Washington – Just before the U.S. House began a series of votes to impeach President Bill Clinton, Rep. Rosa DeLauro complained that her colleagues were about to commit a “constitutional assassination.”
“Benjamin Franklin spoke of impeachment as an alternative to assassination,” DeLauro, D-3rd District, proclaimed on the House floor nearly 21 years ago. “Today, this body is contemplating a constitutional assassination.”
She said efforts to impeach Clinton were “driven by a naked partisanship …almost without lawful and civil bounds.”
Now, as the impeachment inquiry of Donald Trump is in its public hearing phase, Republican lawmakers are making similar arguments in defense of the president and Democrats pressing for impeachment.
DeLauro, who favors the investigation into Trump, was one of about 70 sitting members of Congress — and the only lawmaker from Connecticut — in office when Clinton was impeached, and said there are good reasons for the 180-degree turn in her position.
“The argument to impeach President Clinton was based on him being untruthful about an affair,” she said. “That does not rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors.”
DeLauro said that Trump, “on the other hand, has abused the power of his office by inviting foreign interference into our next election, withholding congressionally approved national security assistance to get help with his re-election campaign, intimidating witnesses who are testifying in the impeachment inquiry, and obstructing justice through continually blocking congressional subpoenas.”
A GOP-led U.S. House voted on Dec. 19, 1998, that the president had lied under oath about the relationship with former intern Monica Lewinsky and tried to conceal evidence in the case. About two months later, Clinton was acquitted by the Senate on both counts as neither received the necessary two-thirds majority vote of the senators present for conviction.
The Trump impeachment inquiry is based on allegations the president upended U.S. foreign policy – and may have hurt an ally’s ability to defend itself — to dig up dirt on a political opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.
“Those actions represent an entirely different level of misconduct,” DeLauro said. “Foreign interference in United States elections and witness tampering are illegal, and withholding congressionally approved military aid for that purpose is bribery.”
The Democratic led impeachment inquiry was touched off by a CIA analyst’s complaint, based on what the whistleblower had learned about a phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. In that July 25 call Trump asked Zelensky to do him a “favor,” by investigating Biden and the former vice president’s son Hunter.
The CIA whistleblower also indicated in his complaint that Trump pressured Zelensky by withholding nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine, which is at war with Russia.
Before Congress learned of the whisleblower’s complaint in September, DeLauro and most member of Connecticut’s congressional delegation – except for Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District — opposed moving towards impeaching the president. So did House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. But the whistleblower’s complaint changed all of that.
“I decided that it was imperative the House of Representatives pursue an impeachment inquiry after details of President Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky became public,” DeLauro said. “No president of the United States should use their position for personal gain.”
She said by Trump’s pressuring Zelensky to investigate one of his political opponents “is illegal.”
“By interfering with the next election, President Trump crossed the Rubicon,” DeLauro said. “These actions are a reckless abuse of power, and the only constitutional recourse Congress has is through the power of an impeachment inquiry.”
Trump’s GOP defenders say Ukraine never launched an investigation of the Bidens and the U.S. aid was released to Kiev’s government in September, so there was no quid pro quo.
On CBS’s Face the Nation, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, on Sunday said Zelensky met five times with senior U.S. officials “and in each of those meetings, never was it talked about linking the security assistance dollars to any type of investigations.”
He said the military aid had been withheld to give the Trump administration some time to determine the character of the new Ukrainian president. “Remember, we’re talking about Ukraine,” Jordan said. “One of the three most corrupt countries on the planet.”
Jordan said the aid was released after U.S. officials determined Zelensky was “the real deal.”
The money was also released two days after the whistleblower made his complaint and about a week after Sen. Chris Murphy returned from a trip to Ukraine determined to find out what the holdup was. Other members of Congress were also digging around trying to find out why the money had not been released.
Over the weekend, House Republicans sent a letter to Murphy’s companion on that trip to Kiev in early September, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., saying they “reluctantly” want him to testify about what was discussed with Zelensky on that congressional trip.
Trump has called repeatedly called the impeachment inquiry a “witch hunt” and referred to the CIA analyst who made the complaint as a “fake whistleblower.”
But a number of witnesses have corroborated the whistleblower’s account – and provided additional information about Trump’s goals in Ukraine – during closed door interviews whose transcripts have been made public.
Some of those witnesses, including current U.S. ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor and former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testified in public hearings before the House Intelligence Committee last week.
Other witnesses are scheduled to testify before the panel this week, including U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who has been identified by multiple House impeachment witnesses as a central player in the Trump effort to press Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
In a pair of tweets on Monday, Trump said he will “strongly consider” an offer by Pelosi to offer written testimony to the House impeachment panel.
Pelosi has indicated the House investigation of the president may bleed into next year. But some House Democrats say they have learned enough and are ready to vote to impeach the president.
But DeLauro isn’t ready to do that.
“I will continue to watch the impeachment hearings, examine the facts presented by the witnesses, and reserve my judgement until the process runs its course,” she said.