The Partisan Impeachment
Jude Wanniski
December 14, 1998

 

Memo To: Chairman Henry Hyde, House Judiciary Committee
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: The Party-Line Impeachment

Several months ago, you indicated in comments to the press that you did not think articles of impeachment could be advanced on a purely partisan basis that there would have to be some Democratic support for a process directed at removing the President from office. I absolutely agreed with that sentiment at the time, believing a straight party line vote could too easily be interpreted as an unprincipled vote to shout the President out of office. At the time, it appeared to all the world that the Republicans would gain strength in the November elections, both in the House and the Senate. You went so far as to fix the schedule so that the hearings and vote on impeachment would take place this year, while the 105th Congress still sat, which seemed to give an advantage to the President based on expectations that the 106th Congress would be more, not less, Republican.

Having watched the televised hearings from gavel to gavel at my home, I can now appreciate why the vote could take place along straight party lines and why it is not inappropriate that it be a partisan impeachment. The fact is, the Republicans on the committee could vote purely on principle, because they were not encumbered by the pull of partisanship toward their party leader. You may not know, Henry, because I had not communicated with you on this matter earlier this year, that I had made every argument on behalf of the President that what he had done did not rise to the level of impeachment. His August 17 federal Grand Jury deposition satisfied me at the time that he had deftly skirted perjury by splitting hairs and taking advantage of every opportunity to hide behind legal technicalities. The hearings made all the difference in the world to me, because they made clear how much violence the President has done to the presidency, and the extent to which he was willing to use the powers of his office to protect himself at the expense of this female victim.

The vote was not bipartisan in your committee because there was never enough evidence to crack the Democrats in their predetermined position to form a solid line of defense for their party leader, a firewall that could be justified in their own minds by their willingness to vote a resolution of censure that would CONDEMN him, while not saying that condemnation should include a Senate trial and potential removal from office. They also comfort themselves with the fact that public opinion polls by a two-thirds margin seem so opposed to removal of the President. In other words, Democrats have this form of support for their partisanship in the body politic.

How can I say the Republicans on your committee voted purely on principle? First, your own framing of the hearings and your conduct throughout was clearly based on pure principle. Secondly, the careful piecing together of the evidence by your majority counsel, David Schippers, clearly demonstrated probable cause that the President was prepared to lie about his behavior in the same way a rapist will accuse his victim of having lured him into his attack. As an added ugly twist, the President told his aide Sidney Blumenthal that Monica Lewinsky had threatened him with exposure unless he submitted to sex with her. To see into the President's soul at a moment when he thought it was his word against that of his victim was enough to persuade me that he does not belong in the presidency. It will take a Senate trial to make it obvious he had to be removed in order to cleanse the office.

What has to happen is a willingness of Democrats to strip themselves of their partisanship, which can only happen as they are willing to submit to the Golden Rule. They have to reverse the situation and play all this through as if the President were a Republican and the Republicans were in control of Congress. This isn't easy to do. How many of the Democratic women who were ready to boil in oil Clarence Thomas, John Tower, or Bob Packwood for their behavior are now finding a man who has abused his political power to secure sexual favors for as far back as we can tell should merely be rebuked? Rep. Lindsey Graham clearly touched a raw nerve when he asked the women on the committee to think of what Clinton had done, as so many men have done when confronted with charges of rape or sexual harassment. Rep. Maxine Waters was furious at this suggestion, because it left her own partisanship exposed and forced her to confront pure principle, which she is not prepared to do. Yet that is exactly what I expect to happen in a Senate trial. The world's greatest deliberative body will be forced to look principle in the face.