WASHINGTON—Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosis impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump appears to be failing four tests described by the Democrat he defeated in 2016, Hillary Clinton.
Clinton was part of a team that produced a 1974 staff report for the House Judiciary Committee on how impeachments should be done that Democrats and Republicans both cite today.
But the path Democrats are blazing in 2019 falls short on four key factors that Clinton described as vital to the processs credibility in an interview last year about her experience in helping produce one of the key documents in the Watergate impeachment.
Clinton has until recently said little about the impeachment effort against Trump and Pelosi may wish the former Secretary of State kept quiet as a result of her previously unnoticed comments in a July 9, 2018, interview for the Richard Nixon Presidential Library.
The Nixon Library interview was recently spotlighted by Politico but not as a yardstick for the present impeachment process.
Clinton occupies a unique place among contemporary Americans because she was involved in both the impeachment that prompted Nixons resignation in 1974 and the Monica Lewinsky inspired impeachment (but not conviction) of her husband as President in 1998.
It was as a 26-year-old staff member of the House Judiciary Committee that investigated Nixon in the Watergate scandal that Clinton worked “16 and 18 hour days,” including many on one of the key documents of the 1974 drama.
Clinton, who was then single, had not yet passed her first bar exam when she joined the committee staff team that researched and wrote the “Constitutional Grounds for Impeachment” (CGI) report first made public on Feb. 22, 1974, by judiciary panel chairman Rep. Peter Rodino (D-N.J.).
The report provided a comprehensive review of the history of impeachment to that point, first as it was understood from English history by the authors of the U.S. Constitution, and second as the process had been practiced since 1787 in the impeachments of 10 federal judges, a U.S. senator, a Secretary of War, and President Andrew Johnson.
“There was the issue of how do you proceed, how do you actually set up an appropriate process to consider all of these issues,” Clinton told the interviewer about the origin of the document. “There were the process standards that I worked on a lot about okay, what do we do and how do we do it …”
Her focus in helping prepare the report makes her recent observations especially relevant in pointing to four ways the Pelosi impeachment falls short of the 1974 standards.
No Pre-Conceived Verdicts:
Perhaps the most important of the four is not prejudging the guilt or innocence of the President.
Clinton told the Nixon library interviewer that “we didnt know how this was going to end up. I certainly didnt come into it with any preconceived notions that this was going to be easy, were going to lay out all this stuff and the House will impeach and [Nixon] will be convicted. I certainly didnt and I dont know anybody who did” on the 1974 impeachment team.
But Pelosi disclosed her verdict the day she announced the official impeachment inquiry, saying “this week, the President has admitted to asking the president of Ukraine to take actions which would benefit him politically.
“The actions of the Trump presidency revealed the dishonorable fact of the Presidents betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security, and betrayal of the integrity of our elections. Therefore, today, I am announcing the House of Representatives moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry…”
Her Sept. 24 announcement was based in great part on media reports about a whistleblower complaint that had not yet been provided to Congress, though it would later be learned the whistleblower had in fact consulted weeks earlier with Democratic staffers on the impeachment effort.
The next day, Pelosi admitted that she also had not read the transcript of Trumps July 25 call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which Trump made public earlier in the day.
Even so, Pelosi reiterated what she declared the previous day, saying, “the fact is, the President of the United States in breach of his constitutional responsibilities has asked a foreign government to help him in his political campaign, at the expense of our national security, as well as undermining the integrity of our elections. That cannot stand. He will be held accountable, no one is above the law.”
No Partisan Purposes:
Second is a closely related factor about adjuring partisanship as a threat to the credibility of the impeachment effort.
“Restrain yourself from grandstanding and holding news conferences and playing to your base,” Clinton said in the interview. “This goes way beyond whose side…youre on or whos on your side. And try to be faithful purveyors of the history and the solemnity of the process.”
Clinton also told the Nixon library interviewer that in reviewing the previous presidential impeachment effort, she and her colleagues realized “there was a lot wrong with what was done to [President] Andrew Johnson. It was more than it should have been, in our assessment, a proceeding based on politics, not on evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Clinton and her colleagues repeatedly touted the importance of bipartisanship, including in the reports opening paragraphs, noting the 410-4 vote by the House of Representatives on Feb. 6, 1974, to authorize the impeachment process.
The report emphasized that “this action was not partisan. It was supported by the overwhelming majority of both political parties. Nor was it intended to obstruct or weaken the President.”
In the Nixon Library interview, Clinton repeatedly praised the impeachment committees staff director, John Doar, a Republican-turned-Independent who had served in the civil rights division of the Department of Justice during Kennedy and Johnson administrations.
Doar, she said, rigorously enforced a bipartisan approach with the staff, a lesson she thinks was unfortunately lost in succeeding years.
“That lesson was not learned. And thats why I think its important to keep talking about how serious this is. It should not be done for political, partisan purposes, so those who did it in the late 1990s and those who talk about it now should go back and study the painstaking approach” of the 1974 process.