Kennelly and Gaetan: You are known to many Americans for chairing Bill Clinton's impeachment's hearings. In Bill Clinton's final days in office, to avoid being disbarred, he finally admitted having tried to deceive the justice system regarding his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Did you feel vindicated?
I never felt the need to be vindicated. His belated admission that he lied under oath and deceived the court confirmed our judgment that Mr. Clinton deserved impeachment.
Tell us about the impeachment. How was that time for you?
It was the most troubling time in my entire life as a congressman. I have to say, it was the most troubling time of my life.
The committee made every effort and attempt to be fair, but our effort failed in terms of the impression made in the press. Since a two-thirds vote is required for impeachment, there must be substantial democratic participation and a bipartisan conclusion. So I really tried to conduct the Judiciary Committee hearings in a fair, evenhanded way. Our best efforts were misconstrued.
If time could be turned back, would you still recommend that the House of Representatives vote on articles of impeachment against President Clinton, knowing what you now know?
I would do it again because it was our duty. Any matters that evoke the possibility of impeachment need to be publicly debated. In the case of President Clinton, the offenses were there, staring me in the face. We went ahead and did what we perceived to be our duty. It was a time of real stress, real anxiety for everyone involved.
How did you bear the personal attacks against you which came from your opponents during the impeachment process?
That was the most hurtful thing because all you have is your reputation and your family. They tried to ruin my reputation and hurt my family. It should not have been a surprise to me. When people are in trouble, they go on the offense.
In the impeachment vote, as in most votes, there were Catholics on both sides of the issue. How do you explain the lack of political cohesiveness when it comes to Catholic public officials?
We have Catholics all over the map in the U.S. Congress. We have more than our share of “cafeteria Catholics” picking and choosing what to believe, and it's sad.
I just don't know what to say on that score.
The Church has become politicized. The problem is less with Catholicism per se, I think, and more with the nature of our public institutions. The radical separation between church and state leads people to discount their religious beliefs when they are members of a political body.
Was there a specific time when you became aware of your faith, when it became an active part of your life?
No. I never experienced a “rebirth” because I've always had a strong faith with no major ups and downs. In times of real trouble, you feel the incredible power of our faith. I'm 76 years old. I know.
How have you balanced your intense, political life and the demands of being the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee with the quieter, more interior requirements of faith?
You can't dissociate your daily life from your beliefs. We are on earth to attain salvation. In the sense of priorities, you have to put your faith first, which includes a belief in how we ought to conduct ourselves.
My strong faith was the result of my mother who impressed me with her devotion to the Church. Her instruction was reinforced by my education. I had a thorough Catholic education from grammar school through law school, an excellent education.
You married your wife Jeanne Simpson Hyde just after the war and were together for 45 years. Her death in 1992 was difficult for you.
I can say her death made me realize how deep and profound the Catholic faith is. I just put everything in God's hands. Your submission to God's will is a source of strength. In the darkest moments, you can call upon him.
Do you pray?
More than once every day.
The Bush administration has signaled a new philosophy with the announcement that faith-based organizations should receive federal support. What do you think of this initiative?
I think it is belated recognition of the marvelous work faith-based groups are capable of doing.
Will you be able to apply this approach in your new work, in the House Foreign Relations Committee?
Yes. Absolutely. We must give new emphasis to the use of faith-based groups in the distribution of foreign aid. There are many issues in international relations that have a moral aspect: world hunger, poverty, tribal warfare, ethnic cleansing. The list is endless. These and other issues deserve our attention.
What goals are prominent in your political life now?
I don't know that right now I have any intense goals. You take issues as they come along. I have always felt that abortion is a terrible scourge and that God must be terribly disappointed when we have 1.5 million abortions a year and people who should know better look the other way about this form of holocaust. I'd like to minimize the number of abortions.
I believe that we are on the verge of a new form of defense system. At the same time, these computer viruses remind us that being dependent on computers entails risk in itself.
There is no shortage of political problems; my ambition is to deal with them effectively. Another thing that all of us in public life have to do is dispel the suspicion around political figures. There is so much negativity which drives the best people away from politics. I prefer to stress the positive, the good people in government.
- April 1-7, 2000