THE BLOG
12/19/2007 02:28 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

On the 9th Anniversary of President Clinton's Impeachment

Nine years ago, on December 19, 1998, the House of Representatives impeached President William Jefferson Clinton. On that day, amidst the holiday decorations and office parties, the Republican-dominated House of Representatives, with Tom DeLay leading the charge, voted to approve two out of four Articles of Impeachment that the Judiciary Committee had sent to the House floor. Article I, perjury in the grand jury, passed 228 to 206; Article II, perjury in the Paula Jones deposition failed, 229 to 205; Article III, obstruction of justice, passed 221 to 212; and Article IV, abuse of power, lost 285 to 148. All of the articles of impeachment directly related to Clinton's consensual sexual relationship with a woman who preferred to keep it private, and who had not accused him of sexual harassment.

Despite the vociferous opposition from Democrats, history and law professors, Constitutional scholars, and Clinton's 67 percent approval rating, the Republicans blocked any attempt to "censure" the President, and instead insisted on removing him from office. For the second time in United States history the House of Representatives impeached the President of the United States. (In 1974, Richard Nixon resigned before the full House had a chance to vote on three articles of impeachment.) Republican leaders had signed on to an extreme remedy for Clinton's private sexual behavior; there actions sought to nullify the 1996 presidential election.

In the weeks leading up to the impeachment, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich abruptly resigned his seat after it became apparent that his sexual relationship with a younger woman from a House colleague's staff was about to be exposed. Such a revelation no doubt would be of interest to Gingrich's wife (his second), and it might make the Speaker and the Republicans appear slightly hypocritical since they had spent the better part of a year excoriating Clinton's "character" for his extramarital relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

On the day of the impeachment the drama became even more titillating when the Speaker of the House-designate, Louisiana Congressman Robert Livingston, submitted his resignation (and called for Clinton to do the same). Livingston risked having his own sexual infidelities exposed because the legendary pornographer, Larry Flynt, had taken out a full-page ad in The Washington Post on October 4th, 1998 offering up to $1 million to women who came forward who could prove they had been intimate with a prominent Republican who was active in persecuting Clinton. Several women responded with credible evidence they had had sex with Livingston who was married.

On the House floor just before the impeachment vote, Livingston stepped up to the podium and with a stentorian voice addressed his remarks to the President: "Sir, you have done great damage to this nation. . . . I say that you have the power to terminate that damage and heal the wounds that you have created. You, sir, may resign your post." Livingston concluded his statement by announcing that he was stepping down. Tom DeLay stood by his man; Livingston, he said, "understood what this debate was all about," it was "about relativism versus absolute truth." But in reality, the only "absolute truth" to come to light was that Newt Gingrich and Bob Livingston, both of them "morally outraged" at Clinton's behavior, were shown to be unalloyed hypocrites.

Later that afternoon, with great fanfare thirteen House "managers" marched over to the Senate and formally submitted the two Articles of Impeachment. The Senators and their staffs began preparing for the trial; Chief Justice William Rehnquist would preside.

(After losing two Republican House Speakers to extramarital sex scandals in a matter of weeks, Tom Delay prudently installed the mortally unsexy Dennis Hastert to be Speaker of the House.)

The Republicans of the 105th Congress, led by Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, and Bob Livingston, tied up the Congress for over a year, and stretched the Constitution to its limits to impeach a President for trying to keep private an extramarital affair. The 9th anniversary of the Clinton impeachment raises the question: Should not the Democrats of the 110th Congress make a reasoned, non-partisan case for impeaching a President who may be responsible for illegally wiretapping American citizens, sanctioning torture and secret prisons, and misleading the nation into a catastrophic war?

On this point I must agree with the prescient counsel of Tom DeLay who in 1998 said: "This nation sits at a crossroads. One direction points to the higher road of the rule of law. Sometimes hard, sometimes unpleasant, this path relies on truth, justice and the rigorous application of the principle that no man is above the law. Now, the other road is the path of least resistance. This is where we start making exceptions to our laws based on poll numbers and spin control. This is when we pitch the law completely overboard when the mood fits us, when we ignore the facts in order to cover up the truth. No man is above the law, and no man is below the law. That's the principle that we all hold very dear in this country."