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What Comes Next In The Impeachment Inquiry


We're going to begin this hour with a look ahead to what is likely to be another historic week in the nation's capital. Tomorrow, the House Judiciary Committee will hold another impeachment hearing. This time, they'll hear from Democratic and Republican lawyers from the relevant committees who will give their respective parties' views of the evidence.

This morning, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler gave more information about the timeline, saying to NBC's "Meet The Press," quote, "we'll bring articles of impeachment presumably before the committee at some point later in the week," unquote. If the House then votes to impeach President Trump, the action would then move to the Senate for a trial.

And that's what we want to focus on now. Both sides seem to expect that the vote in the Senate will go straight down party lines, with Democrats, who are now in the minority, voting to convict President Trump, and the Republican majority voting to acquit.

Well, 15 current GOP senators were serving in Congress back in 1998 - some in the Senate, others in the House - during the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton, and 14 of those senators voted to either impeach or convict Clinton. Now they're all expected to vote against a conviction for President Trump.

So what's changed? That's the question I put to Ruth Marcus, the deputy editorial page editor for The Washington Post. She covered the Clinton impeachment hearings. And when we spoke, she started our conversation by describing how senators back in 1998 crossed party lines on impeachment.

RUTH MARCUS: Most notably, Susan Collins, the Republican senator from Maine, broke with her party then and said that while she might convict President Clinton were she to be a juror in a criminal trial, she did not think what he did rose to the level of an offense for which he should be removed from the presidential office.

And so I think - I want to say one thing that I think is really important to think of about the sort of constitutional situationalism (ph) that we're in here. I think it's logical to say that you don't think that the allegations against President Clinton were serious enough to warrant his impeachment and removal from office. They did not involve actions that went to the core of presidential abuse of authority.

I think it is a lot harder logical argument to make and to sustain to say that while we were all gung-ho for President Clinton to be impeached and convicted and that what he did was so serious that he had to be driven from office, but President Trump - this is nothing. Let's move on. I just have a hard time making that logical connection.

MARTIN: So, you know, we also saw this reversal with one of the expert witnesses who testified last week, the legal scholar Jonathan Turley, who made a point of saying that he's not a Trump supporter. Whether that's true or not, how would we know? But he was outspoken in his support for the impeachment of President Clinton in 1998. And he said - this is what he testified. He said that no matter how you feel about President Clinton - and I'm going to quote here - he said, "by his own conduct, he has deprived himself of the perceived legitimacy to govern. You need both political and legal legitimacy to govern" - unquote.

Now, last week, he cautioned Democrats not to impeach Trump on the basis of what he called scant evidence. And I want to note here that some 500 legal scholars have signed a letter saying that President Trump committed impeachable conduct. You've been following Jonathan Turley for 20 years, and so I'd like to ask you, what's changed here?

MARCUS: Let me say two things. His argument is that what President Clinton did actually fit the precise elements of criminal offense, and you can't get to that with President Trump. I don't think that's a convincing argument. His second and actually more difficult argument is we don't have enough evidence here because we haven't heard from all the witnesses.

This is what I think of - and I think I mentioned constitutional situationalism earlier. This is constitutional chutzpah, right? Why don't we have this evidence? We don't have this evidence because the president of the United States is preventing us from obtaining this evidence. So to argue that we shouldn't move forward with an impeachment or trial because we don't have the evidence that he's prevented us from getting is a little bit hard to take.

MARTIN: Well, to that point, I mean, part of his argument in 1998 was that President Clinton lied under oath and that he perjured himself. The issue here is President Trump has refused to be under oath. And he has ordered several of the key individuals here to refuse to testify. How does a dispute like that get mediated?

MARCUS: Well, first of all, President Trump should do what all presidents before him have done, which is to negotiate with Congress to try to make some testimony available under certain circumstances. The second solution would be to take this to court.

The problem with that is there's a countervailing pressure. If you are going to impeach, and if you are going to have a trial and convict, even if you know the outcome, it is better to do that if you're not bumping up against an election. One of the cases during the George W. Bush administration involving whether his aides could be subpoenaed and required to testify did not get resolved until after he left office. So that doesn't work very well in an impeachment inquiry.

MARTIN: So before we let you go, what will you be watching for at tomorrow's hearing? I'm not going to ask you from a public opinion standpoint. I'm asking you from the standpoint of your expertise as both a lawyer and as a person who's weighing the evidence yourself.

MARCUS: First of all, I'm thinking about whether to go broad or whether to go narrow. How much do you sweep in other non-Ukraine-related conduct on President Trump's part? The second thing I'm looking at, which is somewhat related to that, is the argument about whether to delay or whether there's some prospect for obtaining testimony down the road because I'm really convinced that the public would be better off if it could get this testimony. I just think there are countervailing arguments about the need to proceed with swiftness.

And third question that I've been grappling with is whether if you assume that the president's impeachment is a fait accompli, how should we think about the act of removing him from office? And fundamentally, given that we do have an election coming up, how should we think about the constitutional remedy of impeachment as opposed to the constitutional provision for an election? So those are the things that are going to be on my mind not just next week but I think for the next umpty-ump (ph) weeks to come.

MARTIN: That is Ruth Marcus. She is deputy editorial page editor for The Washington Post. She covered the Clinton impeachment hearings in 1998. And most recently, she is the author of "Supreme Ambition: Brett Kavanaugh And The Conservative Takeover," which is out now.

Ruth Marcus, thank you so much for joining us.

MARCUS: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.