Some of the Democratic leadership team in the US House have indicated their concerns that the commencement of an impeachment inquiry in 2019 against the republican President Donald Trump based on his alleged felonious actions as described in the FBI’s 3/22/2019 final report on its Trump -Russia probe led by the Special Counsel Robert Mueller III, could result in negative political repercussions based on the previous impeachment experience in 1998 against the Democratic Party President Bill Clinton.
I argue that the 2 cases have almost no similarities, and thus Democrats in the US House shouldn’t delay/ avoid impeachment against President Trump because of fears based on the 1998 experience.
When the impeachment hearings started against President Clinton, he was in his second term. His popularity was over 60% and it remained high after the Senate did not succeed in ousting him from office. The American public got that a married man lying under oath about having a consensual affair in the workplace was seedy, but that these acts did not meet the threshold of what they considered to be ‘high crimes and misdemeanors which would warrant impeachment. It smelled like a political vendetta by members of the Republican Party.
In President Trump’s case, over 1000 US federal prosecutors from both parties have publicly stated that if Mr. Trump were not president, he would definitely be indicted for numerous instances of criminal wrongdoings based on what’s detailed in the FBI’s Mueller report. Also, President Trump is in his first term where he could win reelection while never having been held accountable for his lawlessness while in office, unless the US House commences an impeachment inquiry, a power granted it by the US Constitution. Even if he doesn’t win, a precedent will have been established for future lawless presidents and he will be touting forever that the Democrats did not even commence an impeachment inquiry, and so they didn’t consider his acts to be of any consequence.
The one immediate benefit would be that the US House oversight committees would automatically be granted access to those redacted parts in the FBI’s final report, covering what was revealed in the grand jury hearings.
See Washington Post article: The full Mueller report could be released — if the House opens preliminary impeachment hearings…
For the best analysis I could find as to whether/ how starting of the impeachment inquiry benefits the US House oversight committees, read the following blog.
See Lawfare post: What Powers Does a Formal Impeachment Inquiry Give the House?
See Laurence Tribe (Harvard Law School professor and US Constitutional scholar)Tweets:
@RepRaskin: “Overwhelming evidence has been presented to us in the Mueller report, and outside of it too, of high crimes and misdemeanors, and we should launch an impeachment inquiry… [A]n inquiry doesn’t prejudge the outcome. We’re not talking about articles of impeachment.”
Exactly. Trump has betrayed his oath, his office, our Constitution, and our country. That he isn’t technically a traitor is small consolation. Every day he wields the power of the presidency is another day of danger to the republic. Every day is one day too many.
On Philippe Reines, the former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton penned the following opinion piece for the New York Times, “Why Impeaching Trump Is ‘Worth It.” (“People say that the 1998 impeachment of Bill Clinton hurt Republicans. Did it really?”)
“But exactly how did impeachment backfire? With two decades of hindsight, it’s not clear the Republicans faced any lasting consequences — a perspective that should inform any Democrat considering whether to undertake the same effort against President Trump.”
“The case for why impeachment hurt the Republicans is straightforward. Most obviously, it didn’t work: President Clinton was not convicted and removed from office. In fact, in early 1999, at the height of the impeachment process, he was more popular than at any other time of his presidency.”
“Furthermore, in the fall of 1998, at the first opportunity for voters to express their feelings at the ballot box after the House voted to begin an impeachment inquiry, the Democrats picked up five seats in the House of Representatives, an embarrassment that drove Newt Gingrich from the speaker’s office.”
“But consider what followed.”
“First, the Republicans went on to take or hold the White House in three of the next five presidential elections — including the 2016 race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.”
“And while Democrats did gain a handful of House seats in midterm elections in 1998, the Republicans maintained control for eight more years, until disapproval of the Iraq war finally tipped Congress to the Democrats in 2006.”
“On the Senate side in 1998, the Republicans maintained their 55-45 majority. With the exception of a 17-month window in 2002 and 2003, Republicans controlled the Senate until 2006. In short, the Republican wave of 1994 endured for nearly a decade after the failed impeachment.”
“It’s true that Mr. Clinton was not removed from office, but Republicans used the fact of his impeachment as a cudgel first against his vice president, Al Gore, and later against his wife. While its impact can’t be quantified, it sure didn’t help either in their election bids.”
“Finally, and most important, the very myth that the 1998 impeachment hurt Republicans protects them today, when pressure to move against Mr. Trump is met with concerns about the political fallout. Clearly, we need to reconsider that myth.”
“Basically, a high crime committed by a Republican won’t be prosecuted because a Democrat was persecuted over a misdemeanor.”
“There are many reasons for Democrats to contemplate impeachment today that go beyond politics. Substantial evidence has already emerged showing that the president has abused his office to the detriment of the American public. That evidence deserves a thorough and transparent airing in Congress, arguably the only venue available for trying a sitting president.”
“Still, as pundits never tire of saying, impeachment is a political process, not a legal one — and the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and Senator Chuck Schumer are right to wonder whether it makes sense to seek impeachment, especially given the unlikelihood of enough Republicans breaking ranks in the Senate. On Monday, Ms. Pelosi said that, for now, Mr. Trump was “not worth” the cost of impeachment to the country.”
“But impeachment is worth it, politically, and not just because of what history shows us. If anything, Democrats are in an even better position than Republicans were in 1998 to benefit, or at worst not suffer, politically.”
“For one thing, 22 Republican senators are up for re-election in 2020, against just 12 Democrats. Especially if the public support for impeachment continues to grow, a Republican vote to acquit the president could tip at least a few vulnerable Republican seats.”
“Also, one reason people think the Republicans suffered for 1998 is that everyone knew, then and later, that it was a crassly political move — Mr. Clinton’s lapses, however you judge them, were personal, not the sort of “high crimes and misdemeanors” that impeachment is intended to address.”
“Most voters today, whether they support Mr. Trump or not, will probably see a potential impeachment against him differently. Especially as the evidence mounts, reasonable people will more and more conclude that the Democrats are doing their civic duty by pursuing impeachment.”
“There is also a mounting political cost to not impeaching Mr. Trump. He will hail it as exoneration and he will go into the 2020 campaign under the banner “I Told You So,” declaring that for all their talk of removing him from office, Democrats had merely been playing politics for three years.”
“But perhaps the most persuasive political case for impeachment is the long view. Set aside what it would mean for the 2020 elections. Mr. Trump is a pernicious, divisive figure who is poisoning our politics, and hopes to do so for years to come. Should he lose in 2020, he has already laid the groundwork for an all-out assault against the media, the political establishment and the Democratic Party itself.”
“Politically, we — the country, not just the Democratic Party — cannot accept that risk.”