tv Oral Histories Hillary Clinton on Nixon Impeachment Inquiry CSPAN December 7, 2019 10:15am-11:01am EST
weekend on american history tv as the c-span cities tour explores the american story. watch videos of all the cities we have visited since 2011. go to c-span.org and follow us on twitter. announcer: next, hillary clinton discusses her time as a lawyer on the staff at the house judiciary committee during the impeachment inquiry of president richard nixon in 1974. the interview is from the richard nixon presidential library oral history collection and was conducted last year by former library director, timothy naftali in july 2018. hillary rodham was a recent graduate of yale law school when she was hired by john doerr, lead special counsel on the judiciary committee. >> when you graduate in 1973, what do you expect to be doing in 1974?
sec. clinton: i expected to go to work for the children's defense fund for marian adelman. i had interned for her, i think after my first year, maybe, and again, i think that's right, i wanted to go to work with her so i moved to cambridge and began working, doing investigations and litigation around issues like the incarceration of juveniles with adults in adult prisons or the effort to give tax exempt status to private segregated academies so they didn't have to pay taxes -- issues like that. expanding childcare, getting better conditions for migrant workers. that's the kind of work we were doing. and that's what i started doing when i graduated and went right to cambridge to work for her.
timothy: please tell us about the call from john doerr. sec. clinton: this is a very funny series of actions. i was down visiting bill in arkansas, i think it was right after christmas, if i remember. either right before or after. bill's phone rang and he got a call from john doerr. and john doerr said, i have been asked to put together a team of lawyers for the house judiciary committee to investigate whether there are grounds for impeachment of president nixon and i have a list of people that i'm going over and you're at the top of the list if you would like to come to work and bill said, well, actually, i'm going to run for congress, so i can't.
and then bill said, well, who else is on your list? and john said, well, mike conway, rufus cormier and hillary rodham and bill said, oh, well hillary rodham is standing right here so he passed me the phone and john doerr asked me if i wanted to go to work in washington for the impeachment inquiry staff. i said, yes, i'm very honored to be asked and so shortly some time after the first of the year, i left my job at the children's defense fund and moved to washington and went to .ork for john doerr timothy: how long did you think this was going to last? you said yes. sec. clinton: i don't know that i thought like that, tim. i think when you're really young and just starting out, how long does a job take? i didn't even know what the job was at that point.
i had no time table at all. timothy: was there any concern on the future president's and your part that your doing this might somehow affect his ability to run? sec. clinton: no, no. first of all, he was running for congress, a race which he lost, by the way. if he had not been running for congress, i believe it's very likely he would have said yes, because a chance to work with john doar on such a historic assignment like this and you're just a really young, out of law school lawyer, hard to say no to that. bill never gave it a second thought about my doing it. timothy: did he talk to ray thornton about this? sec. clinton: i have no idea.
timothy: so in january, you arrive. joe woods thinks it was january 19. it doesn't matter which day it was. when you arrive, you're among the first. right? sec. clinton: i think that's right, yes. those of us from yale who were going to be the youngest lawyers on the team, my memory is we all got there about the same time but that's just what i remember. and it was a start-up law firm. it had to be put together. there were a group of senior lawyers that john either knew or knew of that he had recruited and then there were us. i mean, there weren't very many lawyers in the middle between people like john doar and joe woods and bernie nussbaum and richard gill, people like that, who had a lot of experience
already in the law, some of them in government. and then us newly minted lawyers. timothy: this may surprise people who watch this. but there was an effort to make this a single committee, though there were people chosen by the minority staff. and one of those that met you right off the bat was bill weld. sec. clinton: that's right. timothy: can you tell us what you remember? sec. clinton: there was an effort. i think it mostly succeeded. the majority hired john doar and the minority hired bert jenner who started this massive law firm, jenner and block. and both jenner and doar were experienced lawyers, had really
done complicated cases, either civil rights or business or any other of the challenges lawyers face. so bill weld was there very early. he was one of the first people that i met and i got to know and i worked with. and it was a great team. and i think we all felt like we were on the same team. i never had the feeling that there was the majority and the minority staff. obviously, they were hired by different members but we worked very hard to overcome any sense of separation. timothy: people looking back on that era will think there was a certain inevitability about what happened. when you started out, you were supposed to look for grounds for
impeachment but john doar wasn't asking you for prosecutorial -- sec. clinton: that's right. i think there are several aspects of this that i hope historians and citizens, particularly young people, understand. there were three big challenges that doar wanted us to meet. one was, well, what are the grounds for impeachment? there had been andrew johnson. there had been a number of judges who had been impeached. but the team looking at that -- and i was a very small part of that, doing the research -- that team was looking all the way back to early english precedent, since the founders took the idea, obviously, from the common law.
there was the issue of how do you proceed, how do you actually set up an appropriate process to consider all of these issues? and then the third was, what are the facts and how do we understand the facts? so there was a team working on grounds for impeachment, how you described what high crimes and misdemeanors were, how it needed to relate to abuse of office and power, if it were in keeping with the precedents such as they were. and then there was the process standards that i worked on a lot about, ok, what do we do and how do we do it and what is our role compared to the role of the committee? and then finally the facts. and this was a method that doar
had used in the justice department and probably in his law practice in wisconsin, and they were statements of information. they were not characterized as evidence because we concluded that it wasn't our job to make a prosecutorial case and present the evidence that supported that case, but rather to present the facts to the committee and then the committee would form their own conclusions. so i often laugh thinking about it but we had these little note cards and we were supposed to put one fact on a note card. for example, i remember we were working on this and doar said go back to the beginning, who is richard nixon? how did he get where he is? so a fact would be, richard
millhouse nixon was born on -- and in pennsylvania. and he would say no, those are two facts. apparently in john's practice he would use cards to find patterns and if he didn't have enough of the facts, he couldn't deduce the patterns. so we learned -- i mean, that's why we had these little cards and they attempted, as i recall, some method in the library to organize and sort them. but, you know, really computers were not in common use and i think john preferred his system anyway. so we spent a lot of time doing these cards and looking for anything that could be a piece of information that might go into the presentation we would make to the committee. timothy: is it true they used knitting needles to sort the cards? sec. clinton: i think that was a
short-lived experiment. i don't remember because i wasn't really doing it. but, yeah, you took the fact, which was predominantly handwritten, at least the ones i did were handwritten, then it was like transferred on to a punch card and then the punch cards had certain holes in them and the idea was, it was so primitive, that if you took a knitting needle and you had a stack of these cards and you were looking for his childhood experiences or the committee to re-elect the president, whatever it might be, you would take a knitting needle and you would go through and pick up the cards that would have the hole in a certain place. i think it was a lot easier if you just kept the cards in front of you and shuffled them around and i would see john and some of the senior lawyers talking about that and what's the significance of this piece of information and how does it fit and what does it tell us? timothy: governor weld told a
story, when you arrived, when both of you arrived, john doar said to you on a friday, would you please produce a memo, grounds for impeachment, for tuesday. i won't ask for monday because i want you to have a weekend. it would take lawyers a long time to figure it out. how did you approach this problem? i'm sure you didn't study this in law school. sec. clinton: no, but bill weld is absolutely right. we never had a weekend. we worked, you know, 16, 18-hour days. we sometimes would leave the building to go to dinner but then go right back. so this first assignment was just the beginning of what would be the most intense effort that one could imagine. and the grounds for impeachment was part of the research that i contributed to. the procedures -- how are we
going to do this? is this a trial? the trial's really in the senate. so what is it that the house does? and how do we set ourselves up to serve the house? and so i worked closely with joe woods on what the procedures are. in fact, there is a picture of me sitting at the table with doar and woods appearing before, if i remember right, one of the subcommittees of the judiciary committee to present ideas about process. timothy: maybe congressman castlemire? sec. clinton: that sounds right, yeah. timothy: and hungate? sec. clinton: that sounds right. timothy: help people understand the difference between a committee and a grand jury. sec. clinton: a grand jury is first and foremost part of the executive branch of our government. a grand jury, in a federal matter, is convened by a u.s.
attorney or by the justice department for the purpose of presenting evidence to determine whether the grand jury will bring an information or indictment against whoever the target of the potential prosecution might be. proceedings are supposed to be absolutely secret. the person being questioned does not go in with a lawyer. you go in all by yourself and you're there with whoever the prosecutor has, investigators, f.b.i., whoever it might be. and then there's a grand jury made up of citizens from the area. the judiciary committee is part of the congress and the congress has the sole authority for determining impeachment. the house brings the articles of impeachment, if they so decide. the senate conducts the trial.
and for us, we were asked by doar -- and i think this probably came from rodino and others on the committee, to recognize that they were the authority. it wasn't our job to present an article of impeachment. it was our job to prevent information, to present the legal standards in whatever process we agreed upon and then it was up to the committee to determine whether it would move forward. timothy: to what extent were you involved in the debate over whether james st. clair, the president's lawyer, should be in the proceedings. sec. clinton: i was not involved in that. i knew about it. that was really among the senior
lawyers led by doar and the house members. and my memory is that they were very expansive in permitting st. clair to be privy to information, to be part of the process. but i don't know that any more details. timothy: did you have to do any research on subpoenas? sec. clinton: i don't recall doing that because we were in a position to negotiate. remember, the watergate committee had already subpoenaed and obtained a wealth of information and part of the process that doar had to go through is to work out an agreement with the watergate committee -- senator irvin -- to share what they'd already gotten, either voluntarily or through subpoena.
that included the tapes, to a great extent. so -- i don't recall us but i don't have perfect knowledge of this, either. i don't recall us having to subpoena. we had to work out agreements and maybe as part of that there was a subpoena that had to be either issued or quashed. i don't recall. timothy: that was a long time ago. but were in your 20's and you're part of a group that's trying to figure out an issue that this country hadn't looked at for a century. sec. clinton: right. timothy: some people, like bill weld, for example, started out by thinking that an impeachable offense is a crime and then he changed his mind. i know it was a long time ago. can you remember how the research affected the way you thought about it? sec. clinton: similar to bill weld, once i had done the
research, it seemed clear to me that the president was not above the law, the president did have certain authorities, certain standing. so it didn't require that there be a crime charged in order for there to be an impeachable offense. but what that impeachable offense was often keyed to what we think of as criminal behavior. so obstruction of justice is a crime and whether a president is ever charged with obstruction of justice or not would be, the obstruction of an investigation can represent abuse of power that rises to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors and be the basis of an article of impeachment.
timothy: do you remember thinking about the theme of standards of evidence, such as probable cause, beyond a reasonable doubt, the constitution didn't say anything about that. sec. clinton: right. but that's why i think doar was very careful in what he eventually presented to the committee. i think he believed that the whole enterprise really turned on their being sufficient evidence, not necessarily to the level of beyond a reasonable doubt for a criminal matter, but certainly enough to be persuasive, clear and convincing, because this was in effect the charging mechanism.
if there had been a trial, then i think doar would have had to pivot toward a more explicit reliance on beyond a reasonable doubt because that would be how the public would perceive it but there was no real guidelines for that because what did it mean and who got to determine it. well, in the end of the day, the articles were passed. some came out by the house. the trial was held by the senate. and they had the right, under the constitution, to impose their own understanding of what an impeachable offense was. timothy: one the debates that some of the fence sitters had was should you vote for an
article of impeachment if you don't think the senate will vote to remove. so they were already thinking about the trial. sec. clinton: right. well, i think that's one way of looking at it and it certainly is defensible but i think another way of looking at it is that if you are persuaded that the president has abused power, committed a high crime or misdemeanor, then it's up to the proof that has to be presented in a trial to determine whether two-thirds of the senate agrees with that. and remember, the senators could bring whatever assessment they wanted to this determination. and you couldn't second-guess that. you wouldn't preempt that. it had to be left to them. timothy: as you were doing this research, what were the surprises for you? sec. clinton: well, it hadn't
happened in a presidential setting for 100 years and there was a lot wrong with what was done to andrew johnson. he was hardly a paragon of political rectitude. but it was more than it should have been, in our assessment, a proceeding based on politics, not on evidence of high crimes or misdemeanors, however one defined that. so 100 years later, you have a crime, the break-in of watergate. you have a very vigorous investigation going on through the congress already, through the watergate committee. and so we were trying to impose an understanding of the law and the history combined with a process that would be viewed as
fair, providing due process, to the president, if articles of impeachment were decided. so we were trying to rely on precedent as much as we could but we were kind of making it up based on our best understanding of the law as we researched it. timothy: secrecy was important. sec. clinton: totally. timothy: how did mr. doar enforce secrecy? sec. clinton: i think that, first of all, there were no cell phones. that makes a big difference. but i think he, by just force of character, made it clear to all of us. we did not know where this was going to end up. i certainly didn't. i didn't come in to it with any preconceived notion that, ok, this will be easy, we'll lay out this stuff and the house will be impeached and he'll be convicted in the senate.
i certainly didn't do that. because it was such a historic experience, we all felt the weight of that responsibility. and john made very clear that we would be betraying our duty as lawyers and our historic obligation if we talked. and when we would occasionally go out for lunch, the building where we were working would be staked out by reporters who would be yelling at us. i particularly remember sam donaldson who had a really loud yell and he got to know the names of the lawyers so he would yell "hillary, hillary, come talk to me." so we would walk by. i remember when i appeared at one of the hearings with doar and joe woods before i went over there, because doar wanted to take me because i had done so much of the work and i appreciated it. he said don't talk to anybody.
don't make facial expressions, don't betray any opinion. we're there just to make a presentation to the members of the committee. so it was a matter of honor that we would maintain the secrecy that was so critical for this whole investigation. timothy: there were a lot of leaks but they weren't from the staff. sec. clinton: no, they weren't, they weren't. not from the staff. timothy: how many women were with you on the team? sec. clinton: i don't know. i want to say maybe -- i can call the names, see the faces of five. there might have been more but those are the ones i interacted with the most. timothy: i think on joe woods' team, on his task force, you had john linwoods, david haines.
after mr. woods leaves in may, is that when you moved to bernie's team? or did bernie take over? can you remember what happened when mr. woods left? sec. clinton: i really can't remember. i remember working closely with joe, particularly with the standards to be applied. working with john labovits on the grounds for impeachment along with bill weld. i shared an office with tom bell who was very focused on aggregating and recording the facts, statements of information. so i don't remember. i do remember that starting in early summer, maybe this was through bernie, i began listening to tapes and i began
to listen to the tapes of president nixon talking to his staff members, talking to henry kissinger, talking to his filipino valet. and i particularly remember what we call the tape of tapes, which was richard nixon taping himself listening to tapes. and i was one of several people whose job it was was to try to, insofar as possible, perfect the transcription. so we would sit there with the headphones on just exhaustingly listening, trying to make out words. some of the transcription already occurred but some of it was garbled. it was not at all clear. but the tape of tapes was a big revelation to me. i had no idea that we would be
taping himself listening to tapes and coming up with rationalizations so he would call somebody into the room and he would say, i want to play this for you, now, when i said that, here's what i meant. it was really a shocking experience. timothy: what do you think you concluded that the president, then president, was involved in a cover-up? sec. clinton: i think for me it was listening to the tapes, and particularly the so-called tape of tapes, because it was almost a textbook example of someone trying to get stories straight and getting other people to get their stories straight. i tried really hard not to have an opinion during the winter and spring. but then we would hear from john and bernie and others how they
were piecing together the facts that they had had us accumulate and there were a couple of facts that they found particularly telling, like this has been written about numerous times but when nixon threw the ash tray. and i think that fact had a big impact on some of the members of the house committee, because when you're given information that you expect but it doesn't come out the way you wanted it to, so you pick up an ash tray and out of frustration, anger, disappointment, you throw it, i had the feeling that that was a turning point when that fact was placed in with everything else for a number of the lawyers. timothy: you actually can remember that moment? sec. clinton: yeah. because that was just a -- a
turning point, because either he didn't know and he'd been manipulated by his staff or he did know and he was trying to cover it up. that's how it came across. timothy: i think that came from colson. sec. clinton: could be. timothy: the day before article one was passed by a bipartisan majority, congressman sandman and wiggin went on an attack against congressman sarbanes. it had an effect on the staff because that night the attack was you don't have enough specifics, and you cannot impeach a president without specifics. and that night staff worked tirelessly to put together specifics for every charge in article one. did you participate in that?
sec. clinton: i recall that. see, that was the necessary transitions away from just presenting the statements of information. i think doar and the other senior lawyers were very aware that they didn't want to get ahead of the committee, which i think was the right position for them to be in. but then when the committee was saying, wait a minute, i can't wade through all of this, you got to tell me what it means, you have to construct an argument. and if you're looking at article one, you have to tell me what are the pieces of information that either supported or disproved it and that's when we had to pivot into producing much more -- a much more detailed case, if you will.
timothy: do you remember the work done by woodforde? sec. clinton: i do, i do, yes. i don't know whether john knew him or burke marshall knew him, i don't remember that. but he was brought on board to provide historical perspective and analysis. timothy: were you the liaison? sec. clinton: i can't say i worked for him, he produced his own material. but i was available to do whatever he needed done. timothy: we don't have a lot of time. i just want to ask you a few more questions if i may. do you remember working with -- [indiscernible] sec. clinton: very closely, yes. fred is a meticulous lawyer. he had a very clear view about how to gather facts, how to
evaluate them and how to present them. he worked incredibly hard. he was somebody that i admired and really valued as a colleague. timothy: did you do any research on the abuse of powers? sec. clinton: i don't remember. i don't know. i probably pitched in on everything but i can't remember. timothy: where were you when the articles were being passed? sec. clinton: i think i was in the office. [laughter] i think that's where i was. timothy: was it a surprise? sec. clinton: was it a surprise? by the time they actually were voted on, it wasn't a surprise, because i think rodino and his committee staff had a pretty fair idea of who was going to vote for it by then. timothy: what was your reaction
to the supreme court case, u.s. v nixon? sec. clinton: about the tapes? timothy: yeah. sec. clinton: i thought the outcome was really required because president tapes were done in the course of his official role as president. and so i think that having to turn them over and having to get them cataloged and be available for the public was the right decision. timothy: ok. three more questions and we'll be done. what do you remember about president nixon's resignation? sec. clinton: i was not at all happy or jubilant about him resigning. i thought it was a very sad chapter in our history.
i thought the actual departure was a really poignant, painful moment for him and his family as well as the country. so i watched it on tv like i guess everybody else did. and it was -- it was a really very unfortunate, sad outcome. timothy: what was it like to meet president nixon later? sec. clinton: i met him when bill was in the white house. i don't recall ever meeting him before. but i haven't thought hard about that. he had been to russia. he called the white house and asked if he could come by and brief bill about his trip to russia. bill was fascinated by the idea
because despite his resignation and his abuse of power, he was an incredibly experienced, intelligent person who knew a lot about the world. and so chelsea and i and bill -- he was brought into the white house and brought up the elevator to the second floor, because bill was going to meet him in his private study. he came at night, as i recall. but maybe just right after he got back from russia. so chelsea and i and bill greeted him, welcomed him back to the white house. he had obviously thought about what he wanted to say so he saw me, he said, i know you're working hard on healthcare, that's really a big task. and when he saw chelsea, he said, oh, my daughters went to
sidwell like you are. so he had something that he had prepared to say to us and he had a folder so i think he had written a memo but then he and bill went off to talk about russia. timothy: you went to his funeral. sec. clinton: i did. i went to his funeral. one of the really few regrets i have about our eight years in the white house is that i didn't go to pat nixon's funeral. i think we were just not well informed or understanding of the protocol. we had other things and i think the schedulers or whoever was looking at this basically didn't appreciate the significance that it should have had so i deeply regret not going to mrs. nixon's funeral but we did go to president nixon's funeral. timothy: president clinton gives a eulogy.
were you involved at all in how he described nixon? sec. clinton: i don't recall. he probably talked to me about it. we bounced ideas off of each other. i may have seen a draft but i don't recall specific advice i gave him. timothy: what was it like to be -- you were among people you had studied. how did it make you feel? sec. clinton: by that time i was much more familiar with the role of being first lady and it was the right and proper thing to be at his funeral, to represent the country as we were all doing. so i talked to a number of the former presidents whom i knew,
the former first ladies whom i knew. i think it was a beautiful day in yorba linda and it was a very touching, touching funeral, memorial service. timothy: what should the country have learned from the house's role in impeachment in 1974? sec. clinton: i think that it's such a serious undertaking. do not pursue it for trivial, partisan political purposes. if it does fall to you while you're in the house, to examine abuses of power by the president, be as circumspect and careful as john doar was. restrain yourself from grand standing and holding news
conferences and playing to your base. this goes way beyond whose side they're on and who's on your side. and try to be faithful purveyors of the history and solemnity of that process. timothy: i guess that lesson was not learned. sec. clinton: that lesson was not learned. and that's why i think it's important to keep talking about how serious this is. it should not be done for political partisan purposes. so those who did it in the the late 1990's, those who talk about it now, should go back and study the painstaking approach that the impeachment inquiry
staff took and it was bipartisan. you had a bipartisan staff and you had both democratic and republican members of the committee reaching the same conclusions that there were grounds for impeachment. timothy: secretary clinton, thank you for your time today. sec. clinton: thank you. good to talk to you. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2018] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] [video clip] as the impeachment inquiry of president trump continues in the house, we are looking back to watergate and the impeachment of president richard nixon. for more interviews with key players and discussions of politics, visit c-span.org and search nixon impeachment. products areory tv now available at the new c-span online store. seeo c-span store.org to what is new for american history
tv and check out all of the c-span products. american history tv on c-span3 looks at the impeachments of presidents nixon and clinton. p.m., starting at 6:00 former u.s. representatives reflect on their experience serving on the house judiciary committee during the impeachment inquiry of president richard nixon. >> here is a guy who had influence on my decision to run for office. winning andul in my who i looked up to as a president. i wound up having to make a judgment on him and eventually have to say i would vote for articles of impeachment. >> at 8:00, we look at the impeachment of president bill clinton. >> i think you denigrate the role of the senate, which has
the important role to weigh the evidence, to study what it wants and agree and disagree and that our founding fathers made it extraordinarily difficult to eliminate a president from office by requiring a two thirds vote and that is why have always said, unless this is done bipartisan lee, and tragically there is no bipartisanship here, i am hopeful if it gets to the senate, there would be bipartisanship. absent that, there will be -- >> got help other presidents. >> this weekend, the impeachments of presidents richard nixon and bill clinton. former massachusetts governor bill weld recalls his time as a lawyer on the house judiciary committee staff during the impeachment inquiry of president richard nixon in 1973 and 1974.
the interview is from the richard nixon presidential library oral history collection. in 2011. by committeehired republicans who are in the minority. he is currently running for the republican presidential nomination. i am the director of the presidential library museum for september 28, 2011. i have the honor and privilege to be interviewing william weld in new york city. thank you for joining us today. please tell us how you came to be involved with the inquiry? in the fall of 1973. i was an associate at a law form in boston, asking me if i would be interested in interviewing for a job on the impeachment