Senator Fred Thompson’s Statement on the Clinton Impeachment

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In an interview this past week with Sean Hannity, Fred Thompson explained his split vote in the Bill Clinton impeachment trial: he voted “guilty” on obstructing justice and “not guilty” on perjury.

On February 12, 1999, Thompson entered his “closed-door impeachment statement,” which can be found on many sites on the web, but I’ve linked to, because the text is easier to read. This statement is long…very long. Much of it restates the charges and the history behind the charges.

As an aside from me, it seems that President Clinton’s escapade with Monica Lewinsky should have been viewed as an opportunity for blackmail. Lewinsky could have been anyone, could have had sinister motives, could have put our President and this country in great danger. If reports are true, think of Yassar Arafat, biding his time in the Rose Garden as he awaited Monica’s departure and Bill’s summons. Had Arafat known, could he have used the information to gain support for Palestinian endeavors? Far-fetched? Maybe not.

Follows the factors Thompson considered to arrive at his “not guilty” vote on charges of perjury. All inset text is taken directly from Thompson’s statement as printed in, where you can read the entire statement.

He took issue with:

Several crimes or categories of crimes (the exact number cannot be determined from reading the article) are charged in this one article. The perjurious statements are not described, nor are their dates. In
large part, this article charges that the President committed perjury because he denied prior perjury.

The reason for rules against charging several offenses in one article is clear. A group of senators as few as seventeen could conclude that the President was guilty of one offense in the article, and a group of other senators could conclude that the President was guilty of another offense in the article and so on. This could result in the President being found guilty on one article without two-thirds of the senators ever agreeing upon a single offense that the President committed.

Never has the Senate considered articles that are simultaneously omnibus, vague, and based upon `one or more’ of the charges being proved.

Compounding this problem, the individual items alleged in the article are vague

The articles pending against President Clinton are unique. Never has the Senate considered articles that are simultaneously omnibus, vague, and based upon `one or more’ of the charges being proved.

Articles of impeachment henceforth should not permit conviction based upon `one or more’ findings of guilt. They should list specific conduct, preferably in separate articles. Removal of elected or appointed government officials, especially a president, should occur only when the public can be sure that the process has been appropriate. Articles such as those before the Senate in this case do not further that goal. The Senate should amend Rule XXIII to permit impeachment articles to be divided, so as to eliminate any incentive for the House to adopt duplicitous articles of impeachment.

In prior impeachments charging false statements, the House has always delineated the date and substance of the false statement. Indeed, in every impeachment proceeding since Judge Pickering in 1803, articles of impeachment exhibited by the House have included allegations of specific misconduct.

Never has the Senate voted for conviction on an article that charged an individual with `one or more’ improper actions.

Unfortunately, instead of following precedent, the House in the case before us deviated from previous practice.

The Senate also has never been asked to convict someone for conduct that formed the basis for an article of impeachment that was rejected by the House. Although in a literal sense, no such article is before the Senate, in a practical sense that is the situation. The House failed to pass an article of impeachment against President Clinton that accused him of, on January 17, 1998, `willfully provid[ing] perjurious, false, and misleading testimony in response to questions deemed relevant by a Federal judge…

The House claims that the President’s statement in his grand jury testimony that he intended to be unhelpful but truthful in his deposition, and that he did not violate the law in his deposition, amount to perjury in the grand jury if a single statement in his deposition was perjurious. However, the President did not broadly reaffirm the truth of all his deposition testimony. Indeed, before the grand jury, the President revised many statements he had made in the Jones deposition.

On the three specific counts of Grand Jury Perjury:

…The first is his testimony concerning `the details and nature of his relationship with a subordinate Government employee.’ The President admitted in the grand jury that he had an inappropriate relationship with Ms. Lewinsky.

To be sure, President Clinton contended that the relationship began in 1996, rather than 1995. The House managers note that this is significant because Ms. Lewinsky was an intern in 1995. The House also points out that the President admitted inappropriate conduct `on certain occasions,’ when, in reality, there were eleven such occasions, and that he had `occasional’ telephone encounters with Ms. Lewinsky when there were at least seventeen that contained sexual banter. I do think that these statements constitute perjury. They were false, were made willfully, and were material. Something that happens seventeen times in a year does not occur `occasionally.’ Given the sensitivity of Ms. Lewinsky’s status as an intern, I believe that the President deliberately told the grand jury that his relationship with her began in 1996, when she no longer had that status. Finally, the statement is material because it concerns a matter that the grand jury was investigating as part of its work: the nature of the President’s relationship with Ms. Lewinsky. For these reasons, the statement was perjurious.

The President’s statement to the grand jury that he regretted that what began as a friendship changed into an inappropriate sexual relationship was also knowingly false, since the two engaged in sexual relations twice on the same day that they first spoke. Thus, the statement was made to deceive, and given that it related to a subject of the grand jury’s inquiry, it was material. Therefore, I agree that this statement also constitutes perjury, so that the first item of Article I has been proved. The second item charged in Article I addresses statements the President made in the grand jury regarding the truth of his deposition testimony. For the reasons above stated, I consider finding perjury based on an article of impeachment that the House rejected to be questionable.

The third item charged in Article I concerns grand jury testimony involving `false and misleading statements he allowed his attorney to make to a Federal judge in that civil rights action.’ Before the grand jury, President Clinton testified that he was `not even sure I paid attention to what he [Mr. Bennett] was saying’ when his attorney represented to the court that Ms. Lewinsky’s affidavit stated that there was no sex of any kind between her and the President. As a factual matter, given the videotape that shows the President concentrating very carefully on his attorney’s words and the great importance that he placed on that affidavit and its filing in time, this statement’s characterization of the President’s attention was certainly false. However, the President said that he `was not even sure” that he was paying attention. It is possible, although unlikely, that he was not sure in August that he was paying attention to that specific statement in January. That would make the statement literally true and thus, by definition, not perjurious. And in any event, I cannot determine beyond a reasonable doubt that his statement was perjurious. Indeed, the real issue is whether President Clinton used the affidavit to obstruct justice: whether he actually was paying attention to his unsuspecting attorney when the affidavit was actually used to obstruct justice is of questionable materiality.

The fourth item of the perjury allegations in Article I concerns `his corrupt efforts to influence the testimony of witnesses and to impede the discovery of evidence in that civil rights action.’ The first set of facts under this category evidently concerns President Clinton’s statements to Ms. Currie on January 18, 1998, which he described as having been made to refresh his recollection. The President’s stated reason for making these statements to Ms. Currie was false. He knew that they were not true, and the President knew that Ms. Currie could not testify to their truthfulness. Thus, his statement of purported purpose for making them, as communicated to the grand jury, was made willfully, with the intent to deceive the grand jury. They were material as well, since they went to the issue of whether he had committed a federal crime. They thus constitute perjury.

The second set of facts at issue in item four of Article I apparently concerns whether the President truthfully told the grand jury that when the subject of the subpoenaed gifts arose at his December 28, 1997 meeting with Ms. Lewinsky, he told her `if they asked her for the gifts, she’d have to give them whatever she had, that that’s what the law was.’ Although Ms. Lewinsky never testified that the President said this to her, she once indicated that it sounded familiar. Thus, I am not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the President lied when he testified that he made this statement.

The third set of facts in item four of Article I addresses alleged lies that he made to the grand jury concerning the truth of statements that he made to White House aides. Before the grand jury, the President stated that he had told his aides that he did not have sex with Ms. Lewinsky as he defined it, and that he told them `things that were true about this relationship.’ In reality, the President told them false statements, such as a broader denial of sexual activity than that defined as even he had defined it, and that Ms. Lewinsky was a stalker who came on to him, but whom he rebuffed. The President’s statements to the grand jury in this regard were false, and were intended to deceive the grand jury about a federal crime of obstruction of justice through the telling of false statements to persons he knew might become witnesses before that grand jury, and therefore committed perjury.

So, some statements were perjurious and some were not:

I conclude that the statements concerning Betty Currie, and the statements concerning what he told his aides do constitute perjury. I also find that the President committed perjury with respect to item one of Article I with respect to his statements that he and Ms. Lewinsky’s relationship began as a friendship, that it started in 1996, and that he had `occasional’ encounters with her. These are the only examples of grand jury perjury that I believe have been proved in the entirety of Article I. The question then is whether these examples of perjury warrant removal of the President for the commission of high crimes and misdemeanors.

Fred’s conclusion and reasons for voting to acquit President Clinton:

Is removal appropriate when the President lied to the grand jury that he denied to his aides that he had engaged in sex only as he had defined it, when in fact he had denied engaging in oral sex? Is removal warranted because the President stated that his relationship began as a friendship in the wrong year and actually encompassed more telephone encounters than could truthfully be described as `occasional’? To ask the question is to answer it. In my opinion, these statements, while wrong and perhaps indictable after the President leaves office, do not justify removal of the President from office.

And Thompson’s comment on his decision:

In no way does my conclusion ratify the White House lawyers’ view that private conduct never rises to impeachable offenses…It simply recognizes how the principles the Founding Fathers established apply to these facts.

Culling-down Thompson thoughts on the matter of “High Crimes and Misdeameanors,” and specifically the charges against President Clinton, Thompson says:

I believe that the founders did not intend to make our job easy. They provided no list of offenses.

Today we are faced with an unprecedented situation. The President engaged in inappropriate personal conduct. It had nothing to do with his official duties, but it did involve a federal employee under his supervision, government time and government facilities. In an attempt to conceal and cover up that activity, he lied, misled and helped conceal evidence both physical and testimonial in a court proceeding. In doing so he elicited the help of other government employees. Therefore, the subject matter was essentially private, but the forum, a United States court, became public. One side says that he `only lied about sex,’ and it had nothing to do with his official duties, therefore, it `clearly does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense.’ The other side says that any perjury and any obstruction of justice `clearly does rise to the level of an impeachable offense.’ I do not think that either position is consistent with history or proper analysis.

It is extremely important that we refrain from latching onto a definition of `high crimes and misdemeanors’ simply because it leads us inexorably to a conclusion which we may desire. Clearly, a President’s offense or offenses must be serious and/or have serious consequences. Also, while they do not have to be crimes, my own opinion is that in most cases they will be crimes. They must be crimes against the state, but we cannot adopt an unreasonable restriction of that term. The President does not have to order tanks to move on the J. Edgar Hoover building. Offenses against the state can include activity which will undermine our governmental institutions. How can we say that bribing a judge to effect an outcome in a law suit involving a President’s purely personal conduct constitutes an impeachable offense, but say that insinuating perjury into that same law suit to effect the same outcome is clearly not impeachable? And while it is true that the founders meant to cover `public’ behavior, I believe they also meant to cover behavior that has a negative effect on the public if it is of sufficient gravity. Furthermore, if the President’s conduct poses a threat and danger to a country, that certainly is a legitimate (though not exclusive) consideration. If that same conduct serves to undermine the President’s credibility and moral authority, that could also pose a danger to the country and is similarly a legitimate consideration. And, again his conduct does not necessarily have to deal with his office. In the Constitution, a named offense is bribery (treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors), and bribery itself does not necessarily have to do with the President’s official capacity, if the President is making the bribe.

Article End
Posted by Maggie

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