Looking for consistency in American politics is often a long and futile pursuit. But nowhere is that more evident than in the views of key figures in the Senate impeachment trial of U.S. President Donald Trump that starts in earnest on Tuesday.
The line of demarcation — a then-and-now compilation of quotes — is a look-back and a look-now at two presidential impeachments.
One occurred in 1999 when then-President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, faced impeachment over a sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky and his lying about the affair in sworn testimony. Trump, a Republican, now faces allegations he abused the presidency by pressing Ukraine to open investigations to benefit himself politically, and obstructed congressional efforts to review his actions.
Clinton’s main accuser was independent counsel Kenneth Starr, whose wide-ranging investigation of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair led to the president’s impeachment and eventual acquittal in a Senate trial. Two decades ago, some critics considered Starr’s probe overreaching, a crusade to prosecute a moral failing to throw Clinton out of office.
Back then, Trump sympathized with Clinton’s fate.
“I mean, can you imagine those evenings when he’s just being lambasted by this crazy Ken Starr, who is a total wacko? There’s the guy. I mean he is totally off his rocker.”
Fast forward to Trump in the White House. Last week, he named Starr to his Senate trial legal team.
‘Narrowly voted impeachment’
Congressman Jerrold Nadler, one of the key Democratic lawmakers who led the effort to impeach Trump, will help prosecute the case against Trump as one of the House impeachment managers.
During Clinton’s impeachment, Nadler said, “There must never be a narrowly voted impeachment or an impeachment substantially supported by one of our major political parties and largely opposed by the other. Such an impeachment would lack legitimacy, would produce divisiveness and bitterness in our politics for years to come, and will call into question the very legitimacy of our political institutions.”
In December, Nadler chaired the House Judiciary Committee that drafted the two articles of impeachment against Trump.
When the full House approved the impeachment allegations, not a single Republican lawmaker voted for them. Trump was impeached exclusively with the votes of Democrats.
California Congressman Adam Schiff is the lead House manager pursuing Trump’s conviction in the Senate and removal from office. He took a different view of impeachment when he first ran in 2000, a year after Clinton was acquitted.
Schiff’s Republican opponent was a leading antagonist against Clinton as the impeachment drama played out in Washington. Schiff’s campaign literature hammered away at two-term Congressman Jim Rogan for supporting impeachment.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, now the Senate Democratic leader and a key political foe of Trump, has loudly castigated Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell for coordinating legal strategy defending Trump with his White House lawyers.
“Let the American people hear it loud and clear,” Schumer told the Senate, “the Republican leader said, proudly, ‘I’m not an impartial juror. I’m not impartial about this at all.’ That is an astonishing admission of partisanship.”
As senators, who will be jurors, were sworn in last week, they pledged to administer “impartial justice” in considering the case against Trump.
Two decades ago, as Clinton faced his impeachment trial, Schumer said, “We have a pre-opinion.” He said it was “not like a jury box (in a criminal trial) in the sense that people will call us and lobby us. You can’t do that with a juror. The standard is different. It’s supposed to be a little bit judicial and a little bit legislative-political. That’s how it’s been.”
As for McConnell, two decades ago he described the allegations against Clinton as “grave.”
“The investigation is legitimate and ascertaining the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the unqualified, unevasive truth is absolutely critical,” he said back then.
Now, McConnell is leading the fight against Democrats’ calls for testimony from key Trump aides in the White House with knowledge of Trump’s Ukraine actions.
‘Unfit for office’
In the heat of the 2016 presidential campaign, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham called Trump a “kook,” “crazy” and “unfit for office.” In turn, Trump called Graham “one of the dumbest human beings I’ve ever seen.”
Four years later, Graham is one of Trump’s staunchest defenders in the Senate and calling for his quick acquittal.
Graham ridicules Trump’s impeachment as “a partisan railroad job. It’s the first impeachment in history where there’s no allegation of a crime by the president,” Graham said.
“The best thing for the American people is to end this crap as quickly as possible.”