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Nadler's Precedent: Exonerating Bill Clinton

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AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

"This partisan coup d'etat will go down in infamy in the history of our nation," the congressmen said.

He was outraged and wanted the nation to know why.


"Mr. Speaker," he said, "this is clearly a partisan railroad job."

"We are losing sight of the distinction between sins, which ought to be between a person and his family and his God, and crimes which are the concern of the state and of society as a whole," he said.

"Are we going to have a new test if someone wants to run for office: Are you now or have you ever been an adulterer?" he said.

The date was Dec. 19, 1998. The House was considering articles of impeachment that the Judiciary Committee had approved against then-President Bill Clinton. The outraged individual, speaking on the House floor, was Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York.

Nadler now serves as chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He has vowed he will follow up on the now-concluded investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller -- which found no crime committed by President Donald Trump.

On Sunday morning, Nadler appeared on CNN's "State of the Union." Later that day, Attorney General William Barr publicly released a letter to Nadler summarizing Mueller's principal conclusions. It stated: "The Special Counsel's investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 US Presidential Election."


Prior to the release of this letter, host Dana Bash asked Nadler whether he still believed -- as he had "said before" -- that President Trump obstructed justice.

In a nonsensical response, Nadler suggested there had been two types of obstruction of justice: criminal and noncriminal.

"Well, there have been obstructions of justice," Nadler said.

"Whether they are criminal obstruction is another question," he said. "But ... the special prosecutor is limited in scope. His job was limited in scope and limited to crimes.

"What Congress has to do is look at a broader picture," Nadler said. "We have the responsibility of protecting the rule of law, of looking at obstructions of justice, at looking at abuses of power, at corruption, in order to protect the rule of law, so that our democratic institutions are not greatly damaged by this president. And that's what we intend to do."

Bash then asked Nadler: "(I)f Robert Mueller comes out in his report and suggests very strongly, or states flat out, that he agrees with you that the president obstructed justice or that the president may have committed some crime that DOJ guidelines do not allow to be indicted, will you begin impeachment proceedings?"

"It's way too early to speculate about that," he said.


Two decades ago, Nadler argued that Bill Clinton's impeachment was purely political -- an illegitimate attempt to reverse the outcome of legitimate elections.

"There are clearly some members of the Republican majority who have never accepted the results of the 1992 or 1996 elections," Nadler said on Dec. 18, 1998.

The House approved two articles of impeachment the next day. Contrary to Nadler's characterization, they were not about adultery.

The first said Clinton "willfully provided perjurious, false and misleading testimony" to a federal grand jury.

The second said he "prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice, and has to that end engaged personally, and through his subordinates and agents, in a course of conduct or scheme designed to delay, impede, cover up, and conceal the existence of evidence and testimony related to a Federal civil rights action brought against him."

Both articles said Clinton violated, "his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

"Although the actions of the President do not have to rise to the level of violating the federal statute regarding obstruction of justice in order to justify impeachment, some if not all of his actions clearly do," said the Judiciary Committee impeachment report when explaining the article citing him for obstruction.


Nadler argued on the House floor that the evidence against Clinton did not support the charges against him, and that even if the charges were true, they were not impeachable offenses.

"Mr. Speaker, the case against the president has not been made," Nadler said. "There is far from sufficient evidence to support the allegations, and the allegations, even if proven true, do not rise to the level of impeachable offenses."

Yes, as reported in the Congressional Record, Nadler said, "even if proven true."

The House voted 221 to 212 for the article of impeachment alleging Clinton "prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice." Five Democrats voted for it.

In the Senate, where conviction requires a two-thirds majority, the vote was 50 to 50.

"What the president has done," Nadler said that day the House voted to impeach, "is not a great and dangerous offense to the safety of the republic."

Would Nadler ever make the same argument about a president who committed no offense he needed to cover up?

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