When President Bill Clinton, over 20 years ago, was probed by a special investigator, and 11 possible grounds for impeachment were found, including perjury, witness tampering and obstruction of justice, Democrats didn’t defend their party’s President the way Republicans defend Trump today.
No, Democrats were far more extreme.
What makes the rhetorical record so glaringly hypocritical is that in Donald Trump’s case, unlike Clinton’s, the investigator found no evidence of presidential crimes.
As congressional Democrats’ current leaders endure the pressure of their younger, further-to-the-left colleagues, who want Trump’s head on a platter ASAP, they’re going to find themselves haunted by their own ghosts of impeachment past.
Here is then-Congressman Charles Schumer of New York City, member of the House Judiciary Committee, on the House floor on Dec. 18, 1998, the day before Clinton was impeached. Schumer had won election to the U.S. Senate the month before.
“Voting against these articles will be my last act” as a member of the House of Representatives, Schumer declared, lamenting that “now we are routinely using criminal accusations and scandal to win the political battles and ideological differences we cannot settle at the ballot box … And it is hurting our country, it is marginalizing and polarizing this Congress.”
It sounds familiar. But Schumer then added, presciently: “I expect history will show that we have lowered the bar on impeachment so much, we have broken the seal on this extreme penalty so cavalierly, that it will be used as a routine tool to fight political battles. My fear is that when a Republican wins the White House, Democrats will demand payback.”
‘The Instinct For Revenge’
And then the current Senate Minority Leader came to his crescendo. “Mr. Speaker, in Greek mythology, in the Oresteia, a trilogy of ancient Greek plays by Aeschylus, the warring factions of the House of Atreus trapped themselves in an escalating chain of revenge, such that Atreus serves his brother a pie that contained his brother’s own murdered children … Let us not become a House of Atreus. Let us reject the instinct for revenge and embrace instead a greater sense of justice for the sake of our Republic.”
So impeaching a President proven to have committed crimes is like serving a pie containing murdered children, according to the current leader of the Senate’s Democrats.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, also of New York City and also a House Judiciary member, took to the House floor that day to speak too. “Mr. Speaker, the precedents show and the nation’s leading scholars and historians overwhelmingly agree that impeachment is reserved under the Constitution only for abuses of presidential power that undermine the structure of functioning of government or of constitutional liberty. It is not intended as a punishment for crimes but as a protection against the President who would abuse his powers to make himself a tyrant.
“That,” Nadler noted, “is why Benjamin Franklin called impeachment a substitute for assassination.”
So impeaching a President proven to have committed crimes is like being John Wilkes Booth or Lee Harvey Oswald, according to the current House Judiciary Committee chairman.
Playing down Clinton’s lying under oath to a grand jury, a crime that led to Clinton’s disbarment after exiting the presidency, Nadler added: “Perjury on a private matter, perjury regarding sex, is not a great and dangerous offense against the nation. It is not an abuse of uniquely presidential power. It does not threaten our form of government. It is not an impeachable offense.”
‘A Partisan Railroad Job’
Today Nadler may be on a bloodhound hunt for Trump’s hide, but back then he said impeachment was the equivalent of a coup. “The effect of impeachment is to overturn the popular will of the voters. We must not overturn an election and remove a President from office except to defend our system of government or our constitutional liberties against a dire threat, and we must not do so without an overwhelming consensus of the American people.”
Well, some 53 percent of Americans, at least at the beginning of this month, didn’t want Trump impeached.
“There must never be a narrowly voted impeachment or an impeachment supported by one of our major political parties and opposed by another,” Nadler said 20 years ago. “Such an impeachment will produce divisiveness and bitterness in our politics for years to come, and will call into question the very legitimacy of our political institutions.”
Well, there is but one Republican in Congress supporting Trump’s impeachment and he’s hardly a Republican at all.
Nadler even said that the “allegations, even if proven true, do not rise to the level of impeachable offenses” and “this is clearly a partisan railroad job.” He insisted that impeachment is “certainly not meant to be a means to punish a President for personal wrongdoing not related to his office.” In light of that, how odd that today Nadler is so anxious to get Trump’s tax returns going back so many years.
Nadler even touted the testimony to his committee of “William Weld, who headed up the Criminal Division of Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department, who compellingly explained why all the loose talk about perjury and obstruction of justice would not hold up in a real prosecutor’s office, that the evidence we have been given would never support a criminal prosecution in a real court of law.”
Today, Weld, a former Massachusetts governor, is running against Trump for the GOP 2020 nomination, and arguing the opposite of the things he said regarding Clinton’s then-impending impeachment.
Nadler’s overall conclusion was that “this partisan coup d’etat will go down in the history of this nation in infamy.”
Finally, there is Nancy Pelosi, also speaking on the House floor that day, charging that “today the Republican majority is not judging the President with fairness but impeaching him with a vengeance.” And it was all “because the Republicans in the House are paralyzed with hatred of President Clinton, and until the Republicans free themselves of this hatred, our country will suffer.”
‘A Crime That Does Not Exist’
Pelosi went further than the others, actually claiming Bill Clinton did nothing wrong – remarkable coming from the country’s most prominent female Democrat as we look back in Me Too hindsight.
“So it is not about Whitewater, it is not about Travelgate, and it is not about Filegate. It is about sex,” Pelosi declared, calling Clinton’s offenses just “a punishment searching for a crime that does not exist.”
According to Pelosi in 1998, “our colleagues have not proven perjury.” She concluded: “stop this hatchet job on the presidency, stop this hypocrisy, stop this hatred and vote no on all four counts.”
As a substitute for impeaching their party’s President, Democrats proposed the constitutionally dubious notion of censuring Clinton. But their censure motion echoed the Republicans’ articles of impeachment, because it was so obvious to the public that Clinton had committed crimes. Clinton “made false statements concerning his reprehensible conduct with a subordinate,” the resolution stated, “wrongly took steps to delay discovery of the truth … and the President remains subject to criminal and civil penalties for this conduct.”
So how could Pelosi support passing a congressional resolution making those grave pronouncements, while at the same time claiming it was all “a punishment searching for a crime that does not exist”?
Although Nadler and other Democrats actually did float a censure proposal against Trump a year and a half ago, there is no way Democrats could assemble a censure resolution against Trump today, just as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff can’t enumerate his “evidence” that Trump committed obstruction of justice, which he has claimed to have for two years. Any censure resolution against Trump along the lines of the one Democrats fashioned 20 years ago in hopes of preventing Clinton’s impeachment would have to contradict the Mueller report.
Now that President Trump is not only resisting congressional subpoenas but refusing to work with Democrats on legislation like infrastructure spending, the electoral stage is set for 2020 – whether Pelosi, Schumer
— Written by Thomas McArdle
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