Schumer Warned That Clinton's Impeachment Would 'Seriously Weaken' the Presidency, 'Poison' House-Senate Relations

Susan Jones | December 9, 2019 | 11:52am EST
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Then-Rep. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) argued for a no-vote on the first article of impeachment against then-President Bill Clinton on December 11, 1998. (Photo by PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images)
Then-Rep. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) argued for a no-vote on the first article of impeachment against then-President Bill Clinton on December 11, 1998. (Photo by PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images)

( - Impeachment was designed "to be used rarely and only in times of national crisis," Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), then a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said on Dec. 10, 1998, as he argued against the impeachment of President Bill Clinton for, as Schumer put it, "sex and lying about sex."

Schumer warned of "profound consequences" for the country and for the presidency if Clinton were to be impeached:

Several weeks ago the notion that we would be on the verge of actually using the hammer of impeachment to remove the President for just the third time in 200 years was unthinkable. Now we are only one day from possibly passing a resolution to remove a duly-elected president from office.

The actions that we take tomorrow far transcend the conduct of Bill Clinton, and will have profound consequences on the future of the country. If we vote articles of impeachment, I fear that we will be setting a precedent that could seriously weaken the office of the presidency, whether the President is removed from office or not.

In my judgment, we will be substantially lowering the bar for removing a sitting president so that we will be in danger of all too frequently investigating presidents and seeking to remove them from office; this, as we enter a century which demands a strong and focused president of the United States. And what would we be removing him for? Sex and lying about sex.

Schumer said he agreed that Clinton's sworn testimony about Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky was "misleading, maddening, evasive, prevaricating, and designed to shed as little light as possible on his embarrassing personal behavior." But at the same time, Schumer noted, Clinton lied about sex, "not about matters of governance."

Schumer argued that Clinton "should be sanctioned," and he advocated "a strong censure motion" as the appropriate punishment.

Schumer called the Republican push to impeach Clinton a "political game of chicken," and he warned that it would "tie up all three branches of government for months and months."

"The Senate will be paralyzed for legislating," Schumer warned. "It will poison relations between the House and Senate, between the Congress and the White House, between Democrats and Republicans, for a long time after the trial is over, and all the while, the crushing problems around us in Iraq, in the Middle East, with the world economy, with health care, with education, with Social Security, will fester..."

But that was then.

In remarks on the Senate floor last week, Schumer, now the minority leader, called the "charges" against President Trump "extremely serious," although he did not identify a specific crime, as lawmakers did in the case of Bill Clinton.

In December 1998, the House Judiciary Committee detailed four articles of impeachment against Clinton, including the crimes of perjury and obstruction. The House passed two of the four articles -- that Clinton "provided perjurious, false and misleading testimony to the grand jury regarding the Paula Jones case and his relationship with Monica Lewinsky"; and that Clinton "obstructed justice in an effort to delay, impede, cover up and conceal the existence of evidence related to the Jones case."

Last week, however, Schumer talked about "charges," never identifying a crime Trump allegedly committed.

"The charge, to use foreign interference on behalf of a candidate in the 2020 elections, is dramatic and awful stuff," Schumer said on Dec. 5, 2019. "These charges concern our national security. They concern the sanctity of our elections and the potential corruption of our nation's foreign policy for personal and political interests of the president of the United States.

"The gravity of those charges demands that senators -- if articles of impeachment are served to us -- to put country over party and examine the evidence without partisanship or prejudice."

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