Rep. Barbara Jordan Richard Nixon Impeachment Hearing Speech
On July 25, 1974, Representative Barbara Jordan delivered a powerful speech at the Richard Nixon Impeachment Hearings. Read the transcript of her speech here.
I recognize the gentle lady from Texas, Miss Jordan, for the purpose of general debate, not to exceed a period of 15 minutes.
Barbara Jordan: (00:15)
Thank you Mr. Chairman.
Barbara Jordan: (00:17)
Mr. Chairman, I join my colleague, Mr. Wrangell, in thanking you for giving the junior members of this committee the glorious opportunity of sharing the pain of this inquiry. Mr. Chairman, you are a strong man and it has not been easy but we have tried as best we can to give you as much assistance as possible.
Barbara Jordan: (00:41)
Earlier today, we heard the beginning of the preamble to the Constitution of United States. “We the people.” It’s a very eloquent beginning. But when that document was completed on the 17th of September in 1787, I was not included in that “We the people.” I’ve felt somehow, for many years, that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation, and court decision, I have finally been included in “We the people.”
Barbara Jordan: (01:20)
Today, I am an inquisitor, and hyperbole would not be fictional and would not overstate the solemnness that I feel right now. My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total, and I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution. Who can so properly be the inquisitors for the nation as the representatives of the nation themselves? The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men. And that’s what we’re talking about. In other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. It is wrong, I suggest, it is a misreading of the Constitution for any member here to assert that for a member to vote for an article of impeachment means that that member must be convinced that the President should be removed from office.
Barbara Jordan: (02:32)
The constitution doesn’t say that. The powers relating to impeachment are an essential check in the hands of the body, the Legislature, against and upon the encroachments of the Executive. The division between the two branches of the Legislature, the House and the Senate, assigning to the one the right to accuse and to the other the right to judge. The framers of this Constitution we very astute. They did not make the accusers and the judges the same person.
Barbara Jordan: (03:08)
We know the nature of impeachment. We’ve been talking about it a while now. It is chiefly designed for the President and his high ministers to somehow be called into account. It is designed to bridle the Executive if he engages in excesses. It is designed as a method of national inquest into the conduct of public men. The framers confided in the Congress the power if need be to remove the President in order to strike a delicate balance between a president swollen with power and grown tyrannical, and preservation of the independence of the Executive.
Barbara Jordan: (03:55)
The nature of impeachment, a narrowly channeled exception to the separation of powers maxim. The federal convention of 1787 said that. It limited impeachment to high crimes and misdemeanors and discounted and opposed the term maladministration. “It is to be used only for great misdemeanors,” so it was said in the North Carolina Ratification Convention, and in the Virginia Ratification Convention, “We do not trust our Liberty to a particular branch. We need one branch to check the other.”
Barbara Jordan: (04:36)
“No one need be afraid,” the Northwest Carolina Ratification Convention, “No one need to be afraid that officers who commit oppression will pass with immunity.” “Prosecution of impeachments will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community,” said Hamilton in the Federalist papers number 65, “We divided the part is more or less friendly or inimical to the accused. I do not mean political parties in that sense.” The drawing of political lines goes to the motivation behind the impeachment, but impeachment must proceed within the confines of the Constitutional term high crime and misdemeanors.
Barbara Jordan: (05:27)
Of the impeachment process, it was Woodrow Wilson who said that, “Nothing short of the grossest offenses against the plain law of the land will suffice to give them speed and effectiveness. Indignation so great as to overgrow party interest may secure a conviction, but nothing else can.” Common sense would be revolted, if we engaged upon this process for petty reasons.
Barbara Jordan: (06:01)
Congress has a lot to do, appropriations, tax reform, health insurance, campaign finance reform, housing, environmental protection, energy sufficiency, mass transportation. Pettiness can not be allowed to stand in the face of such overwhelming problems. So today we’re not being petty. We’re trying to be big, because the task we have before us is a big one. This morning, in a discussion of the evidence, we are told that the evidence which purports to support the allegations of misuse of the CIA by the President is thin. We’re told that that evidence is insufficient.
Barbara Jordan: (06:51)
What that recital of the evidence this morning did not include is what the President did know on June the 23rd, 1972. The President did know that it was Republican money, that it was money from the Committee for the Reelection of the President, which was found in the possession of one of the burglars arrested on June the 17th. What the President did know, on the 23rd of June, was the prior activities of E. Howard Hunt, which included his participation in the break-in of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s, which included Howard Hunt’s participation in the [inaudible 00:07:37] ITT affair, which included Howard Hunt’s fabrication of cables designed to discredit the Kennedy administration.
Barbara Jordan: (07:45)
We were further cautioned today that perhaps these proceedings ought to be delayed because certainly there would be new evidence forthcoming from the President of the United States. There has not even been an obfuscated indication that this committee would receive any additional materials from the President. The committee’s subpoena is outstanding. And if the President wants to supply that material, the committee sits here.
Barbara Jordan: (08:14)
The fact is that on yesterday, the American people waited with great anxiety for eight hours, not knowing whether their President would obey an order of the Supreme Court of the United States. At this point, I would like to juxtapose a few of the impeachment criteria with some of the actions the President has engaged in. Impeachment criteria, James Madison, from the Virginia ratification convention. “If the president be connected in any suspicious manner with any person, and there be grounds to believe that he will shelter him, he may be impeached.” We have heard time and time again, that they evidence reflects the payment to defendants, money, the President had knowledge that these funds were being paid and these were funds collected for the 1972 Presidential campaign.
Barbara Jordan: (09:24)
We know that the president met with Mr. Henry Peterson 27 times to discuss matters related to Watergate. And immediately thereafter met with the very persons who were implicated in the information Mr. Peterson was receiving. The words are, “If the president is connected in any suspicious manner with any person, and there be grounds to believe that he will shelter that person, he may be impeached.” Just a story.
Barbara Jordan: (09:55)
Impeachment is intended for occasional and extraordinary cases, where a superior power acting for the whole people it’s put into operation to protect their rights and rescue their liberties from violations. We know about the Houston plan. We know about the break-in of the psychiatrist’s office. We know that there was absolute, complete direction on September 3rd, when the president indicated that a surreptitious entry had been made in Dr. Fielding’s office, after having met with Mr. Ehrlichman and Mr. Young. Protect their rights, rescue their liberties from violation.
Barbara Jordan: (10:47)
The Carolina Ratification Convention impeachment criteria, “Those are impeachable who behave amiss or betray their public trust.” Beginning shortly after the Watergate break in and continuing to the present time, the President has engaged in a series of public statements and actions designed to thwart the lawful investigation by government prosecutors. Moreover, the President has made public announcements and assertions bearing the Watergate case, which the evidence will show he knew to be false. These assertions, false assertions, “Impeachable, those who misbehave, those who behave amiss, or betray the public trust.”
Barbara Jordan: (11:40)
James Madison, again, at the Constitutional Convention, “A President is impeachable if he attempts to subvert the Constitution.” The constitution charges the President with the task of taking care that the laws be faithfully executed. And yet the president has counseled his age to commit perjury, willfully disregard the secrecy of grand jury proceedings, concealed surreptitious entry, attempt to compromise a federal judge, while publicly displaying his cooperation with the processes of criminal justice. “A President is impeachable if your attempts to subvert the constitution.”
Barbara Jordan: (12:22)
If the impeachment provision in the Constitution of the United States will not reach the offenses charged here, then perhaps that 18th century Constitution should be abandoned to a 20th century paper shredder. Has the president committed offenses and planned and directed and acquiesced in a course of conduct, which the Constitution will not tolerate? That’s the question. We know that, we know the question. We should now forthwith proceed to answer the question.