Grassley, Graham, & Hatch Voted To Impeach Clinton For What Kavanaugh Just Did
Statements from current and past Republicans on the Clinton impeachment reveal a hypocritical party at odds with their past views on lying to the American people.
Brett Kavanagh’s hysterical tirade under oath is becoming more indefensible by the day. His statement has been found to contain a number of lies and omissions, and more are being discovered seemingly by the day. The list of lies so far includes such trivialities as the drinking age in Maryland at the time of his alleged assault of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, his habits as a student, as well as purposely misidentifying slang terms such as “boofing,” “devil’s triangle,” and “Renate alumnus.” There have also been much more pertinent falsehoods, such as Kavanaugh’s drinking, as well as his assertion that he has not had direct contact with any of his alleged accusers.
Perhaps the most serious transgression was reported this week, as text messages from as far back as July that Kavanaugh sent to friends from his days at Yale seem to indicate he tried to coordinate their stories in order to refute the allegations of Debra Ramirez, who accuses Kavanaugh of shoving his penis into her face. This contradicts his statement that he had only heard about Ramirez’s allegation from the New Yorker’s September 23rd article about the case. If true, Kavanaugh’s actions could be construed as a form of witness tampering.
Regardless of whatever further evidence is uncovered by the FBI this week, these transgressions ought to make Kavanaugh unfit for a seat on the Supreme Court, if not disbarred completely.
None of this has seemed to bother most Republican senators as they rush to push through his nomination. The GOP members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jeff Flake notwithstanding, could not be bothered to even pretend to take the allegations against Kavanaugh with the seriousness that they deserve. For some, such as Louisiana Senator John Kennedy, Kavanaugh’s word is all they needed.
The actions of Kavanaugh and the Republican committee members unsurprisingly drew the ire of many Democrats and the majority of those watching the hearings. Kavanaugh holds the distinction of being one of the most unpopular Supreme Court picks in history, and his nomination is already making its way onto many a Democratic midterm attack ad.
But the Republicans defending Kavanaugh today would have probably angered an unlikely crowd: their past selves.
Indeed, it was a little under 20 years ago that some of the same senators, with aid from Kavanaugh himself, were leading an effort to impeach President Bill Clinton for many of the same things Kavanaugh has committed: lying under oath and witness tampering. A look back at their statements and behavior provides a stark contrast to the men standing behind Kavanaugh today.
A Look Back At The Lewinsky Scandal Reveals A Not-So-Familiar Face
In 1997, President Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky was revealed by the lawyers of Paula Jones, who was suing the President for sexual harassment. In a sworn deposition early that next year, Clinton denied having sexual relations with Lewinsky, only to admit to it later. Independent Counsel Ken Starr, who had been investigating the Clinton administration on several other controversies, expanded his investigation into the Lewinsky affair, publishing a report in September of 1998 accusing the President of lying under oath and obstructing justice by attempting to influence Lewinsky into perjuring herself through gifts and a job offer, as well as by coaching his secretary, Betty Currie.
One of Starr’s main assistants in the Clinton investigation was none other than Brett Kavanaugh himself. However, one would be forgiven for not being able to recognize the Kavanaugh of those days with the one we saw last week, crying about calendars and football practices. A memo written by Kavanaugh from that time reveals a man thoroughly angry with Clinton’s abuses of power:
“What has especially convinced me of the appropriateness of obtaining his “full and complete” testimony regarding the precise details of the relationship are the sheer number of his wrongful acts. The President has disgraced his Office, the legal system, and the American people by having sex with a 22-year-old intern and turning her life into shambles – callous and disgusting behavior that has somehow gotten lost in the shuffle. He has committed perjury…He has lied to his aides. He has lied to the American people. He has tried to disgrace you and this Office with a sustained propaganda campaign that would make Nixon blush.
“He should be forced to account for all of that and to defend his actions…it is our job to make his pattern of revolting behavior clear — piece by painful piece.”
Reading this begs the question: what would 1998 Kavanaugh, so aghast at the thought of a politician having an affair with an intern, think of a Supreme Court nominee accused of multiple counts of sexual assault. That Kavanaugh would doubtless pry into every aspect of the nominee’s life to uncover the truth- piece by painful piece.
(As an aside, one ought not to take away that 1998 Kavanaugh was an advocate for victims. The questions he goes on to propose in that same memo include graphic depictions of sexual acts designed to humiliate Clinton at the expense of Lewinsky.)
The Kavanaugh of 2018 would, in turn, find the methods of 1998 Kavanaugh and his boss most unsettling. Given how upset he was of the press coverage about him, today’s Kavanaugh would abhor Mr. Starr’s habit of releasing parts of his investigation to the press or his inclusion of explicit yet irrelevant accounts in his final report (most likely the handiwork of 1998 Kavanaugh.) He might even question the very need for Starr’s investigation, given that he himself has pointedly refused to accept an independent investigation into allegations against him (let alone the fact that, after working for the Bush administration, he no longer thought an investigation into a sitting President was even legal.) Either way, 2018 Kavanaugh would doubtless see his actions twenty years ago as the same type of partisan “smear job” he currently claims he is being subjected to.
There are two things the Kavanaughs of old and new would agree on, however. The first is that the Clintons have always been out to get them. The second is that, despite a documented partisan past and a penchant for putting emotions over impartial judgment, Brett Kavanaugh is entitled to a seat on the highest court in the land.
The GOP’s Clinton Statements In Context
The findings of the Starr report were used by Republicans to impeach Clinton on perjury and obstruction of justice, though he was acquitted by the Senate. In their statements in support of impeachment, GOP senators stressed that lying under oath ought to be an impeachable offense regardless of whether a crime was committed or not. The main precedent given by the GOP was the impeachment of two federal judges in the 1980’s- Walter Nixon and Alcee Hastings- on perjury charges. Slade Gorton, a Republican Senator from Washington, summarized this point in his statement:
“In 1989, Judge Nixon was convicted by the Senate and removed from office for perjury: in fact, for lying under oath to a grand jury. And in that same year, Judge Hastings was convicted of lying under oath and removed by the Senate even though he had already been acquitted in a criminal trial—it is generally recognized that an act need not be criminal in order to be impeachable.”
The GOP Once Claimed To Respect Truth and Democratic Values. What Changed?
Republicans homed in on this argument during their impeachment statements in order to refute the notion supported by Democrats and Clinton at the time that Clinton’s lying about an affair was not that serious. From current Senator and Judiciary Committee member Orrin Hatch’s statement in 1998:
“I hope that no matter the outcome of this trial, President Clinton’s view of what constitutes an impeachable offense does not become precedent. If it does, I fear the moral framework of our Republic will be frayed. If it does, the legitimacy of our institutions may very well become tattered…Committing crimes of moral turpitude, such as perjury and obstruction of justice, go to the very heart of qualification for public office.”
“Lying under oath, hiding evidence, and tampering with witnesses destroy the truth-finding function of our investigatory and trial system.”
From former Senator James Inhofe, of Oklahoma:
“Our legal system depends of [sic] the sanctity of the witness oath. There can be no exceptions to the obligation every citizen incurs when he solemnly swears ‘‘to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.’ Setting any other precedent would totally disrupt our system of jurisprudence by breeding disrespect for the rule of law.”
From former Senator Don Nickles, also of Oklahoma:
“Our system of justice, both civil and criminal, would collapse if lying under oath was tolerated, tampering with witness’ testimony was permitted or hiding of evidence was customary.”
Pete Domenici, from New Mexico, (quoting John Jay):
“Lying under oath is an ‘‘insult to the divine Being . . . It discolors and poisons the Streams of Justice . . . and . . . saps the Foundations of personal and public Rights.’’
From current Attorney General Jeff Sessions:
“when we deny the truth we violate the moral order and bad things happen. Truth is one of the highest ideals of Western civilization commitment to it defines us as a people. As Senator KYL said, you will never have justice in a court of law if people don’t tell the truth.”
From Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, another current Judiciary Committee member:
“I am deeply concerned that we will do great damage to our system of law and the freedom it defends if we diminish the seriousness of these crimes and thereby suggest to future offenders that they can commit these crimes with little to fear”
1998 Senator Crapo would also have seemingly taken a very dim view of 2018 Senator Crapo and his colleagues’ reluctance to allow the FBI to conduct a thorough investigation into Kavanaugh:
“In America, our freedom is assured by the rule of law. Our law seeks to provide equal and impartial justice to all. All Americans— the poor, the rich, the weak, the powerful—are entitled to the same protection under the law. And even, the most powerful among us must be subject to those laws. Tampering with the truth-seeking functions of the law undermines our justice system and the foundations on which our freedoms lie”
Republicans also argued that, perjury aside, the very act of lying to the public meant one was unfit for office. Again, from Senator Inhofe:
“Indeed, part of the reason this is so important is that if the President is capable of lying under oath about one thing, it reveals a predisposition and capability to lie about other more important things, while not under oath.”
Republicans’ dedication to truth and honesty, it seems, has faded away with the years. Not once did Senators Hatch or Crapo express an iota of concern for Kavanaugh’s lying in front of them.
Another point Republicans reiterated in support of Clinton’s impeachment was that Clinton had violated the sanctity of his office, thereby damaging democratic institutions and the people’s faith in government. Here is Senator Hatch again:
“History thus demonstrates that acts or conduct that demeans the integrity of the office or harms an individual’s reputation in such a way as to engender a lack of public confidence in the office holder or the political system is an impeachable offense.”
This was also a particular sticking point for Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) at the time:
“The President’s actions are having a profound impact, of course, upon our society. His misdeeds have caused many to mistrust elected officials. Cynicism is swelling among the grassroots. His breach of trust has eroded the public’s faith in the Office of the Presidency. The President’s wrongdoing has painted all of us in Washington with a very broad brush.
Last, there is the issue of the poor example the President’s actions serve for the Nation, especially for our youth. Is it now OK to lie because the President does it?”
Grassley then goes on to detail stories of his constituents’ disgust with the President, including from a mother whose son allegedly lied and covered it up using Clinton’s language.
It is admirable that 1998 Grassley was so concerned with his constituents’ thoughts. The constituents currently outside his offices probably wish they could talk to that Grassley about what type of example we set for our youth by putting someone accused of sexual assault on the Supreme Court bench.
There was no one more passionate in getting ridden of Clinton for the sake of democracy than then-Congressman Lindsey Graham:
— Lawrence O’Donnell (@Lawrence) August 22, 2018
Twenty years on, Graham’s flair for the dramatic has not changed, but his views on “the honor and integrity to the office” have been surpassed by his concern for the well-being of Brett Kavanaugh after Democrats exposed his past and his lies.
Senator Graham out to have heeded the words of 1998 Strom Thurmond, the Republican senator who sat in his seat before him:
“Regardless of the bounds of private conduct and of the importance of allowing people to keep their private lives private, those bounds are broken when someone violates an oath to tell the truth in a court of law. Those bounds are also broken when someone interferes with a court of law in its efforts to find the facts and find the truth.”
Will The Real Chuck Grassley Please Stand Up?
There are no reports of where these men of ‘98, these defenders of truth and the rule of law, have gone. But they certainly have left behind a clear model for how their colleagues after them ought to approach Kavanaugh’s lying under oath: that it should be disqualifying for anyone in government, regardless of what they are lying about. This was a precedent they argued during Clinton’s impeachment, one which was derived the impeachments of judges at the federal level. As such, it is even more pertinent to Kavanaugh’s case.
Any Republicans struggling with how to approach this nomination need not look to for guidance from the left; they simply need to look at the examples of the Republicans before them (for some, this may require a mirror.)
And for those choosing not to heed that advice, they may want to refer to this from 1998 Chuck Grassley:
“You only truly understand the present when it is past. In that respect, future generations will serve as our jury and, in the end, history will serve as the final judge.”
No truer words…