Imagine a place where a dictator, a king, a prime minister or a president could walk into your home at any time, and force you to accede to any demand, however unreasonable. Throughout history -- including 18th century Britain -- such regimes have been the norm. The system of rule by law under which we live stands as a stark exception to the historically prevalent notion that a ruler can take whatever he wants, whenever he wants it, from any subject.
As we so quickly forget in times of stability and prosperity, our system is a fragile one; a brief flicker of light in the otherwise dark march of human political history. If we drop our guard, even for a moment, and allow a president to demand citizens gratify his personal desires, and let him place himself in the way of laws designed to prevent such conduct, that light will be greatly dimmed, if not snuffed out.
Our Founding Fathers understood the importance restraining unbridled power, because they grew up in a system that did not. The Constitution includes explicit provisions that protect us from abuse of power, including provisions to prevent us from being forced to quarter soldiers, to stop the government from imprisoning us without cause, and to protect us from involuntary servitude.
The facts of the case before us are not complex. Bill Clinton, first as Governor, and then as President, using the power entrusted to him, coarsely demanded personal favors from individual citizens. When one of those citizens refused, the Supreme Court voted unanimously to allow her access to the courts. Instead of apologizing, Bill Clinton continued to abuse his office to smear that citizen's name and block her access to justice. Instead of telling the truth to the court and a grand jury, the President lied. Instead of cooperating with the court, he obstructed its efforts. At this very moment, government and private employees are working under his direct orders to block this committee's efforts.
We are witnessing nothing less than the symptoms of a cancer on the American presidency. If we fail to remove this cancer, it will expand to destroy the principles that matter most to us.
Any system of government can choose to perpetuate virtue ... or vice. If this President is allowed to use the presidency to gratify his personal desires, in the same way a corrupt county or parish boss solicits money for votes, future occupants will, sadly, do the same. If the proposition that perjury is sometimes acceptable is allowed to stand, in the blink of an eye, it will become acceptable in every case (after all, "equal protection of our laws" will be used to demand equal protection of perjury for all). Such a precedent would hang forever, as an albatross, around the neck of our judicial system. If we stand by while a President obstructs justice and destroys his enemies, our entire government will be contaminated with cynical disdain for the rule of law.
The President of the United States controls at his fingertips the greatest arsenal of destructive power ever assembled in human history; just as the governor of a state controls the state's police power. He has the ability to destroy one life or billions. He is the singular individual charged with the constitutional duty of faithfully enforcing the laws -- all the laws -- of the United States. When evidence emerges that he would abuse that power or fail in that duty, it is a matter of gravest constitutional importance.
If we fail to address such charges, we will soon be left standing dazed and befuddled among the smoldering ruins of a great democracy. We will count the cost of choosing temporal stability over permanent justice, and putting politics over principle, in diminished freedoms, lost lives, and ruined institutions. History is littered with the wreckage of nations whose leaders buried their heads in the sand as adversity appeared on the horizon. The United States of America in 1998 must not suffer the same fate.
In America, we have a right not to be tapped on the shoulder and escorted to a room where a mayor, a governor, or a president, endraped with absolute power, mistreats us. When such conduct occurs, it is the right of any citizen to seek ultimate redress in the one -- the only -- forum designed for that purpose, where each of us is on a level playing field with any other: our courts, the ultimate equalizer in our system of government.
In America, we have a right to pursue justice in court without
high government officials obstructing the proceedings at every opportunity.
In America, we have a right to question the conduct of our leaders without
being publicly smeared and privately threatened by their henchmen.
When those rights are taken away, as this President has done, we must say
unequivocally, "no sir, this you cannot do."
These are the principles our committee must vindicate. A great weight rests on our shoulders today. As we run from press conferences to meetings to the House floor, it is easy to forget our most solemn responsibility -- preserving the rule of law. If we accept that this debate is about sex and politics, rather than truth and justice, we have already failed in our responsibility. Anyone who has made it their goal to hide the truth, obstruct this process or use it for political gain, should summon up whatever tattered remains of honor they have left, stand up, and walk out of this room.
Imagine if all the journalists, lawyers, and staff who fill this room today disappeared. Imagine if they were replaced with the faces of all the great American heroes who have come before us ... the patriots who pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honors to create our republic ... the men who gathered in Philadelphia 211 years ago to solidify it with a constitution ... the young soldiers who bled to death on foreign shores to protect it ... the prosecutors who put their lives on the line to enforce its laws ... the doctors who endangered their own survival to cure diseases that threatened its people ... every teacher who has led her class in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
Could you look into those faces, and tell them it really doesn't matter that the President abused his power, lied to the American people, perjured himself, and subverted the rule of law? Anyone who can answer yes to that question doesn't have the right to sit here today.
In this task, we should not be guided by polls. It is our
job as legislators to diagnose threats to our democracy and eliminate them.
By the time the damage to our system is so great that everyone can see
it, the wounds will be too deep to heal. We have already waited
too long to address this issue. The step we are taking today is one
I urged over a year ago. We must move forward quickly, courageously,
fairly, and, most importantly, constitutionally; along the one and only
path charted for us in the Constitution: impeachment.
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