JIM LEHRER: President Clinton’s legal defense before the House Judiciary Committee. Stuart Taylor of the National Journal and Newsweek magazines and Tom Oliphant of the Boston Globe are back to offer their commentary. The NewsHour’s chief Washington correspondent, Margaret Warner, is here to assist me in keeping the story line going, among other things. And speaking of the story line, tell us what it is this afternoon.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, this is the big moment that everyone’s been waiting for, I think the President’s detractors, as well as his supporters. This is when Charles Ruff, the White House counsel, lays out the president’s defense both factually and on the law. And he –
JIM LEHRER: And there he is, sitting. He’s already at the witness table, waiting for the committee members, and the man directly behind him is David Kendall, who is the president’s personal lawyer, now being obstructed by a – there you go – there, you can see him – just to Mr. Ruff’s left. That is David Kendall, the president’s personal lawyer, who is not scheduled to participate in this, this afternoon, correct?
MARGARET WARNER: That’s correct. He did the questioning of Kenneth Starr when Kenneth Starr appeared before the committee. But he has been kept out of a public role in these hearings this week.
JIM LEHRER: And Mr. Ruff will – will obviously be speaking – what he says will be based on the 182-page paper that the White House has offered, correct?
TOM OLIPHANT: Yes, as far as that goes, but it may be necessary to go further because there are disagreements within the Republican majority that involve how to write the articles of impeachment by the time they’re to be submitted on the weekend. You know, they don’t have agreement on what the charges are yet, and they may disagree among themselves as to some of the perjury allegations. Some may not want to vote for perjury charges involving the deposition in the Jones case last January. Other members oppose perjury on the charge of abuse of power, depending on how it’s written. So while I think Marty Meehan is exactly right, that 21 to 16 for something ñ it’s very interesting that as of tonight we have nothing in the way of a charge.
JIM LEHRER: And so then the next issue on this, Stuart, is that the real audience today are those 20 to 25 ñ how many ever there are ñ moderate Republicans — not on the committee but elsewhere ñ who could eventually decide this by weekend, when this goes to the floor of the House.
STUART TAYLOR: That’s right.
JIM LEHRER: Actually by next weekend.
JIM LEHRER: And good morning from Washington. I’m Jim Lehrer. Welcome to PBS’s special NewsHour coverage of the House Judiciary Committee hearings on the impeachment of President Clinton.
Today the President’s attorneys begin a two-day defense presentation. We expect to hear from Gregory Craig, special assistant to the President and special counsel and to Charles Ruff, the White House counsel. As part of the presentation, they will call four panels of witnesses over the next two days. We will be broadcasting today’s proceedings in full. The NewsHour’s chief Washington correspondent, Margaret Warner, is here with me this morning, and so are two commentators, Stuart Taylor, a columnist for the National Journal and Newsweek magazines and Boston Globe columnist Tom Oliphant.
JIM LEHRER: Tom, how would you characterize what is to happen here today and tomorrow?
TOM OLIPHANT: This is going to be a little weird on one level at least in that we are going to see an actual defense on the law and the Constitution and more on the facts than some people realize for two days against charges that have yet to be made. Behind the scenes this committee’s Republican majority is working on the charges which have not yet been presented in detail. But you will hear an actual defense with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
JIM LEHRER: And there you see on the screen Congressman Henry Hyde, the chairman of the committee, who said yesterday at a news conference that he felt that the Republicans had made a compelling case for impeachment. Stuart, what would you add to what Tom said about what this is about these next two days?
JIM LEHRER: And there we have it: Kenneth Starr delivering his statement to – as he just said it – to the chairman, to the committee, and to the American people. It was estimated beforehand it would take about two hours, and it did, in fact, take almost two hours.
We have some commentary now. We go to National Journal and Newsweek columnist Stuart Taylor and author/journalist Elizabeth Drew for some commentary on what happened this morning and how –what Mr. Starr said and how he said it. The NewsHour’s chief Washington correspondent, Margaret Warner, is also here.
Okay, Elizabeth, how did he do?
ELIZABETH DREW: Well, I think he made the strongest possible case, which is what he went there to do, for impeachment of the president. I still think there’s a question statutorily whether that is his proper role. And in doing so, he did what prosecutors do – you bring in everything you can, and you give it the worst possible inference. I noticed a number of times, for instance, he said, "the evidence suggests." This is inferential material and circumstantial. And when you get all – in some cases he was just a little bit cute. For instance, just quickly, in talking about the job search, he said, that began after the Supreme Court ruling in the Jones case in May of ’97. Well, a lot of things happened after that. And then he says it intensified in December. But we know from the tapes, the famous tapes, that the job –
JIM LEHRER: This is the Linda Tripp tapes of Monica Lewinsky.
JIM LEHRER: And good morning from Washington. I’m Jim Lehrer. Welcome to PBS’s special NewsHour coverage of the House Judiciary Committee hearings on the impeachment of President Clinton. The witness today and possibly tomorrow will be independent counsel Kenneth Starr. It was his four hundred page plus report of allegations against the President that led to these formal impeachment proceedings. We’ll be broadcasting his testimony in full. The NewsHour’s chief Washington correspondent, Margaret Warner, is here with me this morning. So are two commentators: Stuart Taylor, columnist for the National Journal and Newsweek magazines, and author/journalist Elizabeth Drew.
JIM LEHRER: Margaret, this committee — 21 Republicans, 16 Democrats — it’s got a reputation for being very politically polarized.
MARGARET WARNER: Yes. That’s an understatement, Jim. The issues this committee deals with, which are really hot button social issues, everything from affirmative action to abortion to criminal justice, has attracted the polarized extremes really of both parties. There are a few centrists, but – and Henry Hyde, the chairman, has a reputation for being very measured and very courteous, but he always has his hands full, and he may well have his hands full today.
ELIZABETH DREW: Could I make a point about that?
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
JIM LEHRER: Good afternoon from Washington. I’m Jim Lehrer. And we’re back with our special PBS NewsHour coverage of Kenneth Starr’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. Stuart Taylor of the National Journal and Newsweek Magazines and author/journalist Elizabeth Drew are back to offer their commentary. The NewsHour’s chief Washington correspondent, Margaret Warner, is here to assist me in keeping the story line going, among other things.
JIM LEHRER: Margaret, the first order of business now, when they reconvene, the two counsels are going to cross-examine Starr. Tell us about these two men.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, David Schippers, the Republican counsel, actually is a lifelong Democrat, but he’s a 68-year-old former prosecutor. He’s spent a lifetime as a prosecutor in Chicago, and he really brings the prosecutor’s approach to this. When he laid out the case for the Republicans back before they voted for the impeachment inquiry, he said that he believes very much, as Henry Hyde does, that lying under oath is not only an impeachable offense, but it really attacks the very foundation of our rule of law. And he made that very clear.
Abby Lowell is 20 years younger, 48. He’s a lawyer, of course, but he’s had a much more sort of inside Washington practice. He’s defended a number of –
JIM LEHRER: There he is there. There he is now on camera, right?
MARGARET WARNER: Yes. In fact, he’s spent some time on camera too doing court commentary on television, but he has also defended individuals such as Jim Wright, who have been under fire for ethics violations, or alleged violations. He made clear in his comments two months ago that as far as he was concerned, or as far as the committee was – as far as the committee Democrats were concerned – having an improper relationship and lying about it was not an impeachable offense.
JIM LEHRER: All right. An afternoon break. We’re uncertain at this point as – let’s see – Congressman Gekus – there are 35 actually – yes, there are – there are still 30 to go — Margaret, if I have counted right. Margaret Warner is here, along with Stuart Taylor and Elizabeth Drew for this break. As you heard Chairman Hyde say, they will be back at 5 after 2. I wouldn’t take any bets on that, but that’s neither here nor there.
JIM LEHRER: But anyhow, the one question that’s been unanswered at this point – at least we don’t have an answer to it – is that the original plan was that the minority counsel, Abbe Lowell, was going to question Mr. Starr for 30 minutes and that got extended to an hour and then a little bit more, and then Mr. Schippers, David Schippers, the minority counsel, was going to question Mr. Starr, and then the members were going to do it. Obviously, they’ve made a change.
Where do you think things stand at this stage of the game, Stuart?
JIM LEHRER: And to some analysis and commentary about this day from Stuart Taylor, columnist for the National Journal and Newsweek, and author/journalist Elizabeth Drew.
JIM LEHRER: Elizabeth, what, in your opinion, was the most important thing that happened today?
ELIZABETH DREW: I think the most important thing that happened today was that it was a very large and dramatic example or showing that this is a very troubling precedent. Now, Zoe Lofgren was talking about the lack of dignity and sobriety. She was part of – she was on the staff of someone on the Impeachment Committee in 1974. I covered it. Now, you know, you don’t want to bathe in nostalgia, say those were the great old days and it should be like that, but this struck me as not particularly thoughtful. Most people made up their minds, and –
JIM LEHRER: So you would agree with me that it’s still 21 to 16?
JIM LEHRER: The president’s personal attorney, David Schippers, is the majority counsel. They will each question Kenneth Starr when we come back at 8:25. We want to have some comments here now of again from Stuart Taylor and Elizabeth Drew, who along with NewsHour Chief Washington Correspondent Margaret Warner has been watching Kenneth Starr’s testimony.
I’ve been making some rough calculations here. Maybe the three of you have a different calculation than I do, but it seemed to me – we’ve just finished the 37 members of the committee – 21 Republicans, 16 Democrats – if my calculations are correct, all 21 of the Republicans asked friendly questions of Mr. Starr, all 16 of the Democrats asked hostile questions. Is that a surprise, and is that indicative of anything significant?
ELIZABETH DREW: It’s indicative of what’s happened to our politics, Jim. In the Nixon impeachment there were on that Judiciary Committee five members – two Democrats, three Republicans, who formed a swing group, who were genuinely undecided. The Democrats were conservative Southern Democrats. In the end in voting on the articles of impeachment six Republicans broke with the president and supported some of the articles. But our politics since then have become so polarized and as we were talking this morning, this committee has now become the receptacle of the extreme wings of both parties. They’re there by design to fight out the social issues and protect their parties on the social issues. So the whole idea that there would be –
JIM LEHRER: Because the Judiciary Committee traditionally handles those kinds of things.
ELIZABETH DREW: It does flag burning – abortion –
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
JIM LEHRER: And good evening once again. I’m Jim Lehrer. We’re back with our special PBS NewsHour coverage of Kenneth Starr’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. Stuart Taylor of the National Journal and Newsweek Magazines and author/journalist Elizabeth Drew are back to offer their commentary. The NewsHour’s chief Washington Correspondent, Margaret Warner, is also here to assist me in keeping the story line going, among other things.
JIM LEHRER: And speaking of that, Margaret, when we come back, David Kendall, the moment that a lot of people have been waiting for, will finally have arrived. David Kendall is the President’s personal lawyer and he was a classmate of the President, was he not, in law school?
MARGARET WARNER: Yes. He has a very similar rÈsumÈ. He was a Rhodes Scholar. Then he went to Yale Law School. He’s 54 years old, just a little older than the President. And he has been handling both the Whitewater case and now the Lewinsky case for five years. And as someone pointed out today, he hadn’t been seen much in public –
JIM LEHRER: There he is now looking through his –
MARGARET WARNER: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: — notes.
MARGARET WARNER: He – inside the White House there was the same wrap on him that there has been on Ken Starr, that he was too focused on the legal jeopardy the President might be in and had a deaf ear to the politics. But when all these letters came out between him and Kenneth Starr, you saw that a lot of bad blood has developed between the two of them and so it’ll be very interesting to see when he finally gets to confront Ken Starr.
JIM LEHRER: And for a long time, Stuart, David Kendall had a very low profile. It’s only been in the last few – I guess last couple of months — has it not? — that he’s finally come out in public and first he wouldn’t say anything, he never had anything to say.