Letter #1 of Rep. Barr to the House Judiciary Committee Regarding Impeachment of March 11, 1997

March 11, 1997

The Honorable Henry J. Hyde
Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary
2110 Rayburn HOB
Washington, D.C. 20515

IN RE: Judiciary Committee Role in Clinton Campaign Scandals

Dear Henry:

I am writing to express my strong personal concern that the emerging campaign-related scandals of this Administration have reached a point where our Committee’s jurisdiction pursuant to the impeachment power of the House of Representatives cannot be ignored. Because this is obviously a matter of the gravest consequence under our constitutional structure of government, I want to outline my current concerns with you before pursuing the matter formally.

As I am sure you know, there is increasing speculation in the press and in academic circles about what the alarming pattern of abuse of the political system by this Administration may ultimately portend. I call your attention to one noteworthy example in last Tuesday’s Washington Times. There legal scholar Bruce Fein posited that the President’s use of his high office to amass his political campaign war chest constitutes an impeachable offense under Article II, section 4 of the Constitution, and calls upon you to commence an impeachment inquiry. I have reviewed the article carefully, in light of both the numerous media accounts of abuse of the political process by this White House, and the current and proposed investigative processes for examining this issue. I find that Bruce Fein’s arguments contain a number of disturbingly convincing points.

The Fein article, a copy of which I enclose, properly identifies the nature of impeachment as essentially a mechanism to curb political crimes against the nation, whether or not such crimes would be indictable under the criminal code. The President’s “merchandizing of the White House,” in Fein’s words, meets that standard.

The potential compromise of national interests by the way in which foreign money was imported to the Clinton campaign, and the very real possibility it resulted in corruption of our foreign policy decision-making — an issue that the Fein article does not address — adds a level of cravenness and urgency that makes the question of political crimes appear all the more persuasive.

What is especially noteworthy is that Fein makes his case without reference to last week’s revelations that there were indeed persuasive, serious, and patently unlawful violations of Section 607(a) of the Federal Criminal Code by virtue of the telephone solicitation for campaign contributions on federal property and with federal resources by the Vice President. And, at week’s end, we witnessed the spectacle of the President himself refusing to assure the American people that he, too, did not similarly violate Section 607(a).

Whether or not this series of criminal law violations would itself constitute sufficient cause to initiate an impeachment inquiry, the cumulative effect of such a series of systemic abuses of the political process, with the implication of discrete criminal violations, points precisely toward theories of impeachment law invoked by this Committee nearly 25 years ago in the matter of President Nixon. These same theories were then, as they must be now, based on clear historical precedent, considered explicitly by our Founding Fathers, that alone among remedies to correct abuses of power or improper conduct by high public officials, stand impeachment.

Of course, it is one thing to posit argument in an op-ed article, and another to trigger the official action of invoking the impeachment process. In this regard, I take notice that there now exists other, related pending inquiries. Indeed, as a Member of the Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, I am now participating in its comprehensive investigation of alleged campaign irregularities as they may have compromised the integrity of government operations. The Committee’s mission and exercise of authority, however, is specifically directed toward the integrity of government process and therefore does not replace — nor was it ever intended to substitute for — the concerns that attach uniquely to this Committee’s charge under its impeachment inquiry powers.

By the same token, while I have a respectful appreciation for the work that the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee proposes to undertake in this area, I do not see where it is any more properly situated than our sister House committee to ask and resolve questions, such as those concerning violations of Section 607(a) of the Federal Criminal Code, that appear to fall under this Committee’s jurisdiction. This dilemma may indeed have accounted at least in part of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott’s suggestion for appointment of an Independent Counsel.

As you know, Mr. Chairman, the Independent Counsel mechanism is of recent vintage; neither provided for nor contemplated by, our constitutional draftsmen. Clearly, it plays a role, but not the paramount or leading role. The problem persists that the web of Clinton campaign-related scandal has grown to such complexity and proportion, and suggests the operation of such a comprehensive scheme to undermine the norm of lawful and ethical government process, that the Independent Counsel law may not allow a sufficiently broad mandate because it concerns specifically the question of indictable offenses only; a very narrow, precise and time consuming procedure. In any event, the Independent Counsel statute cannot be viewed as a permissible or desirable alternative to the Constitutionally-mandated process of addressing issues properly reserved for impeachment inquiry. To treat that law in such a manner would undermine our own Constitutional obligations.

In sum, I conclude that there exists, and I believe that the Fein article articulates, matters of legitimate, procedural concern that, on reflection, deserve further attention in the context of our Committee and its responsibilities. I think we must remain mindful, as members of the House, and as members of the committee that by House rule and custom has always been the vehicle to investigate charges of impeachment, that neither the current nor the proposed investigatory processes relieve us and our colleagues from undertaking impeachment inquiries where there exists a systematic subversion of lawful, political process.

Accordingly, I respectfully ask that this Committee undertake a fresh examination of its proper role in the above-captioned matter, in light of what we are now learning of its extent and pervasiveness. I look forward to working with you.

With warmest personal regards, I am,

very truly yours,

Member of Congress


cc: The Honorable Charles Canady, Chairman, Subcommittee on the Constitution


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