Senior GOP senator Lindsay Graham once argued that impeaching a president and removing him from office didn’t require a criminal conviction.
In January 1999, Graham, then a House of Representatives member was speaking in the midst of historic impeachment proceedings against then-President Bill Clinton. Clinton was accused of making false statements to investigators about his sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, in the course of a sexual harassment investigation in the case of Paula Jones.
“If this body [Congress] determines that your conduct as a public official is clearly out of bounds in your role… because impeachment is not about punishment. Impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office.”
In December 1998, Clinton was successfully impeached in the House on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, beginning a trial in the Senate. Weeks after Graham’s statements, the Senate rejected the charges against Clinton and voted against removing him from office.
Graham’s statements on impeachment have become even more prevalent following a pair of convictions which sit very closely to Trump himself – That of former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen. Cohen claimed he acted on the president’s orders when violating campaign laws.
Obstruction of justice, one of the charges in the Clinton impeachment, would likely also be central to any proceeding against Trump. Opponents accuse him of interfering with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign, including by firing FBI director James Comey.
All of that would seem to push Trump’s actions closer to meeting Graham’s standard, circa 1999.
Graham’s revised stance reinforces the widely held assumption that with Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, no amount of evidence of misconduct by Trump will lead to legislative action against him. Many Democrats are framing the 2018 midterm election as an opportunity to retake control of the House of Representatives specifically so that impeachment proceedings can be initiated against the president.