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How a Biden impeachment inquiry compares to Nixon, Clinton and Trump

On February 6, 1974, the House of Representatives considered a historic question: Should it authorize an investigation that could lead to the impeachment of President Richard M. Nixon?

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Peter Rodino (D-N.J.) argued for opening an investigation within his committee’s jurisdiction.

“We will work quickly and fairly,” he told his colleagues. “When we have completed our investigation, whatever the outcome, we will make our recommendations to the House. We will do this as soon as possible, in accordance with the principles of fairness and completeness.

When the resolution to launch the investigation was passed, only four House members opposed it. By the end of July, the committee had presented three articles of impeachment to the full House, but Nixon resigned before they could be considered.

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When Rodino called for an investigation in February, he made an interesting argument.

“The tragedy called Watergate has now been under investigation for about a year, by the Senate Watergate Committee, by the Office of the Special Prosecutor, and now by the House Judiciary Committee,” he said. . “Although the accusations have raged in the media, no evidence of implied conduct has yet been demonstrated. »

This is a narrow line. The public had witnessed the evolution of the investigation since the Watergate Hotel break-in in June 1972. Rodino differentiated between the available evidence – including Nixon’s resistance to releasing the Oval Office tapes and the existence of a large gap in the investigation. these recordings – and claiming that they were insufficient to justify Nixon’s impeachment.

In 1998, the House again voted to launch an impeachment inquiry, this time into the actions of President Bill Clinton. The resolution was similar to the one in 1974, defining how evidence would be collected and subpoenas issued. It was approved by a much narrower margin, however, because it focused largely on Clinton’s relationship with a White House intern. The representatives debated the issue and (in a move familiar to a modern observer) presented letters from constitutionalists opposing the decision.

The vote also came after a large amount of evidence about Clinton’s behavior had been made public. The vote took place on October 8, about a month after independent lawyer Kenneth Starr’s lengthy report was made public. Starr had been investigating Clinton for years, but his report focused on Clinton’s relationship with the intern, Monica Lewinsky. His report included nearly 100 pages aimed at closing the gap that Rodino had identified in 1974; a section of his report was titled “Acts that may constitute grounds for indictment.”

Unlike Nixon, Clinton was impeached. The Senate refused to remove him from office.

Two decades later, the House again launched an impeachment inquiry against a sitting president. This effort was launched in September 2019 against Donald Trump and did not include a formal investigative vote before the full House. Instead, it was announced by then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and Democratic-led House committees then took up the effort.

This investigation began with much weaker evidence than the indictments of Nixon or Clinton. On August 12, a whistleblower filed a complaint focused on Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, including during a phone call in July. Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson determined the complaint was credible, meaning it should be shared with congressional leaders — but it was not shared, as it should have been. ‘be. House Democrats subpoenaed the document; Atkinson would eventually testify to its contents.

Other details had already emerged. In August, Politico reported that the Trump administration was blocking aid to Ukraine, which Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said was linked to Trump’s efforts to get Zelensky to announce an investigation into the former Vice President Joe Biden. the Democratic challenger in the 2020 presidential election. The Washington Post editorial board discovered and reported on this link between a Biden investigation and the aid. The day of Pelosi’s announcement, Trump confirmed the withdrawal of aid to Ukraine.

The investigation ultimately substantiated the effort and Trump was impeached by the House.

One of those who opposed the investigation was House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). He opposed opening an investigation without a vote of the full House — but he especially opposed what he portrayed as a political effort to undermine the Republican president.

“Speaker Pelosi’s unprecedented and politically motivated decision” – to launch an investigation without a vote – “represents an abuse of power and brings disrepute to the House of Representatives,” he said. a resolution introduced by McCarthy. He would continue to use his position of authority to challenge the investigation; he would then vote against impeachment.

Trump was impeached a second time on January 13, 2021, a week after the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol. There was no investigation. The article of impeachment focused on Trump’s role in starting the riot, the evidence of which was abundant and shown on live television.

On Tuesday, McCarthy announced he was authorizing his own impeachment inquiry, without a vote in the House. apparently required.

McCarthy reportedly plans to provide his caucus with an update from the chairmen of the House Oversight and Judiciary committees — Republican Reps. James Comer (Ky.) and Jim Jordan (Ohio), respectively — at a meeting this THURSDAY. He would then “say that the two presidents have discovered sufficient information that requires the House to formalize the impeachment inquiry in order to obtain the Bidens’ bank records and other documents,” according to Punchbowl News.

However, after this news broke, McCarthy made his announcement, arguing that Republicans’ “allegations of abuse of power, obstruction and corruption” warranted an investigation.

He’s been flirting with the idea for some time now, telling Fox Business Network a few weeks ago that such a move was being considered so Republicans could obtain more documents about President Biden’s personal finances. On August 22, he asserted that if the White House “provided us with the documents, there would be no need for an impeachment inquiry.” A source close to the House Oversight investigation said no subpoenas for Biden’s banking records have been issued.

With Congress out of session, it’s unclear what has changed in the three weeks since. Speaking to reporters on Thursday, McCarthy highlighted items such as the testimony of Devon Archer, business partner of Biden’s son Hunter Biden, as having presented new revelations during this period — but Archer testified in July.

Kevin McCarthy orders House to open ‘formal impeachment inquiry’ against Biden

One thing that has changed, of course, is that McCarthy faces pressure on two fronts to launch an investigation. The first comes from within his own caucus, with fringe lawmakers like Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) attracting media attention by attacking what he portrays as McCarthy’s lethargy. The second source of pressure is a relentless right-wing media ecosystem that has managed to convince Republicans that something untoward has happened, requiring a formal response.

There remains no concrete evidence that Joe Biden engaged in illegal activity, especially while he was president. For the most part, the Republican effort is focused on Hunter Biden and his business activity. Comer and Jordan dug into Hunter Biden’s background, bank accounts and communications and presented an argument that Hunter Biden exploited his last name to expand his consulting business. But investigations by House Republicans have revealed more rebuttals than proof of the idea that the president was involved in his son’s affairs.

We are asked to believe that Archer’s testimony that Joe Biden was occasionally put on speakerphone for non-business-related conversations during meetings is more incriminating than Archer’s sworn denial that Biden was involved in the Hunter Biden’s affairs or that he had used his power. for the benefit of Hunter’s business partners. We are also asked to believe the attestations of Comer and Jordan, both of whom blatantly misrepresented what they learned in interviews.

But that’s the main thing: the investigation would perhaps gather evidence on which impeachment could be based. It’s self-fulfilling!

In an interview on CNN Monday evening, Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), a member of the House Oversight Committee, made the case for welcoming Kaitlan Collins.

“The investigation would give us another tool in the toolbox, specifically to examine Joe Biden’s bank records,” she said. “Everyone is shouting about the evidence: ‘Where is the evidence?’ The bank documents contain all the evidence.

Do you see how it works? Republicans have no concrete evidence that Biden benefited from his son’s business activity or used his influence to help him (despite insinuations from Comer and others). But they claim that there is such evidence – it is simply out of reach. This is the eternal promise of conspiracy theorists: despite refutations and prolonged failures to prove the accusations, something proves that I am right and, therefore, that I am right to adhere to my beliefs.

No conversation about McCarthy’s willingness to launch an impeachment inquiry can ignore his 2015 comments linking an investigation into then-Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton to his political fortunes. McCarthy knows that a wide-ranging, vaguely delineated investigation into Biden could reveal something that incriminates the president in some way — or could, at least, bolster his camp’s already successful efforts to attack the president .

It is possible that Joe Biden was intimately involved in Hunter Biden’s affairs and, while serving as vice president, intentionally exploited his power to benefit his son. This possibility, however remote, does not change the elements at play or the comparisons between how Republicans hope to advance an impeachment inquiry and what was on the table before the impeachments of 1974, 1998, 2019 and 2021 .

In these four cases, there was varying degrees of evidence suggesting misconduct by the sitting president. In this case, there are only insinuations. Instead of clarifying existing allegations, Republicans are trying to generate new ones.


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