twenty one to seventeen Republicans objected then to the third article in the face of the president's good faith prior claim to executive privilege by withholding certain evidence until such time as the matter was definitively resolved by the Supreme Court my point in mentioning these three votes by the house Judiciary Committee is simply this count votes and do the math I understand that you all have been deprived of your phones and that's a calculator app so I will do it for you a twenty seven to eleven vote was not only by partisan as I have indicated but overwhelmingly so indeed over seventy percent that is to say greater than a two thirds supermajority that vote send a powerful signal to the full house and indeed the Senate that impeachment was overwhelmingly bipartisan and therefore politically and legally legitimate president Nixon's fate was sealed and the result was inevitable thus less than two weeks after that initial committee vote on impeachment the president resigned my congressman during the course of those proceedings commented simply and plainly that it was in his words a great American tragedy but the greater point was and is that a pizza was never designed or intended to be a partisan tool and was to be undertaken only as a last resort this then brings me to what was intended by the framers of the constitution relative to impeachment that subject will be addressed at some length by my colleague professor Dershowitz but for now let me just say that much has been said by house managers in reliance on Alexander Hamilton's oft quoted statement in federalist number sixty five that's the one repeatedly taken out of context and cited in favor of an expansive scope of jurisdiction by Congress over alleged offenses in Hamilton's words which proceed from the misconduct of a public official constituting the abuse of or violation of some public trust the irony that Hamilton the greatest proponent in this country of executive and presidential authority that perhaps ever lived should be front and center in this partisan impeachment effort to remove a duly elected president from office is apparently lost one house impeachment managers I dare say that Hamilton would roll over in his grave at the end of Wall Street in New York City to note that contrary to what he explicitly acknowledged in federalist number sixty nine that a president can only be removed from office upon conviction of treason bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors we should just read the word crime right out of the impeachment clause of the constitution and proceed merrily along the way towards an impeachment trial with witnesses no less of a president duly elected by the people and for what articles of impeachment that do not even alleged crimes president trump is right that course if sustained cheapens the impeachment process and thus is an American tragedy all its own indeed none other than president Clinton's highly respected White House counsel Charles ruff during the impeachment trial twenty one years ago in January nineteen ninety nine stated at best and I quote to argue as the managers do that the phrase other high crimes and misdemeanors was really meant to encompass a wide range of offenses simply flies in the face of the clear intent of the framers who carefully chose their language knew exactly what those more words meant and knew exactly what risks they intended to protect against close quote one of those concerns and rest counsel ruff went on to explain was that impeachment be limited and well defined for our purposes here what is required is both the crimes be alleged and that those crimes be of the type that in particular are so serious that day again and Mister Ross words quote subvert our system of government and would justify overturning a popular election close quote otherwise what you have into Tocqueville's words is legislative Tierney that taken in its proper context members of the Senate I respectfully submit is what Alexander Hamilton well understood and meant and so did my congressman that congressman was of course Hamilton fish junior actually was not really junior but Hamilton fish the fourth his great grandfather was also Hamilton fish who was born in eighteen oh wait later served as governor of New York a United States senator immediately before the civil war and notably as president Ulysses grant's secretary of state but what I didn't realize at the time back in nineteen eighty even though now perhaps it's so obvious the original Hamilton fish was named after his parents best friend none other than Hamel Alexander Hamilton himself what congressman Hamilton fish from the Watergate era courageously understood is the same historical lesson that Jeffrey A. angle founding director of the center for presidential history at Southern Methodist University has written about in a co authored two thousand eighteen book on impeachment the charge must be treason bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors it must be one for which clear and unmistakable proof can be produced only if the evidence actually produced against the president is indeed irrefutable such that his own constituents in this case the sixty three million people like me who voted for president trump except his guilt of the offense charged in order to overwhelmingly persuade a super majority of Americans and thus their senators of malfeasance warranting his removal from office and finally because it is the president the United States after all that we are talking about here the repository of and entrusted under the constitution with all of the executive power of the United States in other words an entire branch of government removal from office cannot be based upon an impeachable offense or offenses which are in essence nothing more than raising president Gerald Ford now whatever a partisan majority of the house of representatives considers them to be and to supplement that cited statement fifty years ago in nineteen seventy from then congressman Gerry Ford in connection with the prospect of potentially impeaching a Supreme Court justice Ford pointedly clarified that executive branch of impeachment are different because voters can remove the president the vice president and all persons holding office at their pleasure at least every four years to remove a president in mid term it has been tried before and never done would indeed he said require crimes of the magnitude of treason and bribery professor I keel Ammar of Yale Law School made largely the same point during the Clinton impeachment about the danger presented through presidential impeachment of transforming an entire branch of government when they remove a duly elected president they undo the votes of millions of ordinary Americans on election day that is not something he continued that senators should do lightly lest we slide toward a kind of parliamentary government that our entire structure of government was designed to repudiate in hammering home the constitutional uniqueness of presidential impeachments he emphasized the case of Richard Nixon and distinguished it that from Andrew Johnson that is to say only when extremely high crimes and gross abuses of official power indeed pose a threat to our basic constitutional system of threat as height and truly as malignant to democratic government is treason and bribery he reasoned with the Senate ever be justified in nullifying the votes of millions of Americans and removing a president from office my point is this history our American history matters to listen to how the house managers would have it articles of impeachment are merely as Chuck ruff worn a generation ago empty vessels into which can be poured any number of charges even those considered an abandoned at least in the case of president Clinton's impeachment the articles actually charge crimes the Senate thereafter determined by its vote in that case in the fact that while those crimes perjury and obstruction of justice may have been committed those crimes were not high enough crimes damaging to the body politic to warrant the president's removal from office that judgment of was of course within this body's discretion to render and it has been accepted as such by the country whether you agree with it or not as legitimate it is also one that is historically consistent with Hamilton's views and medicines to concerning the proper scope of impeachment as applied to a president when I entered the scene and succeeded my colleague and co counsel here judge Kenneth Starr as independent counsel in October nineteen ninety nine it was left for me to decide whether prosecution of president Clinton following impeachment none the less was warranted consistent with the department of justice's principles of federal prosecution and that matter was exhaustively considered in the midst of a federal grand jury investigation the I. commissioned in order to decide first whether crimes in fact had been committed I found that they had and I later said so publicly in the final report expressly authorizing mandated by Congress concluding the Lewinsky investigation significantly though I also determined that the prosecution of the president while in order once he left office would not be in the national interest given alternative available means short of prosecution in order to hold the president accountable for his conduct those means included a written acknowledgement by the president two years after his Senate trial that his testimony under oath before the grand jury had in fact been false and a related agreement to suspend his law license the price paid by president president Clinton was indeed high and it stemmed in the end from the need to vindicate the principal first raise most prominently during Watergate that no person including the president is above the law despite president Clinton's subsequent protests station in his memoirs that I was just another federal prosecutor out to extract in his words a pound of flesh I credit the president to this day with agreeing to do what was necessary in order to exercise my discretion not to prosecute namely that for the good of the country and recognizing the unique place that the president indeed any president occupies in our constitutional government accountability and discretion go hand in hand and permitted indeed demanded such an appropriate resolution it enabled the country to.

Coming up next