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Historic parallels amplify as committee marks up articles of impeachment

CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports.

Posted: Dec 12, 2019 5:00 AM
Updated: Dec 12, 2019 5:00 AM

It was on December 11, 1998, that the House Judiciary Committee approved the first three of four articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton. Exactly 21 years ago.

The same committee convened Wednesday night to begin marking up articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. They could be at it until the wee hours.

Read live updates from the House Judiciary Committee markup.

It's notable that so much of the language we are hearing now is the same as the language used back then.

A necessary thing that won't cripple the country

Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was in the House for the Clinton impeachment and is now an opponent of impeaching Trump, argued then that a Senate trial of the president would not paralyze the country. "This country is strong and we will survive," the South Carolina Republican said in 1998.

A flawed process based on lack of direct evidence

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat who was also in the House during the Clinton era and is now a supporter of impeaching Trump, was frustrated about how the Clinton process went down. "We are dealing with impeaching a president, and if you can't state the specifics and you want to move forward, something is wrong with the process," Schumer argued at the time.

Standing up the rule of law

Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, who is still on the House Judiciary Committee and is an opponent of impeaching Trump, had said Clinton had to be impeached. "What is on trial here is the truth and the rule of law," Sensenbrenner said. He said he would vote for impeachment, adding, "I do so with no joy, but without apology."

Note: The full House approved only two of the Clinton impeachment articles and the Senate voted against removing him from office.

There was no CNN yet when the Judiciary Committee approved impeachment articles against President Richard Nixon, but this quote from The Washington Post story that ran at the time sounds so much like the Republican point today that impeachment would overrule the will of people who voted for Trump: "We have weakened the hand of the President and the 220 million people he represents," said Rep. Joseph Maraziti, a Republican from New Jersey, in 1974.

You'll hear a lot more of that Wednesday night when the committee debates not Clinton or Nixon, but Trump.

Lawmakers never leave

Check out this report by CNN's Dana Bash and Bridget Nolan on what lawmakers said then and now.

The latest

-- The whistleblower's attorneys are preparing for the possibility their client will be called to testify at Trump's expected trial in the Senate, according to a CNN report.

-- It's a reminder we don't yet know exactly what form a Senate trial would take. Here's the latest on what Senate Republicans are thinking.

What's the word from moderate Democrats?

Follow Manu Raju's Twitter account for real-time updates on what moderate lawmakers are saying in the halls of Congress.

Freshman Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, one of two House Democrats to vote against an inquiry, made clear he plans to vote against both articles of impeachment. "As I said before, my position never changed unless there was something new and unusual -- and there is nothing new and unusual."

A swing state congresswoman's phones are ringing off the hook

Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a freshman Democrat from a swing district in Michigan, told Raju she's hearing "constantly" from voters about impeachment. "The phones are ringing off the hook. We literally can't pick up the phones fast enough -- and it's people on both sides of it." She says she's undecided.

A red state Democrat wouldn't mind hearing from Hunter Biden

Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia told Raju that he's "very much torn" about whether to vote to convict Trump on both counts. "We have a divided country. On the other hand, we have equal branch of governments, responsibilities in the Constitution. There are a lot of things at stake here."

He said he thinks the Senate should hear from witnesses like acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer -- and that "I don't have a problem with Hunter Biden" testifying. "That's all a part of this."

This is why Democrats didn't include Mueller's allegations in articles of impeachment

If you want to know why Democrats kept their impeachment articles focused on Ukraine rather than adding elements of obstruction of justice from the Mueller report, take a look at the public hearing of Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department inspector general, on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

Vindication for no one

His office released a detailed report earlier this week that rejected the conspiracy theory Trump has pushed that the FBI had spied on his 2016 campaign for political reasons.

But the report included multiple failings by the FBI in renewing Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants it used to monitor a former Trump aide after it opened a national security investigation into Russian election interference in 2016.

As Horowitz said Wednesday, the report didn't vindicate anyone, regardless of what James Comey says.

Something for everyone to complain about

Needless to say, there was plenty at the hearing for both Republicans and Democrats to criticize. Republicans complained about failures of FBI agents identified in the report. Democrats complained about Trump pushing an unfounded conspiracy theory.

The Ukraine story is much easier to follow and the facts, for the most part, are not in dispute.

Still investigating possible leaks to Giuliani

There was also some news at the hearing. Horowitz said his office is still investigating whether Trump's now-lawyer Giuliani got improper leaks from FBI agents about the investigation into Hillary Clinton's email server in 2016.

Debate: Are the articles of impeachment technically flawed?

Here's a worthwhile debate between two former independent counsels, Robert Ray, who closed out the Whitewater investigation, and CNN contributor Michael Zeldin, who investigated George H.W. Bush's campaign.

Key points:

Ray: House Democrats, in this impeachment inquiry, have jettisoned treason, bribery, extortion and foreign campaign contributions as a predicate, under law, for impeachment. Instead, we are left with abusive conduct and an interbranch dispute over witnesses and documents. The bar for impeachment has been lowered in an unprecedented way.

Zeldin: Trump's alleged conduct in soliciting Ukraine to investigate his political rival and then withholding military aid until such investigation is publicly announced, violates the public trust and renders his continuation in office a danger to the Constitution. His obstruction of Congress in its investigation of his actions compounds the offense.

The picture Zelensky wanted

On Tuesday, the day Democrats unveiled articles of impeachment, Trump met at the White House with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. While it's not clear exactly how much they talked about election interference, there's no dispute that they took a photo for Trump's Twitter feed featuring Lavrov standing behind Trump at the Resolute desk. And it is the image Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky craved.

Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, speaking on CNN, called that photo an unprecedented moment. "There's no question there's something deeply (pause) odd about the way this President interacts with Russia," he said.

"You've gotta be absolutely on your game" with the Russians, McCabe added.

Trump adds impeachment-lite riff to his set list

Trump isn't trying to hide impeachment from his supporters. During a rally in Hershey, Pennsylvania, on Tuesday night, he was basically boasting about it.

"Everyone said this is impeachment-lite. This is the lightest impeachment in the history of our country, by far. It's not even like an impeachment," Trump said.

He's also now quoting from the Constitution's oath of office. "We support, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States," he said at the rally.

It's the ultimate troll of the impeachment effort, which alleges he has abused the power the Electoral College gave him under the Constitution.

On the Impeachment Watch podcast: David Chalian talked to CNN's Joe Johns and the political commentator Alice Stewart about Trump's effort to appear unintimidated.

What are we doing here?

The President has invited foreign powers to interfere in the US presidential election. Democrats want to impeach him for it. It is a crossroads for the American system of government as the President tries to change what's acceptable for US politicians. This newsletter will focus on this consequential moment in US history.

Keep track of congressional action with CNN's Impeachment Tracker. See a timeline of events. And get your full refresher on who's who in this drama.

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