HENRY HYDE: “A
vote about the rule of law.”
Mr. Speaker, my colleagues of the people's House: I wish to talk to you
about the rule of law.
After months of argument and hours of debate, there is no need for further
complexity. The question before this House is quite simple. It is not a
question of sex. Sexual misconduct and adultery are private acts and none
of Congress's business.
It is not a question of lying about sex. The matter before the House is
a question of lying under oath. This is a public act. This is called “perjury.”
The matter before the House is a question of the willful, premeditated,
deliberate, shameless corruption of the nation's system of justice. Perjury
and obstruction of justice cannot be reconciled with the Office of the
President of the United States.
That, and nothing other than that, is the issue before us.
The personal fate of a President is not the issue. The political fate of
his party is not the issue. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is not the
The issue is perjury – lying under oath. The issue is the obstruction of
justice, which the President has sworn the most solemn oath to uphold.
That oath constituted a compact between the President and the American
people. That compact has been broken. The people's trust has been betrayed.
The nation's chief executive has shown himself incapable of enforcing its
laws, for he has corrupted the rule of law by his perjury and his obstruction
That, and nothing other than that, is the issue before this House.
An impeachable offense?
We have heard ceaselessly that even if the President is guilty of the charges
in the Starr referral, they don't rise to the level of an impeachable offense.
Just what is an impeachable offense? One authority (professor Stephen Presser
of Northwestern Law School) said that “Impeachable offenses are those which
demonstrate a fundamental betrayal of public trust; they suggest the federal
official has deliberately failed in his duty to uphold the Constitution
and laws he was sworn to enforce.”
And so we must decide if a President – the Chief Law Enforcement Officer
in the land, the person who appoints the Attorney General, and the only
person with a Constitutional obligation to “take care that the laws are
faithfully executed” – can lie under oath, repeatedly, and maintain that
is not a breach of trust sufficient for impeachment?
The President is the trustee of the nation's conscience – as are we here
today. There have been many pyrotechnics in our Committee hearings on the
respective role of the House and the Senate. Under the Constitution, the
House accuses, and the Senate judges. True, the formula language of our
articles recites the ultimate goal of removal from office but this language
doesn't trump the Constitution which defines the separate functions, the
different functions of the House and Senate. Our Founding Fathers didn't
want the Body that accuses to be the same one that renders final judgment
and they set up the additional safeguard that a two-thirds vote for removal
is required. So despite their protests, our job is to decide if there is
enough evidence to submit to the Senate for a trial - that's what the Constitution
says, no matter what the President's defenders say. (...)
The President's defenders in this House have rarely denied the facts of
this matter. They have not seriously challenged the contention of the independent
counsel that the President did not tell the truth in two sworn testimonies.
They have not seriously attempted to discredit the facts brought before
the Committee by the independent counsel. They have admitted, in effect,
“He did it.” But then they have argued that this does not rise to the level
of an impeachable offense. This is the “so what?” defense – whereby the
Chief Executive, the successor to George Washington, can cheapen the oath,
and it really doesn't matter. (...)
The rule of law
Let us be clear: The vote that all of us are asked to cast is, in the final
analysis, a vote about the rule of law.
The rule of law is one of the great achievements of our civilization. For
the alternative to the rule of law is the rule of raw power. We here today,
are the heirs of three thousand years of history in which humanity slowly,
and at great cost, evolved a form of politics in which law, not brute force,
is the arbiter of our public destinies.
We are the heirs of the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic law: a moral code
for a free people who, having been liberated from cruel bondage, saw in
law a means to avoid falling back into the habits of slaves.
We are the heirs of Roman law: the first legal system by which peoples
of different cultures, languages, races, and religions came to live together
in a form of political community.
We are the heirs of Magna Carta, by which the freemen of England began
to break the arbitrary and unchecked power of royal absolutism.
We are the heirs of a long tradition of parliamentary development, in which
the rule of law gradually came to replace the royal prerogative as the
means for governing a society of free men and women.
We are the heirs of 1776, and of an epic moment in human affairs when the
Founders of this Republic pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor
– sacred honor – to the defense of the rule of law.
We are the heirs of a hard-fought civil war, which vindicated the rule
of law over the appetites of some for owning others.
We are the heirs of the 20th century's great struggles against totalitarianism,
in which the rule of law was defended at immense cost against the worst
tyrannies in human history. The “rule of law” is no pious phrase from a
civics textbook. The rule of law is what stands between all of us and the
arbitrary exercise of power by the state. The rule of law is the safeguard
of our liberties. The rule of law is what allows us to live our freedom
in ways that honor the freedom of others while strengthening the common
good. The rule of law is like a three-legged stool: one leg is an honest
judge, the second leg is an ethical bar, and the third is an enforceable
oath. All three are indispensable to avoid political collapse. (...)
My colleagues, we have been sent here to strengthen and defend the rule
of law – not to weaken it, not to attenuate it, not to disfigure it while
seeking an extra-legal and extra-constitutional solution to the threat
posed to the Republic by a presidential perjurer.
Not a question of perfection
This is not a question of perfection; it is a question of foundations.
This is not a matter of setting the bar too high; it is a matter of securing
the basic structure of our freedom, which is the rule of law.
No man or woman – no matter how highly placed, no matter how effective
a communicator, no matter how gifted a manipulator of opinion polls or
winner of votes – can be above the law in a democracy.
That is not a counsel of perfection; that is a rock-bottom, irreducible
principle of our public life. (...)
Let us declare, unmistakably, that perjury and the obstruction of justice
disqualify a man from retaining the presidency of the United States.
There are a mountain of details which are assembled in a coherent mosaic
in the Report – it reads like a novel, only it's non-fiction – it really
happened and the corroboration is compelling. Read the Report and be convinced.
What we are telling you today are not the ravings of some vast right-wing
conspiracy, but a reaffirmation of a set of values that are tarnished and
dim these days, but it is given to us to restore them so our Founding Fathers
would be proud.
It's your country – the President is our flag bearer, out in front of our
people. The flag is falling my friends. I ask you to catch the falling
flag as we keep our appointment with history.