by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Given that the Clinton impeachment, as a practical matter, acted as a censure vote and Clinton’s misconduct didn’t involve his core presidential duties, there’s a good argument that a formal censure would have been the wiser course. In retrospect, Newt Gingrich doesn’t give himself high marks for how he handled it.
That said, the case for Clinton’s impeachment was still stronger than the case for Trump’s.
The independent counsel in the Clinton case, Ken Starr, acting under a law that compelled him to notify Congress of impeachable offenses, said there was “substantial and credible evidence” that Clinton was guilty of eleven possible impeachable offenses. Starr didn’t, like Mueller, exonerate Clinton on the underlying matter and “not exonerate” him on the process crimes.
Most important, Clinton flat-out perjured himself, which no one disputed. If Trump had done the same in the Russia probe, he’d have been impeached already.
In the 1990s, there was bipartisan support for an impeachment inquiry and a strong consensus for punishing the president. Neither exists today.
While it’s easy to think that Clinton was always safe from removal in the Senate, and for the most part he was, there was a moment of legitimate peril for him. Under current conditions, it’s impossible to imagine Trump facing similar jeopardy.