After the special prosecutor completed his report, a congressman of the president’s party accused the president’s accusers of attempting a “coup d’etat.”
The congressman raised questions about the integrity of the investigation into the president, was dismissive about obstruction of justice, and contended that offenses aren’t impeachable if not committed against the state.
Most of all, in his staunch defense of the president, the congressman said Congress should not overturn a presidential election.
“Members of Congress have no power, indeed they have no rights, to arrogate to themselves the power to nullify an election absent such a compelling threat,” Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said in December 1998.
Nadler’s remarks came as the House Judiciary Committee was considering articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton.
The House eventually voted out articles of impeachment accusing Clinton of committing perjury and obstructing justice in connection with covering up his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
Today, as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Nadler seeks to force the Justice Department to provide the full, unredacted investigative report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The New York Democrat also hopes to make the Trump administration and Trump family businesses turn over vast numbers of documents, many related to matters before the president entered the White House.
Nadler’s spokesperson did not respond to The Daily Signal’s request for comment for this story.
Here are three areas comparing where Nadler stood, then and now, on investigating and impeaching a president.
1. Private Behavior Unrelated to Presidential Power
Nadler has requested information in 81 different document requests on various matters, including allegations that Trump paid hush money to two former mistresses. If he doesn’t obtain the documents that way, he likely will subpoena the information.
Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York said these payments violated federal campaign finance laws, although legal experts disagree. The president’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to the violations.
The House Judiciary Committee also seeks information from the Trump Organization and the president’s family members about the family’s private businesses, which include hotels, casinos, and golf courses.
Nadler said his committee would explore whether Trump obstructed criminal investigations, was engaged with public corruption through the alleged hush money payments to cover up extramarital affairs and alleged violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause; and whether Trump abused his power, including the president’s use of pardons and his criticism of the media and federal judges.
Relying on these issues—particularly the hush money allegations—could be problematic to square with Nadler’s 1998 defense of Clinton, when he argued that perjury to cover up a mistress would not threaten the republic.
“Perjury is a serious crime, and if proven, should be prosecuted in a court of law, but it may or may not implicate the president’s duties and performance in office,” Nadler said at the time. “Perjury on a private matter, perjury regarding sex, is not a great and serious offense against the nation. It is not an abuse of uniquely presidential power, it does not threaten our form of government.”
The effect of impeachment is to overturn the popular will of the voters as expressed in a national election. We must not overturn an election and remove a president from office except to defend our very system of government or our constitutional liberties against a dire threat. And we must not do so without an overwhelming consensus of the American people and of their representatives in Congress of the absolute necessity.
2. Impeachment Threshold
After the Nov. 6 midterm elections, Nadler said impeaching Trump would require a strong case with public opinion solidly behind it, and a case that Trump is a threat to the Constitution.
In 1998, he made an impassioned statement about the gravity of impeachment:
We have received testimony from some of the nation’s leading scholars and historians, who agree that impeachable offenses are those which are abuses of presidential power that undermine the structure of functioning of government or constitutional liberty.
Benjamin Franklin called impeachment ‘a substitute for assassination.’ It is in fact, a peaceful procedure for protecting the nation from despots by providing a constitutional means for removing a president who misuses presidential power to make himself a tyrant or otherwise to undermine our constitutional form of government.
Regarding Trump more than 20 years later, Nadler took a serious tone, without quoting Franklin.
“If you’re serious about removing a president from office, what you’re really doing is overturning the result of the last election,” Nadler told Roll Call in the post-election interview. “You don’t want to have a situation where you tear this country apart and for the next 30 years half the country’s saying, ‘We won the election, you stole it.’”
Nadler’s view of broad support for impeachment apparently wouldn’t require buy-in from GOP lawmakers.
“I’m talking about the voters, people who voted for Trump,” he said. “Do you think that the case is so stark, that the offenses are so terrible, and the proof so clear, that once you’ve laid it all out you will have convinced an appreciable fraction of the people who voted for Trump, who like him, that you had no choice?”
3. Starr Report and Mueller Report
The House’s conclusions in voting out articles of impeachment against Clinton were based largely on the findings of the report from independent counsel Kenneth Starr, whose job was to submit a report directly to Congress.
In 1998, Nadler strongly opposed Congress’ making the Starr report public.
On Wednesday, Nadler voted with fellow Judiciary Committee Democrats to prepare a subpoena to obtain the 400-plus page report from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, which found no conspiracy between Moscow and Trump or his campaign to help him win the 2016 election.
“Chairman Nadler is asking for secret grand jury testimony and classified information that he knows is illegal to reveal,” White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley told The Daily Signal, referring to regulations governing the work of special counsels.
“That’s ridiculous,” Gidley said. “This is not oversight, this is overreach.”
In 1998, Nadler told interviewer Charlie Rose, speaking of the Starr report on Clinton: “It’s grand jury material. It represents statements which may or may not be true by various witnesses, salacious material, all kinds of material that it would be unfair to release.”
This week, Trump accused Nadler of hypocrisy.
“The fact is that Jerry Nadler was on the opposite side of this [in 1998] and he thought it was a disgusting, terrible thing to even think about giving the Starr report. But now we should give the Mueller report,” Trump told reporters Tuesday.
“Jerry Nadler thought the concept of giving the Starr report was absolutely something you could never do,” Trump said. “But when it comes to the Mueller report, which is different on our side, that would be something that he should get. It’s hypocrisy and it’s a disgrace.”
Nadler said in a CNN interview that there is no contradiction.
“Congress already had that material and Congress could evaluate it,” Nadler told CNN, referring to the Starr report on Clinton. “We were talking about giving out that private material to the public.”
“Here, we are asking for Congress to get the material so that we can have it,” the New York Democrat said. “And we can make judgments as to what privacy has to be protected and what can be given out. But, again, Congress already had that material [in 1998]. We’re talking about Congress getting the material now. It’s two completely separate questions.”
In 1999, Congress allowed the independent counsel statute to expire. From that point, special prosecutors reported to the U.S. attorney general.
Starr worked under a different statute, with broader autonomy than Mueller, that required him to turn over the report to Congress.
Mueller’s job was to provide a final report to the Justice Department. Attorney General William Barr has said he would release as much of the report to Congress as he deems appropriate under the rules by as early as mid-April.
FactCheck.org determined that Trump mischaracterized Nadler’s position regarding the Starr report, but noted Nadler’s opposition to release. The fact-checker noted that Nadler voted against a bipartisan resolution to release the Starr report, which the House adopted 363-63 in September 1998.
“Trump was wrong when he said Nadler ‘thought the concept of giving the Starr report was absolutely something you could never do,’” FactCheck.org concluded, adding: “Now, it’s true that Nadler voted against a resolution. … However, Nadler said he opposed it because he believed Clinton, as his lawyer requested, should have been given time to review Starr’s report and prepare a response before any of it was released publicly.”
If the Democrat-controlled House moves to impeach Trump, the articles of impeachment setting up a trial in the Senate must first go through Nadler’s committee.