A Republican friend recently asked me what I remember about President Clinton’s impeachment. How do I compare it to the impeachment of President TrumpDonald John TrumpUS launches airstrikes targeting Iran-backed militia in Iraq, Syria Trade, interest rates top finance fights for 2020 Five health care fights to watch in 2020 MORE?
I laughed. He insisted I tell him.
But before saying anything I warned him not to get partisan and angry.
Then I told him the truth: My strongest memory of those 1998 hearings is the hypocrisy of the Republican men in Congress.
It turned out that Newt GingrichNewton (Newt) Leroy GingrichMORE (R-Ga.), who as Speaker led the charge to impeach Clinton for lying about sex with a White House intern, was having an extramarital affair with a congressional staffer.
It also was revealed at that time that Gingrich cheated on and divorced his second wife while she was being treated for multiple sclerosis.
Gingrich also cheated on his first wife — with the woman who became his second wife — while she was being treated for cancer.
And there was more hypocrisy.
Then-Rep. Bob Livingston (La.), the Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, was poised to take over as Speaker after Gingrich resigned. But he also had a sex scandal. He quit Congress after it was revealed he had had extramarital affairs, even though he was railing against Clinton’s infidelity.
Then-Rep. Henry Hyde (Ill.), the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who served as the chief prosecutor in Clinton’s impeachment trial, was also exposed for having had an extramarital affair while condemning Clinton’s behavior.
Hyde famously described his affair as a “youthful indiscretion.” Hyde was 41 years old at the time of the affair.
Now my friend looked upset. He tried to end the conversation by saying Democrats who defended Clinton now look like hypocrites for going after Trump.
But I told him the GOP hypocrisy extends from Clinton’s impeachment to Trump’s impeachment.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham: Giuliani should share info he has with intel community to ensure ‘it’s not Russian propaganda’ Senate GOP wants speedy Trump acquittal Netanyahu promises U.S. recognition of Israeli settlements MORE (R-S.C.) is now one of Trump’s loudest defenders.
But here is Graham, as one of the GOP’s impeachment managers in 1998, talking about what it takes to remove the president from office:
“You don’t even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job [as president] in this constitutional republic if this body determines that your conduct as a public official is clearly out of bounds in your role,” Graham said. “Because impeachment is not about punishment. Impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office.”
With Trump in the White House, Graham is singing a different tune.
“I think what’s best for the country is to get this thing over with… So, I don’t need any witnesses,” he told CBS’s “Face the Nation” earlier this month. “I am ready to vote on the underlying articles. I don’t really need to hear a lot of witnesses.”
And the hypocrisy does not stop there.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFive health care fights to watch in 2020 Democrats worry impeachment acquittal will embolden Trump Sunday shows – Tensions simmer during break in impeachment process MORE (R-Ky.) is also trying to prevent witnesses who were blocked by Trump from testifying before the House from testifying in the Senate trial.
Here is McConnell speaking when the Clinton impeachment reached the Senate:
“There have been 15 impeachments [of federal officials] in the history of the country. Two of them were cut short by resignations. In the other 13 impeachments, there were witnesses,” he told CNN’s Larry King in January 1999. “It’s not unusual to have a witness…in an impeachment trial.”
And one more hypocritical touch.
McConnell recently accused Pelosi of breaking precedent by not immediately sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate after the House voted to impeach.
But how can McConnell complain about breaking with precedent when, during President Obama’s time in office, he broke long Senate precedent by refusing to hold confirmation hearings for a Supreme Court nominee, Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandJuan Williams: GOP are hypocrites on impeachment Finding an animating issue is Democrats’ biggest 2020 challenge — not Trump McCaskill: ‘Mitch McConnell has presided over absolutely destroying Senate norms’ MORE?
Along with this rich hypocrisy is a healthy dose of revisionist history about the Clinton impeachment.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthy2019 in Photos: 35 pictures in politics McConnell flexes reelection muscle with B gift for Kentucky McCarthy recommends Collins, Ratcliffe, Jordan to represent Trump in Senate impeachment trial MORE (R-Calif.) tweeted on the eve of the impeachment vote: “For the Democrats sitting in districts that voted to send President Trump to the White House — if you vote to impeach tomorrow, you will be defying the vote of your own constituents.”
This drew a sharp rebuke from veteran political reporter Ron Brownstein, who corrected McCarthy on Twitter:
“In 1998 there were 91 House Republicans in districts that voted for Clinton in 1996. Almost all of them voted to “defy the votes of [their] constituents” by impeaching him.
“Over the next two elections (‘98 & 2000) just 7 of those 91 Clinton district Republicans were defeated,” Brownstein added.
As I have noted on this page before, public support for the Republican House majority’s effort to impeach Clinton never went above 29 percent.
That is quite different from the 50 percent of Americans who support Trump’s impeachment and removal from office, according to a recent Fox poll. An even higher number, 54 percent, supports his impeachment but not his removal from office.
After 40 years of covering Washington politics, it once again feels to me that democratic norms are being tossed out by Trump and his GOP acolytes in Congress.
So, my friend, I’m sorry if I upset you. But you asked and that is what I will remember about both impeachments.
Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.