I covered every sorry step of the last time we went down this road of sex, lies and presidential cover-up. The same party that obsessively pursued the rule of law in the impeachment of Bill Clinton won’t say a word about it now.
Hello, Republicans? Are any of you from the Grand Old Party still out there?
I’ve been waiting, and sort of wondering, ever since the president’s lawyer accused him in federal court of conspiring to swing an election by paying off a porn star.
I was a reporter covering the Capitol in D.C. the last time we went down this sorry road of sex, lies and the presidential cover-up, in the 1990s. And I spent dozens if not hundreds of hours listening to Republicans discuss the importance of honor, integrity and the rule of law.
Such as: “Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office,” then-Rep. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, argued to the U.S. Senate during Bill Clinton’s 1999 trial, which I covered. “You don’t even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job in this constitutional republic, if this body determines your conduct as a public official is clearly out of bounds in your role.”
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It wasn’t all just sanctimony. Clinton did lie under oath. He deserved to be called out for it, though due to the special prosecutors going completely off the rails, probably not ousted from office.
A friend who was a federal prosecutor once argued to me that Clinton’s behavior, dismissed by many as just an affair, actually had a corrosive effect down through the judicial system. When prosecutors would advise witnesses or suspects about the importance of telling the truth, inevitably someone would ask sarcastically: “You mean like Clinton?”
Today, the same GOP that defended the letter of the law with the obsessiveness of Inspector Javert won’t say a word on its behalf.
The case for impeaching President Donald Trump is no slam dunk, but it’s already stronger than it was against Clinton. The House impeached Clinton for perjury and obstructing justice related to his affair with Monica Lewinsky. But notably, she never “flipped” — never cooperated with prosecutors — and consequently testified in the trial that their affair was consensual. So it was never shown that Clinton’s lies had much purpose beyond avoiding embarrassment (he also was in his last term, so he couldn’t run for re-election).
Trump, meanwhile, already has been accused by his own lawyer, under oath, of making hush-money payments to a porn star “for the purposes of influencing [an] election.” So, yes, as with Clinton, there’s the sex, which nobody cares about. But instead of cheating the legal system, as Clinton did, Trump is alleged to have cheated the electoral system.
“There’s no question there’s plenty of evidence right now for the House to start an investigation,” says Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, the only member of Washington state’s House delegation who was there for Clinton’s impeachment. “Is that an impeachable offense? I don’t know, but there’s already more to go on than they had back then.”
For example, Trump also may have lied on his financial disclosure when he took office, as there was no mention of the payoffs there. If that was done knowingly, then that could be another federal crime.
Are these high crimes? In one sense the sleaze makes them decidedly low ones. But they’re the sort of subversion of the rule of law the GOP used to pretend to be super-concerned about.
I remember at the end of the Clinton trial, the Washington state senator, Slade Gorton, was the first to speak. Gorton had special credibility because years before as a state attorney general he had been one of the early Republicans in the nation to call for a president in his own party, Richard Nixon, to resign. In other words, he was the kind of free-thinking politician that doesn’t seem to exist anymore.
The big problem with letting Clinton off, Gorton told the other 99 senators, is that it wouldn’t end there.
“If we say that some perjuries, some obstructions of justice, some clear and conscious violations of a formal oath are free from our sanction, the Republic and its institutions will be weakened,” Gorton predicted. “One exception, or excuse, will lead to another, and the right of the most powerful to act outside the law will be established. Our republican institutions will be seriously undermined.”
Ironic, because his old party fits that description today more than anything else.