As one of the president's most visible and vocal defenders on impeachment, Sen. Lindsey Graham is facing a fair amount of scrutiny for his role in the Clinton impeachment, during which he acted a leading House 'prosecutor' in the Senate trial. The media is having a field day with his old stances and sound bytes, often understandably so. As is often the case in politics, the 'shoe-on-the-other-foot' political effect tends to prompt some wild rhetorical and intellectual gymnastics. Something that has garnered far less attention is the fairly distant impeachment history of another prominent player in the current saga.
In 2000, a California State Senator named Adam Schiff decided to challenge his local sitting Republican Congressman, James Rogan. Amid a leftward shift in the district and the state, Schiff sought to unseat the incumbent in what turned into one of the most expensive Congressional races of all time (at least at the time). One of the reasons the contest attracted so much outside cash was that it was seen as a proxy fight over the issue of...impeachment. Schiff's campaign targeted Rogan for his leading role in the 1998 case against President Clinton, featuring the issue as a potent lightning rod, especially on the fundraising front. Here's how the Los Angeles Times covered Schiff's victory:
State Sen. Adam Schiff claimed victory today in his bid to unseat Rep. James E. Rogan--a contest supercharged by a national audience and record spending...Rogan’s central role as a House prosecutor during President Clinton’s trial before the U.S. Senate--in which he declared Clinton “a monarch, subversive of, or above, the law"--made his reelection a national cause celebre and a $10.3-million-plus spend-a-thon. By election day, it was on pace to become the most expensive House race ever. True believers of both the right and the left fervently trolled for votes until the last moment Tuesday...Throughout most of the campaign, impeachment haunted the race like a powerful, unmentionable poltergeist...Big donors to [Rogan's] campaign were offered a poster of Rogan and the rest of the House impeachment managers.
A USA Today piece highlighted on Schiff's 2000 campaign website noted that "Democratic polling data says 44% of the voters in the district are less likely to support Rogan because of his role as a prosecutor in Clinton's impeachment." The website also accused Rogan of "[ignoring] his district in favor of pursuing national ideological crusades," pledging that Schiff would focus on "bi-partisan solutions." The swipe at Rogan's misplaced focus called to mind this recent scooplet. Writing at the National Interest, Peter Hasson quotes several contemporaneous news reports describing the Schiff campaign's exploitation of impeachment to raise funds and argue that the incumbent was a partisan obsessive:
“Impeachment as a political issue has all but disappeared from America’s political radar in this election, with even Al Gore refusing to make the partisan death match of 1998 and 1999 a campaign issue in the year 2000. But here, in California’s 27th District, Rogan’s battle with Democratic state Sen. Adam Schiff seems the last bloody battle of the impeachment war,” Anthony York recounted in an October 2000 Salon article. Schiff “used impeachment as a fundraising tool,” York noted in the article, which the Daily Caller News Foundation reviewed using research service LexisNexis. “Schiff’s campaign literature hammers away on Rogan’s role in the impeachment proceedings,” The Washington Post noted in a May 2000 article.
Hasson also cites an article describing a Schiff appeal to donors that decried "the partisan impeachment hearings that polarized our nation for so long," and reviled Rogan as one of the chief polarizers. Remarkable stuff, in light of today's events. In the 2002 edition of his Almanac of American Politics, political historian Michael Barone chronicled how, "it was Rogan's role in the impeachment of Bill Clinton that made him the Democrats' most visible target in 2000. Rogan was a leading player in the Judiciary Committee's deliberations...he obviously knew that supporting impeachment carried political risks; while most impeachment managers had safe seats, Rogan's was anything but. Hollywood Democrats were almost hysterical in attacking Rogan." Sure enough, those celebrities and entertainment moguls contributed heavily to Schiff in order to oust Rogan -- electoral retribution for his part in the Clinton impeachment.
Given the background on how Schiff first got elected to Congress nearly two decades ago, it is ironic that his legacy will be inextricably rooted in his starring, controversial, and sometimes conspiratorial and dishonest role in what is playing out as, to quote Schiff himself, "partisan impeachment hearings that polarized our nation." I'll leave you with then-Rep. Rogan's closing arguments on the Senate floor during the Clinton impeachment trial -- in which he served as a manager alongside a dozen other House members, including now-Sen. Graham:
After a trial that lasted approximately one month, the GOP-controlled Senate failed to convict Clinton on either article of impeachment lodged against him, falling well short of the 67-vote threshold for removal. All 45 Senate Democrats voted in lockstep to acquit Clinton on both counts, with a handful of Republican defectors joining them on each. A similar outcome is expected early next year, with the parties simply reversed.