Clinton was part of a team that produced a 1974 staff report for the House Judiciary Committee on how impeachments should be conducted, a report that both Democrats and Republicans cite today.
But the path Democrats are blazing in 2019 falls short on four key factors that Clinton described as vital to the process’s credibility. She discussed them in a 2018 interview 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 had kept quiet, as a result of Clinton’s previously unnoticed comments in a July 9, 2018, interview for the Richard Nixon Presidential Library.
The 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 Nixon’s resignation in 1974 and the Monica Lewinsky-inspired impeachment (but not conviction) of her husband, then-President Bill Clinton, 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, hadn’t 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 Committee Chairman Rep. Peter Rodino (D-N.J.).
The report provided a comprehensive review of the history of impeachment up 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 was the process standards that I worked on a lot about, ‘OK, 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 Preconceived 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 did not know how this was going to end up. I certainly didn’t. I didn’t come into it with any preconceived notions that … this was going to be easy, we’re going to lay out all this stuff and the House will impeach and [Nixon] will be convicted in the Senate. I certainly didn’t. I don’t know anybody who did,” who was on the 1974 impeachment team.
But Pelosi disclosed her verdict the day she announced the official impeachment inquiry, “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 president’s 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 hadn’t 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 said she also hadn’t read the transcript of Trump’s July 25 call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which Trump had 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.
Clinton said in the interview, “Restrain yourself from grandstanding and holding news conferences and playing to your base.”
“This goes way beyond whose side … you’re on or who’s 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 report’s 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 committee’s 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 that’s why I think it’s 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.
No Tampering With Evidence
Clinton approvingly told the Nixon interviewer that Doar believed in 1974 that “the whole enterprise really turned on there being sufficient evidence, not necessarily to the level of being beyond a reasonable doubt … but certainly enough to be persuasive, clear and convincing.”
The 1974 report on which Clinton worked also declared that “not all presidential misconduct is sufficient to constitute grounds for impeachment.”
That reality put a premium on the staff presenting solidly credible reasoning and evidence to members of the committee prior to their voting on articles of impeachment, Clinton said.
Even so, Pelosi declared her pride in House Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), saying, “I’m very proud of the work that Adam Schiff is doing. I value the way he is conducting this.”
Pelosi’s pride in Schiff’s conduct was made clear after he had made up his own version of the Trump call transcript, which he read during a hearing on national television. Schiff conceded a few hours later that his version was in fact a “fable.”
As of this writing, 135 House Republicans have co-sponsored a resolution to censure the intelligence panel chairman. Republicans on the intelligence committee also claim Schiff is withholding evidence while allowing carefully slanted leaks from testimony given to the committee behind closed doors.
No Denial of Due Process
Clinton added in the Nixon library interview that “we were trying to impose an understanding of the law and history, combined with a process that would be viewed as fair, providing due process to the president if articles of impeachment were decided.”
Schiff’s secret meetings to hear testimony from selected witnesses while barring witnesses sought by Republicans on the committee has drawn particular ire.
Some legal experts see unfortunate parallels between the speaker’s actions and England’s infamous Star Chamber Court during the reign of Charles I.
“We established basic rules of due process in this country in order to avoid the way things had been done in England with secret, anonymous accusations, with witnesses you couldn’t confront and cross-examine,” Heritage Foundation senior fellow Hans von Spakovsky told The Epoch Times on Oct. 15.
“I mean, all the kinds of things the way Star Chambers operated, and even though impeachment isn’t a legal prosecution or legal case in the courts, it is such a serious undertaking, with such substantial consequences that those same basic rules of due process should apply even more so than in court,” he said.
Contact Mark Tapscott at firstname.lastname@example.org.