In 1998, House Dems Wanted to Censure Clinton, Not Impeach Him, to 'Bring This Country Together'

Susan Jones | October 1, 2019 | 9:00am EDT
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Then Democrat whip Rep. David Bonior (Mich.) argues against the impeachment of President Clinton on Dec. 19, 1998. (File photo/Screen capture)

( - In December 1998, when the Republican-led House of Representatives began debating articles of impeachment against President William Jefferson Clinton, Democrats held out another option, a compromise, "that would bring this country together."

Democrats wanted to censure Clinton for perjury and obstruction of justice, not impeach him.

Then-Democrat Whip David Bonior (D-Mich.) drew applause at the outset of the impeachment debate on December 18, 1998 when he recited three Democrat objections to the impeachment proceedings, as follows:

We're concerned obviously because we don't believe we should be here today, while our men and women are fighting abroad. We have expressed that in the first motion of the day with respect to adjournment. We don't believe this is a proper time to be debating removing the commander in chief while thousands of men and women are fighting abroad. (Democrats applauded)

Secondly, secondly, Mr. Speaker, and Mr. Hyde (House Speaker), the gentleman asked for four hours of debate. I've just done the math briefly here. That comes out to less than 30 seconds per member. We don't think that is a reasonable amount of time for members of this body to express themselves on perhaps one of the most important issues that they will face in their lifetime.

And thirdly, it runs -- this time problem that the gentlemen has raised, the four hours -- runs to the fairness issue. And we note that in the unanimous consent request, there is nothing here to give the American people a chance to see this Congress vote on the option that they would like to see, that would bring this country together -- the option of censure. (Again, Democrats applauded.)

It is clear what law President Clinton broke when he lied under oath to a federal grand jury about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The House also accused him of obstructing justice in an effort to delay, impede, cover up and conceal evidence related to the Paula Jones case.

Although Democrats fume that President Trump violated his "constitutional oath" by mentioning the Bidens in his phone call with the Ukraine president, it is not yet clear what specific law Trump may have broken. Democrats have mentioned a possible violation of election law and a cover-up, because the transcript of the phone call was moved to an extra secure server.

The White House says the phone call details were moved to a more secure server after details of previous phone calls with world leaders were leaked to the public.

And President Trump said there was nothing wrong with his phone call to the Ukraine president, in which he urged cooperation with people investigating the origins of the Trump-Russia probe.

"There’s been tremendous corruption," Trump told reporters on Monday:

And we’re seeking it. It’s called 'drain the swamp.' There’s been corruption on the other side. There’s been corruption like you’ve never seen.

Now, the new President of Ukraine ran on the basis of no corruption. That’s how he got elected. And I believe that he really means it. But there was a lot of corruption having to do with the 2016 election against us. And we want to get to the bottom of it, and it’s very important that we do.

Democrats, meanwhile, are framing the argument as one of Trump extorting or shaking down the Ukraine president for information on Trump's political opponent in exchange for military assistance to Ukraine, which Trump froze after Congress approved it.

House intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) went so far as to compare Trump to a mafia boss, even misrepresenting what Trump said -- making Trump’s words sound sinister – in Schiff’s opening statement at last week’s committee hearing.

To recap the summary of their phone call:

Ukraine President Zelensky told Trump that his country is "ready to buy more Javelins (missiles) from the United States for defense purposes."

Trump said:

I would like you to do us a favor, though, because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike-- I guess you have one of your wealthy people-- The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. [Trump is talking about the origins of the Russia probe.]

I think you're surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people, and I would like you to get to the bottom of it [again, the Trump-Russia probe]. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it's very important that you do it if that's possible.

Zelensky responded:

We are open for any future cooperation. We are ready to open a new page on cooperation in relations between the United States and Ukraine. For that purpose, I just recalled our ambassador from United States, and he will be replaced by a very competent and very experienced ambassador who will work hard on making sure that our two nations are getting closer...

I will personally tell you that one of my assistants spoke with Mr. Giuliani just recently, and we are hoping very much that Mr. Giuliani will be able to travel to Ukraine and we will meet once he comes to Ukraine. I just wanted to assure you once again that you have nobody but friends around us...We are great friends, and you, Mr. President, have friends in our country so we can continue our strategic partnership. I also plan to surround myself with great people and in addition to that investigation, I guarantee as the President of Ukraine that all the investigations will be done openly and candidly. That I can assure you.

After Zelensky mentions Giuliani and "all the investigations" – [note that Zelensky brought up Giuliani’s name and referred to “all the investigations”] -- Trump responds:

Good, because I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good, and he was shut down, and that's really unfair. A lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down, and you had some very bad people involved.

Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General. Rudy very much knows what's happening, and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great. The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news, so I just want to let you know that.

The other thing, there's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that, so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution, so if you can look into it -- it sounds horrible to me.

Zelensky goes on to talk about the fired prosecutor:

Since we have won the absolute majority in our Parliament, the next prosecutor general will be 100-percent my person, my candidate, who will be approved, by the parliament and will start as a new prosecutor in September. He or she will look into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue. [The reference is to the company on whose board Hunter Biden sat -- Hunter Biden, the troubled son of Joe Biden, who was then serving as vice president.]


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