It seems like every time another piece of damaging information comes out about Donald Trump, there are a number of people who start chanting the impeachment mantra, “Impeach! Impeach! Impeach!”. I can certainly understand their enthusiasm for impeachment. I want to get rid of Donald Trump as badly as anyone. However, there is something that we might want to keep in mind. I believe that It was the fact that Congress did not rush to impeach Richard Nixon that ultimately led to Nixon’s resignation. In addition, decades later, it was the Republican Party’s rush to impeachment that ultimately helped Bill Clinton to survive his Presidential impeachment.
The Nixon Scandal
Back in the 1970s, at the time of the Watergate scandal, Richard Nixon was never impeached by the full U.S. House of Representatives. Here’s what happened, according to Wikipedia:
On July 27, 1974, the House Judiciary Committee voted 27-to-11 to recommend the first article of impeachment against the president: obstruction of justice. The Committee recommended the second article, abuse of power, on July 29, 1974. The next day, on July 30, 1974, the Committee recommended the third article: contempt of Congress. On August 20, 1974, the House authorized the printing of the Committee report H. Rep. 93–1305, which included the text of the resolution impeaching Nixon and set forth articles of impeachment against him.
OK, so back in July, 1974, the House Judiciary Committee had made some recommendations regarding impeachment, but Nixon had not yet been impeached by the full U.S. House of Representatives, and the Senate Judiciary Committee investigation was still ongoing. Then, on August 5, 1974, we had the appearance of the “smoking gun” tape. Per Wikipedia:
On August 5, 1974, the White House released a previously unknown audio tape from June 23, 1972. Recorded only a few days after the break-in, it documented the initial stages of the cover-up: it revealed Nixon and Haldeman had conducted a meeting in the Oval Office where they discussed how to stop the FBI from continuing their investigation of the break-in, as they recognised that there was a high risk that their position in the scandal may be revealed.
The smoking gun tape destroyed Nixon. After the release of the tape, the 10 Congressmen who had voted against impeachment on the committee level said that they would support impeachment when it was brought up by the full House. The tide had shifted. Nixon was toast. Two nights after the release of the smoking gun tape, Nixon got a visit from a three important Republicans. Per Wikipedia:
On the night of August 7, 1974, Senators Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott and Congressman John Jacob Rhodes met with Nixon in the Oval Office. Scott and Rhodes were the Republican leaders in the Senate and House, respectively; Goldwater was brought along as an elder statesman. The three lawmakers told Nixon that his support in Congress had all but disappeared. Rhodes told Nixon that he would face certain impeachment when the articles came up for vote in the full House. Goldwater and Scott told the president that there were enough votes in the Senate to convict him, and that no more than 15 Senators were willing to vote for acquittal.
Out of the 100 active Senators, no more than 15 were willing to acquit Nixon, meaning 85 would vote to convict. To convict, the Senate only needed 66 Senators. The three Republican visitors to the Oval Office On August 7, 1974, all knew that Nixon would be convicted of impeachment before the House had even formally introduced the articles of impeachment to the full House. Nixon was done before the impeachment had even begun. In this case, Congress had proceeded exactly as it should have—slowly, deliberately, and in an incredibly professional and thorough manner.
The Clinton Scandal
Decades later, in the case of Bill Clinton, Republicans blew it big time. At that time, Republicans had apparently not learned the lessons of Watergate–that whenever possible, you should have open hearings before any impeachment to both inform the public of the case against the President, and to see how the public and Congressional members actually respond to those hearings. Instead, events went as follows. First, after being selected by a three-person committee, Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr launched a multiyear investigation of President Clinton, searching high and wide for any wrongdoing. As part of his investigation, Kenneth Starr had President Bill Clinton testify under oath about his extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky. After Clinton’s testimony, Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr decided that Clinton had lied under oath regarding his affair with Ms. Lewinsky, and that Clinton had also conducted obstruction of justice. Starr submitted his findings to Congress in a long report. From there, Republicans proceeded to call for Clinton’s impeachment. Per Wikipedia:
Since Ken Starr had already completed an extensive investigation, the House Judiciary Committee conducted no investigations of its own into Clinton’s alleged wrongdoing, and it held no serious impeachment-related hearings before the 1998 midterm elections. Nevertheless, impeachment was one of the major issues in the election.
The idea that Republicans should make sure that public sentiment had turned sufficiently against Clinton before they launched their impeachment proceedings never occurred to them, so they impeached Clinton, then failed to get the Senate to convict. The Senate failed to convict Clinton because the overwhelming majority of Democratic Senators, as well as a majority of U.S. citizens, felt that Clinton lying about an extramarital affair was not enough to justify his removal from office. Republicans had not made sure that Clinton’s goose was sufficiently cooked before they started impeachment proceedings.
The Trump Scandal
From what we have learned from the only two Presidential impeachments that have occurred in modern history, the path that members of the U.S. House of Representatives should take is clear. In a manner similar to the Watergate scandal, the U.S. House of Representatives should conduct thorough, complete, and far-reaching investigations and hearings into the following three areas: 1) Any possible Russian interference into the 2016 Presidential campaign 2) Any possible Trump campaign involvement with the possible Russian interference and 3) Any other possible wrongdoings by either the Trump campaign or the current Trump Administration.
The current members of the U.S. House Representatives should do the far-reaching investigations and hearings that were never done by the committees lead by either the House Republicans or the Senate Republicans in the first two years of the Trump Administration. By the time the Congressional open hearings are done, I predict that America will be chomping at the bit to impeach Donald Trump. Even if a quick impeachment and conviction of Donald Trump were possible, the alternative path of engaging in slow and deliberate open hearings first before proceeding to a call for impeachment is the better choice because it ensures both that the complete truth comes out and that any and all the guilty parties are punished. Only after the hearings are done, and public sentiment has once again turned sharply and heavily against a sitting President, should House members begin impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump, and not before.