The impeachments of Bill Clinton and Donald Trump share a crucial element in that the necessary, predicate facts of wrongdoing were not seriously in dispute in either case. In each case, the true inquiry is not about the facts, but whether the plain misconduct rises to the level of a “removable” offense.
Except … there really is something different and determinative here about the facts: Clinton apologized and promised never to do it again, and Trump unapologetically promises to do it again at the next opportunity (if he is not already doing it now).
This difference is everything, changes the whole analysis, and is the simple, obvious reason why Trump must be removed.
Imagine if Bill Clinton had said: “Yeah, I had sex with my intern and I Iied about it under oath. It was perfect. And you know what? I’m gonna do it again each chance that I get!”
In that case, all rational observers would easily say: Holy shit! This Clinton guy needs to be removed. I didn’t think that Clinton’s sex and lying were removable offenses. But if he promised to keep doing it?? Yeah, of course, I would have said that he had to be removed.
And yet this is President Trump’s stated position. He doesn’t deny that he withheld crucial military aid to a vulnerable ally in a shooting war with Russia to pressure it to interfere with a US election. No, he says it was “perfect” for him to do so and would do so again. And when challenged about that, he defiantly doubled-down from the White House lawn: “China should start an investigation into the Bidens, because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine.”
As notably, in a seemingly forgotten Stephanopoulos Oval Office interview, before he was caught with Ukraine, Trump didn’t just admit, but argued, that he would cooperate with foreign interference in US elections — even expressly rejecting his own FBI Director’s warning:
President Trump: Okay, let’s put yourself in a position: you’re a congressman, somebody comes up and says, “Hey I have information on your opponent.” Do you call the FBI?
Stephanopoulos: If it’s coming from Russia you do.
President Trump: You don’t— I’ll tell you what. I’ve seen a lot of things over my life. I don’t think in my whole life I’ve ever called the FBI. In my whole life. I don’t–you don’t call the FBI. You throw somebody out of your office, you do whatever you do—
Stephanopoulos: Al Gore got a stolen briefing book. He called the FBI.
President Trump: Well, that’s different. A stolen briefing book. This isn’t– this is somebody who said, “We have information on your opponent.” Oh, let me call the FBI. Give me a break, life doesn’t work that way.
Stephanopoulos: The FBI Director says that’s what should happen.
President Trump: The FBI Director is wrong. Because, frankly, it doesn’t happen like that in life.
You see — when you put aside all the drama, arguments, partisanship, side issues, privilege disputes, and procedural fights — the core problem, threat and distinction is that Trump is promising to commit his wrongdoing again. That is the crucial difference and question for Republican Senators. It is the stark difference between judging a past transgression versus condoning, and joining, a promise of future corruption
To circle back and put this in proper perspective, I read the opening impeachment brief defending Bill Clinton. Here are the opening paragraphs:
In addition to the factual, legal and Constitutional defenses we present in this document, the President has asked us to convey a personal note: What the President did was wrong. As the President himself has said, publicly and painfully, “there is no fancy way to say that I have sinned.”
The President has insisted that no legalities be allowed to obscure the simple moral truth that his behavior in this matter was wrong; that he misled his wife, his friends and our Nation about the nature of his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky. He did not want anyone to know about his personal wrongdoing. But he does want everyone — the Committee, the Congress and the country — to know that he is profoundly sorry for the wrongs he has committed and for the pain he has caused his family, his friends, and our nation.
No, I wasn’t teary-eyed or tricked by Bill Clinton’s famous contrition. Rather, the important, minimally required thing was that Clinton admitted wrongdoing, expressed regret, asked for forgiveness, and (at least) promised it would not happen again.
Republicans desperately hope that we all will miss this simple, but crucial, distinction. For example, Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama appeared yesterday on ABC News’s This Week with host George Stephanopoulos, who asked Shelby about Trump’s statements calling on China and Ukraine to investigate the Bidens:
“Those were just statements political. They make them all the time,” Shelby said.
The host pressed Shelby on whether he was trying to excuse Trump’s statement, and the Republican replied: “I didn’t say it was OK. I said people make them. People do things. Things happen.”
Shelby added: “The president of the United States is human, and he’s going to make mistakes of judgment and everything else. They have historically, both parties, from the beginning of our republic.”
No. This wasn’t a mistake or lapse of judgment by President Trump. That is what Clinton pled guilty to. Trump is saying the opposite: what he did was perfect, deliberate and he will do it again.
That is the whole difference, and it is why Trump must be removed.