Republican senators have dismissed the second impeachment of former President Trump as a spasm of unconstitutional political showmanship from Democrats.
But many of them cast a vote in the opposite direction during another impeachment two decades ago, over a matter of sex and lies. About exactly as many, it turns out, as would be needed to secure Trump’s conviction.
Twelve sitting GOP senators voted against former President Bill Clinton during his 1998 impeachment proceedings for lying under oath about his affair with a White House intern. If you added them to the 55 senators, including five Republicans, who last week voted to allow Trump’s second impeachment trial to proceed, signaling an openness to also convicting him, you’d get 67 votes—the two-thirds threshold necessary for a final guilty verdict.
Of course, Republicans who railed against Clinton are unlikely to bail on Trump. Most observers expect Trump will be acquitted with a comfortable margin, in a vote as early as this weekend that will prove Trump’s enduring dominance over Republican politics.
Trump mega-fan Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Wednesday night that the hours of blood-curdling footage rolled out by House impeachment managers at this week’s trial haven’t influenced his GOP colleagues. Never mind they watched images of themselves fleeing from a mob as it ransacked the Capitol Building.
“The ‘Not Guilty’ vote is growing after today,” Graham tweeted on Wednesday evening, following an afternoon of hair-raising videos of the January 6 riot. “I think most Republicans found the presentation by the House Managers offensive and absurd.”
Yet Graham and his Republican colleagues took a decidedly different view of the evidence against Clinton. In 1998, Graham served as a House manager in Clinton’s Senate trial. At that time, he defined the term “high crime,” which the Constitution holds out vaguely as one requirement for an impeachable offense, as “when you start using your office and you’re acting in a way that hurts people.”
“I have lost tons of sleep thinking he [Clinton] may get away with what he did,” Graham said at the time. “Impeachment is not about punishment. Impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office.”
Now, Graham and other Republicans argue that whatever Trump did, he should get off on a technicality. They say his impeachment trial shouldn’t be valid because Trump has already stepped down from the presidency—even though GOP Senate leadership delayed the start of the trial until after Trump left office.
Bill Clinton, of course, wasn’t just impeached for getting a blowjob. He lied under oath about his affair with 22-year-old intern Monica Lewinsky, a liaison that would ultimately subject her to a lifetime of tumultuous public controversy and years of relentless bullying and ridicule.
Still, Graham is hardly the only Republican senator whose tone has shifted when the conversation moved on from one president who lied about sex to another whose supporters sack the Capitol in a siege that killed five people.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell voted “guilty” on the two impeachment articles against Clinton, perjury and obstruction of justice.
“Our nation is indeed at a crossroads,” McConnell declared 20 years ago. “Will we pursue the search for truth or will we dodge, weave, and evade the truth?”
Those who voted to impeach Clinton when they were members of the House include:
—Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri
—Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina
—Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio
—Sen. John Thune of South Dakota
—Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho
—Sen. Patty Moran of Kansas
—Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi
Others, like McConnell, were senators when Clinton’s impeachment came up for trial, and voted to convict:
—Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa
—Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma
—Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama
Sen Shelby, however delivered a mixed verdict: not guilty on perjury, guilty on obstruction.
Former President Clinton’s wife, Hillary Clinton, took note of the discrepancy on Twitter.
“If Senate Republicans fail to convict Donald Trump, it won’t be because the facts were with him or his lawyers mounted a competent defense,” she wrote. “It will be because the jury includes his co-conspirators.”