When Impeachment Meant Something
Paul Kengor
by
Independent counsel Ken Starr being sworn in prior to testifying about his investigation of President Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky, November 1998 (Wikimedia Commons)

In December 1998, Republicans moved to impeach Bill Clinton. In December 2019, Democrats are moving to impeach Donald Trump. The differences are striking.

In December 1998, President Bill Clinton was guilty, both from a legal and moral standpoint. Legally, he lied and obstructed justice. Morally, he turned a young girl, a White House intern, into his sexual plaything, whether in the Oval Office, whether on the phone conducting affairs of state, or whether wielding a cigar as he amused himself with “Miss Lewinsky.”

By September 1998, Americans had learned there had been 18 months of gifts and at least a half dozen sexual encounters between Clinton and Lewinsky between November 15, 1995, and March 29, 1997, including the peak of Clinton’s reelection campaign. Yes, Donald Trump has his moments on the campaign circuit and was certainly no angel in his past life. But the Trump of the current campaigns and the White House has no Monica in his life, let alone under his desk — in the case of Bill, literally so.

The first Bill–Monica encounter, on November 15, 1995, took place on the same day Clinton signed a “Family Week” proclamation. A particularly infamous episode unfolded on Easter Sunday, April 7, 1996, after Bill returned to the White House after attending religious services. Bill called Monica, who promptly arrived at 4:56 p.m., with security letting her in. The president and intern went into his private study, where Monica gave Bill oral sex while he conducted the business of America over the phone. White House records indicated that Monica finished up by 5:28 p.m., Easter Sunday 1996. The president of the United States dismissed his intern for the day.

Another day in the Clinton White House. And an election year. They say that President Trump lacks restraint?

Democrats in 1998 insisted that the two Clinton affronts, the legal and moral, must be kept separate. Sure, the bad-boy president might have lied, but he was lying about sex in order to protect his marriage to Hillary. This did not rise to the level of impeachment. Republicans argued the contrary: these were legal violations that merited impeachment. Congressman Henry Hyde, a man widely respected for his integrity, stated the Republican position well: “It’s not a question of sex. It’s a question of lying under oath. The issue is perjury, lying under oath. The issue is obstruction of justice.”

Lining up behind Bill were liberal feminists. The future Me-Too crusaders gave Boy Clinton a pass. After all, he supported “abortion rights.” All sins of sexual exploitation with a girl more than half Bill’s age were wiped clean at the altar of Roe v. Wade. Perhaps “pro-choice” feminist sentiment was most uniquely captured by Nina Burleigh, who covered the White House for Time magazine. “I’d be happy to give him [oral sex] just to thank him for keeping abortion legal,” Burleigh glowed of Bill. “I think American women should be lining up with their presidential kneepads on, to show their gratitude for keeping the theocracy off our backs.”

Abortion, a sacrament in the feminist church.

Nonetheless, from a legal perspective, the Clinton violations were indisputable. The impeachment vote took place on December 19, 1998, with two of four articles approved by the U.S. House of Representatives. The first came on grounds that President Clinton had lied to a grand jury (228-206). The second came on the grounds that Clinton had obstructed justice (221-212). He became only the second president (the other in 1868) to be impeached.

The contrast to the Trump impeachment process is quite notable.

With Donald Trump, what we have watched is an impeachment intention in search of an impeachment offense. This is an intention that goes back to November 8, 2016, the night that liberals lost their minds in a dizzying rage over Trump losing the popular vote but crushing Hillary in the Electoral College. The subsequent impeachment obsession by liberals was perhaps best captured by another hysterical feminist, the ever-angry yet ever-weeping Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the Left’s Lady of Sorrows, who stood next to supporters (and her child) shortly after her January swearing-in ceremony and vowed of President Trump before a packed room of whooping liberals, “We’re gonna impeach the motherf—er!

For two years now, every day, the de facto motto and modus operandi of the Democrats has been just that: “We’re gonna impeach the motherf—er!”

One wonders if that line is on the letterhead of all DNC stationery.

It is remarkably revealing that at the moment the charming Tlaib shouted her vow, the Left was looking to Russian collusion as the golden key to the impeachment door. Here we are in December 2019, with the Russia path a bust, and the allegation is no longer that Trump conspired with the Kremlin but, almost laughably, did the inverse: He conspired with the foe of Vlad and the Russkies, the Ukraine. Impeachment papers are being drawn up not over events that happened in, say, July 2016, but newly discovered events — actually, a single event, a mere phone call — in July 2019. The person sitting at the other end of the presidential phone conversation in this case wasn’t Lewinsky but Zelensky.

And whereas what Bill did with Monica was unquestionably a moral outrage, what Trump did with Zelensky remains literally a question at numerous levels: Was aid actually threatened or withheld? Was pressure truly applied? What is Zelensky’s understanding of what happened? Was it illegal? Was it immoral? Was it unpresidential? Was it unconstitutional? Was it historically unusual conduct for a president in foreign affairs? And, above all, is it impeachable?

The sad thing about the Democrats running this process is that even genuine truth-seekers have an intuitive sense that you can’t trust them to pursue these questions honestly. This has been, to repeat, a longstanding impeachment intention in search of an impeachment offense. Much of the public has an uncomfortable feeling that this impeachment process is far too soiled by partisan politics.

I spoke on Thursday with a friend who is apolitical and nonpartisan. She asked me to explain what the Democrats are charging Donald Trump with as they seek this impeachment vote. I read to her from a piece posted at CNN.com that listed bullet points of Trump’s alleged violations worthy of impeachment articles. When she saw that they all stemmed not from 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, but merely in the last few months since July 2019, she was incredulous.

“Ukraine?” she said, confused. “You mean Russia.”

No, I explained, I mean Ukraine.

“Aren’t Ukraine and Russia enemies?” she replied. “They don’t like each other.”

She asked what had happened to “Russian collusion.” I said simply that the Democrats didn’t seem to find ammo for impeachment there, but they believe or are claiming that they have it here.

She then asked if it was Ukraine who had interfered in the 2016 election. No, I corrected. The Democrats once had charged that Russia had intervened in 2016, allegedly colluding with Trump back then. Now, the Democrats are charging that Trump is maneuvering with Ukraine to interfere with the 2020 election.

When I told her that the Trump phone call was with “Zelensky,” I half-expected her to ask, “Do you mean Lewinsky?” No, that would have been President Clinton, not President Trump.

She muttered something about being “disgusted” with politics and walked away. I suspect her reaction is typical. If Democrats are hoping to pick up supporters among people like her in 2020, they’re wrong. Yes, this will fire up the Democrats’ hard-left base, but impeaching the president will energize Donald Trump’s base even more. This will ignite an uprising among the Trump hardcore. You want to see guys in rural communities in swing states showing up at the polls next year with pitchforks? Well, impeach Donald Trump. That will do it. And as Democrats should have learned in 2016, it’s turnout that pivots elections, especially in swing states.

This will satisfy the moonbat-wing of the Democratic Party, but to many Americans, the impeachment “trial” smacked of a show-trial, staged from start to finish, “witnesses” carefully pre-selected, and the verdict long ago predetermined. Nancy Pelosi’s performance has been a joke, from jumping the gun a day before the Trump–Zelensky transcript was released to her terrible performance on Thursday hypocritically wrapping herself in the Constitution while she struggled through a cherry-picked speech written by left-wing staffers who trash the Founders one day and hail them the next.

For Democrats, the Trump impeachment was a fait accompli long ago, prior to the screaming Tlaib’s rant back in January. It doesn’t appear fair or serious. The impeachment process in 1998 at least seemed more serious. Nancy Pelosi is the anti–Henry Hyde. And the likes of Jerry Nadler and Adam Schiff and every other Democrat are a clown-car compared to the thoughtfulness of the likes of James Rogan and Asa Hutchinson and Lindsey Graham in 1998.

For the record, readers of this publication should know that The American Spectator was and remains a unique witness to both impeachments. As for 2019, not a day goes by that an article or two or three is printed here at Spectator on the spectacle to impeach Donald Trump. As for 1998, Spectator was at the forefront of what had happened to Bill Clinton.

I wrote here last December about the role of The American Spectator in the events that ultimately led to Clinton’s exposure and impeachment. That article, “The Clintons vs. The American Spectator,” is available for a careful read and offers some helpful insights into how different the Clinton impeachment in 1998 is from the Trump impeachment in 2019. I will not rehash it here, other than to sum up that it was the bombshell 1994 reports by Spectator on Bill Clinton’s tawdry behavior back in Arkansas that effectively presaged the blowups of 1998. More so, it was in those pieces in The American Spectator that the legal process leading to impeachment began. The impeachment of Bill Clinton began not with Monica but with another woman, this one named Paula; actually, with a wider flock of Monicas and Paulas scattered throughout Arkansas.

“In her [later] lawsuit Paula claimed that the man, who was by then president, had exposed himself to her and asked that she ‘kiss it,’ ” wrote R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., founder of The American Spectator. It was a Clinton pattern that would literally repeat itself in Washington, directly under the president’s desk.

The formal process that led to Clinton’s impeachment started with Paula Jones as the plaintiff in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas Western Division, with Monica Lewinsky’s name appearing on Jones’ witness list on December 5, 1997. It was the Spectator’s reporting that had exposed this past of Bill Clinton and prompted Paula to come forward, eventually likewise exposing Monica.

“Without our Troopergate stories Bill Clinton never would have been impeached,” Tyrrell wrote in 2017, “and Hillary would probably still idolize him as ‘The Virgin President.’ ”

No doubt.

And note the timeline of the Clinton legal process: This was a long, careful process that led to impeachment. It played out over the course of years, involving judges and juries before it ever got to the House floor. The time period extended into Clinton’s second term. The timeline for the current allegations against Donald Trump is one of mere months since this past summer.

Of course, the goal of Democrats is to employ impeachment as a tool to prevent Trump a second term, as Clinton was able to get one. That’s really what this is all about. Thus, the hurry, the push, the sloppiness. That strategy, however, may well blow up in their faces next November.

Ironically, if their move toward impeachment ends up meaning anything, it might mean that.

Paul Kengor
Paul Kengor
Follow Their Stories:
View More
Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College in Grove City, Pa., and senior academic fellow at the Center for Vision & Values. Dr. Kengor is author of over a dozen books, including A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Communism, and Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.
o
Sign Up to receive Our Latest Updates! Register

Be a Free Market Loving Patriot. Subscribe Today!