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A Look At The Parallels Between The Clinton And Trump Impeachment Processes


The impeachment process now underway against President Trump comes 21 years to the month after the last presidential impeachment. That is when the House approved two articles against President Clinton. And as NPR's Brian Naylor reports, there are many parallels between the two.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: There are some surface similarities. To begin with, there are 55 lawmakers in the House now who voted on the Clinton impeachment in 1998. Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has since moved on to the Senate, was one of the House managers who argued for convicting President Clinton in his Senate trial.


LINDSEY GRAHAM: I think that's what they meant by high crimes. Doesn't even have to be a crime - it's just when you start using your office and you're acting in a way that hurts people.

NAYLOR: Graham is now one of President Trump's most vocal defenders. The current House Judiciary Committee chairman, Democrat Jerrold Nadler of New York, has said Trump should be impeached, but argued against impeaching President Clinton.


JERROLD NADLER: We're lowering the standard of impeachment. What the president has done is not a great and dangerous offense to the safety of the republic. In the words of George Mason, it is not an impeachable offense under the meaning of the Constitution.

NAYLOR: The day the House voted to impeach Clinton, December 19, was an extraordinary one. Before the impeachment vote, the Republican who was in line to become the next House speaker, Bob Livingston of Louisiana, called on Clinton to resign, prompting jeers and catcalls on the House floor.


NAYLOR: Livingston then surprised everyone by announcing he was stepping down after conceding he, too, had had extramarital affairs.


RAY LAHOOD: House will be in order.

NAYLOR: Ray LaHood was the Republican congressman from Illinois who presided over the House during the Clinton impeachment votes and was as shocked as anyone else when Livingston made his announcement.

LAHOOD: The air came out of the place. The air came out of the House.

NAYLOR: LaHood says then-Speaker Newt Gingrich had decided early on after the 1994 election to impeach Clinton, and he believes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made a similar call.

LAHOOD: I believe that the decision to impeach and to have articles of impeachment against President Trump is a political decision made by Speaker Pelosi. This is a political dynamic and a political decision made by two different speakers for two different presidents.

NAYLOR: While clearly two different presidents, there are similarities in their conduct, says Russell Riley, a presidential historian at the University of Virginia. Riley says both survived earlier incidents of questionable behavior, only to repeat that behavior. In Clinton's case, there were accusations of infidelity that arose during his 1992 campaign.

RUSSELL RILEY: And notwithstanding that, in a moment of weakness, he engages in inappropriate behavior with a White House employee.

NAYLOR: For Trump, Riley says, it was foreign influence and allegations of contact between his 2016 campaign and Russia, then the now-infamous phone call with the president of Ukraine.

RILEY: Having weathered lots and lots of criticism and investigations about foreign influence, when that seems to be clear, finds himself on the evidence of this telephone call doing exactly that which he'd been accused of earlier.

NAYLOR: After two days of debate in December, the House approved two articles of impeachment against President Clinton for perjury and obstruction of justice. The next month, the Senate trial began. Former Democratic Senator Dale Bumpers of Arkansas delivered the final argument in defense of Clinton in language that sounds familiar today.


DALE BUMPERS: We're here because of a five-year relentless, unending investigation of the president.

NAYLOR: The Senate failed to convict Clinton on either article of impeachment, and no members of the president's party voted against him. And that may well turn out to be another parallel between then and now.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.