Then and now: How Trump impeachment hearing is different

Then and now: How Trump impeachment hearing is different

The two most recent impeachment proceedings, against Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, can offer clues

The public impeachment inquiry hearings this week usher in a rare and momentous occasion in American history as Congress debates whether to remove a president from office.

There are consistencies in the process — televised hearings, partisan rancour and memorable speeches — but each impeachment process also stands alone as a reflection of the president, the Congress and the times.

Even if the two most recent impeachment proceedings — against Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton — offer instructive clues about the path ahead, there are notable differences in the case surrounding Donald Trump.

A look at then and now:

___

THEN: During the Clinton impeachment, the House held no serious hearings because the independent counsel, Kenneth Starr, had delivered dozens of boxes of evidence with recommendations for charges. Even during the Nixon proceedings decades earlier, lawmakers were considering evidence gathered through months of investigations by specially appointed prosecutors — first Archibald Cox and later Leon Jaworski. In both cases, the impeachment proceedings followed extensive and complete law enforcement investigations.

NOW: The House Intelligence Committee has taken on the primary role of assembling a case against Trump, with no supplemental Justice Department or law enforcement investigation. These impeachment proceedings are unfolding simultaneous to the investigation itself.

“The House actually having to investigate on its own with the benefit of nobody else’s resources, that’s new,” said Frank Bowman, a University of Missouri law professor and legal historian and author of “High Crimes and Misdemeanours: A History of Impeachment for the Age of Trump.”

___

THEN: During Watergate, the Senate held televised hearings that served to turn public opinion against Nixon, and he eventually resigned before a formal vote by the full House. The most sensational moments — including the testimony of White House counsel John Dean and Sen. Howard Baker’s famous question, “What did the president know and when did he know it?” — occurred not during House impeachment hearings but during special Watergate hearings in the Senate.

NOW: The House hearings represent the public’s first time hearing witnesses involved in the controversy. The three witnesses up first have appeared behind closed doors, and transcripts of their private depositions released last week suggest the potential for dramatic and quotable testimony. For instance: One State Department official, George Kent, accused Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani of leading a “campaign of slander” against the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Another, William Taylor, has said he had a “clear understanding” of a desired quid pro quo: military aid in exchange for investigations of a political rival.

READ MORE: How the White House and Justice learned about whistleblower

___

THEN: Nixon’s exit was sealed when members of his own party came out against him, with some breaking ranks and voting to adopt articles of impeachment. Three top Republican leaders in Congress, including Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, visited Nixon at the White House in August 1974 to warn him he faced near-certain impeachment. Even Democrats who voted against convicting Clinton made clear their disapproval, with then-Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut famously taking to the Senate floor to call the president’s conduct immoral.

“When we look back on ‘74, it wasn’t that all Republicans turned on Nixon — far from it. But enough did that it became apparent that he wasn’t going to be able to hold the ground,” said William Howell, a political science professor at the University of Chicago.

NOW: There have been sporadic grumblings of discontent from Republicans in Congress, most notably from Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, but the Trump impeachment proceedings are unfolding in a considerably more partisan and polarizing time than the Clinton and Nixon eras, and there’s no reason to think there’s going to be any significant abandonment in support of Trump from his own party.

READ MORE: Trump draws boos when introduced to crowd at World Series

___

THEN: There was no internet during the Nixon administration. Even during the Clinton era, the internet wasn’t yet in widespread use, and Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms were years away. When Americans tuned in to Senate Watergate hearings, they participated in a communal experience, watching the same live programming.

NOW: It’s safe to expect that the president, known to consume television news shows in the morning and tweet in response to what he sees, will be keeping careful track of the impeachment proceedings. He’ll likely counterpunch in real time. That instantaneous response could rapidly shape the public narrative, while TV networks that have surfaced since the Watergate era to appeal to partisan interests — Fox News Channel on the right and MSNBC on the left — could strengthen or reaffirm preexisting views.

___

THEN: Sure, Nixon railed against his critics, including the media. And, yes, Clinton and his supporters attacked Starr. But both — one a career politician, the other a Yale-educated lawyer — accepted their fates and respected the institutions that decided them.

Clinton delivered a Rose Garden statement after his impeachment, and though he didn’t mention the “I-word,” he conveyed contrition. The president accepted “responsibility for what I did wrong in my personal life” and pledged to push the country forward. Nixon accepted a Supreme Court opinion that forced him to turn over incriminating personal recordings. He willingly resigned before he could be impeached, leaving the White House by helicopter.

NOW: It remains to be seen how willingly Trump will accept whatever courts and the Congress decide. Trump famously equivocated in 2016 on the question of whether he would accept the election results if he were to lose to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. He’s similarly called the impeachment inquiry a hoax, just as he did special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

The White House has sought to stonewall the impeachment inquiry by directing current and former executive branch employees to skip their appearances, but many officials defied the directive and showed up anyway. That recalcitrance raises questions about how prepared the president is to comply with directives from the court — should they come — or to accept whatever outcome awaits him in Congress.

“The president has never had the gall to essentially just tell Congress to go screw itself in an impeachment investigation,” Bowman said.

READ MORE: ‘Baby Trump’ balloon slashed at Alabama appearance

Eric Tucker, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C. Cattlemen’s Association general manager Kevin Boon. (B.C. Cattlemen’s Association photo)
COVID, BSE, water access and private land rights: B.C. Cattlemen’s general manager weighs in

Kevin Boon said positive aspect of pandemic is more people interested in where their food comes from

B.C's COVID-19 dashboard shows the peaks and valleys of cases prior to the record daily report of 132 on April 9, 2021. (Dashboard image)
Interior Health has record day of COVID-19 cases

132 cases reported Friday, April 9, more deaths in Vernon hospital outbreak

The BC Wildfire Service will be partnering with Simpcw First Nation this month in the implementation of a prescribed burn next to their community of Chu Chua. The controlled burn will be highly visible to Highway 5 and all communities in the immediate area. Pictured is a prescribed burn that took place on the Kanaka Bar Reserve last month in partnership with the Kanaka Bar Band and BC Wildfire Service. (BC Wildfire Service Facebook photo)
Simpcw and BC Wildfire Service to hold controlled burn near Barriere

Burn will be highly visible to Chu Chua, Barriere, Darfield, Chinook Cove, Little Fort and Highway 5

District of Clearwater meetings are open to the public. The meeting agendas and past meetings minutes can be viewed on the DOC's website. Every meeting has time allocated at the end for comments from the public.
Clearwater to benefit from funding through Ministry of Tourism initiative

The District’s Trails Task Force was sucessful in securing a grant for $684,000.

Carlos Sigurnjak went missing about 4 p.m. on Tuesday, April 6, according to a Facebook post by his family. (Facebook/Carlos Sigurnjak profile)
UPDATE: Clearwater RCMP find missing man from Kelowna

Sigurnjak was found just before 2 p.m. April 8 by a passerby.

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

A lady wears a sticker given out after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count slows after last week’s peak

3,219 new cases since Friday, 18 additional deaths

North Cowichan councillor Tek Manhas did not violate the municipality’s code of conduct by posting a sexist meme on Facebook, council concludes. (File photo)
B.C. municipality to take no action against councillor who posted sexist meme

Tek Manhas’s meme doesn’t violate North Cowichan council’s code of conduct, municipality concludes

—Image: contributed
Indoor wine tastings still allowed in B.C., not considered a ‘social gathering’

“Tasting is really just part of the retail experience. The analogy I use is you wouldn’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on.”

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

President Dan Kelly said it is crucial to maintain programs to help businesses to the other side of the pandemic

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians says that includes attempts to steal Canadian research on COVID-19 and vaccines, and sow misinformation. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Intelligence committee warns China, Russia targeting Canadian COVID-19 research

Committee also found that the terrorist threat to Canada has shifted since its last such assessment

Part of the massive mess left behind in a Spallumcheen rental home owned by Wes Burden, whose tenants bolted from the property in the middle of the night. Burden is now facing a hefty cleaning and repair bill as a result. (Photo submitted)
Tenants disappear in the night leaving Okanagan home trashed with junk, feces

Spallumcheen rental rooms filled with junk, human and animal feces; landlord scared to rent again

Parliament Hill is viewed below a Canada flag in Gatineau, Quebec, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. A new poll suggests most Canadians are feeling more grateful for what they have in 2020 as a result of COVID-19 pandemic.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions increased slightly in 2019: report

2019 report shows Canada emitted about one million tonnes more of these gases than the previous year

Dr. E. Kwok administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a recipient at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to register people ages 40+ for COVID-19 vaccines in April

Appointments are currently being booked for people ages 66 and up

Most Read