Remember When Obstruction of Justice Was Reason for Impeachment?

Remember When Obstruction of Justice Was Reason for Impeachment? December 7, 2017

Now that it’s become increasingly clear that Trump could actually be charged with obstruction of justice, the line from his defenders has changed from “he didn’t do that” to “obstruction of justice isn’t a crime if the president does it.” So let’s look at the wayback machine and see what those same people were saying when it was Bill Clinton being impeached for exactly that.

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Donald Trump’s personal lawyer argued Monday that, as the nominal head of federal law enforcement, the president is legally unable to obstruct justice. But the exact opposite view was once argued by another senior Trump lawyer: Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

In 1999, Sessions – then an Alabama senator – laid out an impassioned case for President Bill Clinton to be removed from office based on the argument that Clinton obstructed justice amid the investigation into his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

“The facts are disturbing and compelling on the President’s intent to obstruct justice,” he said, according to remarks in the congressional record.

Sessions isn’t alone. More than 40 current GOP members of Congress voted for the impeachment or removal of Clinton from office for obstruction of justice. They include Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – who mounted his own passionate appeal to remove Clinton from office for obstruction of justice – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, who was a House member at the time.

Classic political tribalism: X is true when it affects my tribe but totally untrue when it affects the other tribe. Pure hypocrisy. Sessions was right that, if the president obstructs justice, “Under our Constitution, equal justice requires that he forfeit his office.”

Of course, there is a difference between an offense that can be criminally charged and one that is impeachable. Clinton was neither charged nor convicted of obstruction of justice. Whether Trump will be remains to be seen. But either way, it’s certainly an impeachable offense. The reality is that anything is an impeachable offense if Congress decides that it is. The Constitution says the president can be impeached for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” but does not define those terms. And if Congress were to actually remove a president from office through impeachment, they could define it themselves and no court would ever second guess them on it.

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