By: Jim Sensenbrenner in the New York Times
As I walked into the House chamber on Wednesday evening, I had flashbacks to a sadly familiar scene. Just a day short of 21 years ago, I had cast my votes to impeach President Bill Clinton and was then selected to serve as a House manager — a prosecutor — to argue our case before the Senate. While the Clinton impeachment was a bitterly divisive moment in our history, I did what I believed — and still believe — was right.
This week, the sight and sounds were similar, but the underlying facts were vastly different. After evaluating the allegations against President Donald Trump and the process that led us here, I determined that I could not vote to impeach.
Earlier this Congress, Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, and Jerrold Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, set forth criteria for undertaking an impeachment. They said that the evidence would have to be overwhelming and compelling, and, importantly, it would have to be bipartisan.
Looking back at the Clinton impeachment, I’m convinced we satisfied each of these. Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel, conducted a very lengthy and nonpartisan investigation, delivering 36 boxes of evidence to Congress. He concluded that the president had committed grand jury perjury and obstructed justice to cover his lies. Mr. Starr testified before our committee that the president might have committed impeachable offenses.
By this time, Congress had already established that grand jury perjury was an impeachable offense: In 1989 we had removed a federal judge — Walter L. Nixon Jr. — for that very crime. When I delivered the opening argument in the Senate trial, I noted that we ought not to hold the president to a lower standard than we do a federal judge.
Fast forward to the present day, and things are drastically different. Just moments after President Trump took the oath of office, The Washington Post ran a headline, “The Campaign to Impeach President Trump Has Begun.” Chairman Nadler later campaigned for the Judiciary gavel with the promise that he was best fit to lead an impeachment. Worse, 103 current members of the House Democratic Caucus voted to move forward with impeachment even before President Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Vitriol and blind hatred aside, President Trump has been robbed of his constitutionally protected due process rights. There was no independent investigation. Instead, Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, conducted a few weeks of closed-door hearings in the basement of the Capitol Visitor Center. This is the same man who infamously stated on cable television that he had overwhelming evidence that President Trump had colluded with the Russians during the 2016 election. The special counsel Robert Mueller found nothing of the sort.
The closed-door hearings led to a railroad job in the House Judiciary Committee, where a majority denied those of us in the minority our rights. When we finally considered the articles of impeachment, they were so broad and flimsy that almost any other president could most likely have been accused of them. Article II, the obstruction of Congress charge, is particularly bad, as Democrats failed even to give a court — the proper arbiter of these disagreements — the chance to weigh in on the matter.
Further, none of the articles allege that the president committed a crime — a drastic departure from the Nixon and Clinton cases. Nevertheless, Democrats prioritized haste as they jammed through their impeachment vote. Again and again, Democrats told us that Congress could not wait to impeach the president. Yet Speaker Pelosi’s decision to withhold the articles from the Senate shows us that we can apparently wait. This whole exercise has been completely bunk.
Earlier this year, I wrote in The Wall Street Journal that an unfair process cannot lead us to true justice. The House impeachment inquiry and process was unfair, and therefore unjust.
A majority of my constituents in Wisconsin — a key battleground state — do not support the impeachment charade against the president. Rather, they ask why we don’t wait a few months and let the voters decide whether President Trump should remain in office.
One fear, proffered by Al Green, a Democratic representative from Texas, is that “if we don’t impeach this president, he will get re-elected.” Apparently, the voters cannot be trusted. They might just choose President Trump. Again.
The real damage done by all of this is the precedent it sets. President Trump — if ever tried in the Senate — will most likely be acquitted. However, by lowering the bar of what is an impeachable offense and by failing to meet the Pelosi/Nadler criteria, we will all but ensure that all future divided governments will lead to impeachments. Mere policy disagreements will become charges of abuse of power.
The founders feared that impeachment might someday be used for solely partisan reasons. For 230 years, Congress had fought off that temptation. Unfortunately, in 2019, some let their disdain for President Trump lead us down this path.
I never thought I’d experience another presidential impeachment. As I walked out of the House chamber following my second, I felt saddened, not just for President Trump and the 63 million people who elected him, but also for future generations. If Democrats thought impeaching a president was difficult, just wait until they have to clean up their mess.
Jim Sensenbrenner (@JimPressOffice), a Republican, represents Wisconsin’s Fifth Congressional District. He has served as a House impeachment manager for four Senate trials, more than anyone in history. He also served as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee from 2001 to 2007.