The Bill Clinton trial cannot serve as the model for the Donald Trump trial

The Bill Clinton trial cannot serve as the model for the Donald Trump trial
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care: Following debate, Biden hammers Trump on coronavirus | Study: Universal mask-wearing could save 130,000 lives | Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight On The Money: Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight | Landlords, housing industry sue CDC to overturn eviction ban Finger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight MORE has said that the impeachment trial of President Clinton should serve a model for procedures in the trial of President TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump, Jared Kusher's lawyer threatens to sue Lincoln Project over Times Square billboards Facebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 Sanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' MORE. He refuses to agree in advance to calling witnesses or documents blocked by the White House. Rather, he insists that like in the Clinton trial, the Trump trial should begin with opening statements by the prosecution and defense then questions by the senators. Only then can the senators decide whether to subpoena witnesses or documents. There are four solid reasons why this rationale is disingenuous and misleading.

First, a bipartisan resolution backed by all Republicans and Democrats in the Senate set the rules for the Clinton trial. There is no such consensus today. Democrats insist on an advance agreement to produce relevant documents and call witnesses with direct knowledge of the actions by Trump in the Ukraine scandal. Such witnesses include White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton, who now says that he would comply with a subpoena to testify before the Senate. Without such an agreement, Democrats fear McConnell and the Republican majority will impede the search for truth by engineering a rapid acquittal of the president without new documents or witnesses.

Second, the Republicans controlled the Senate in the Clinton trial. Even without any advance agreement, they could decide to call any witnesses deemed relevant to the trial. The opposite is true today. The Democratic minority in the Senate has no power without the agreement of at least four Republicans to enforce their motions on witnesses or on any other matters during the Trump trial. Eventually in the Clinton trial, the Senate agreed to hear from three witnesses with their videotaped depositions.


Third, independent counsel Kenneth Starr, who was appointed to a federal judgeship by President Reagan and later served as former solicitor general for President Bush, had already investigated the Monica Lewinsky scandal in secret for a year. His lengthy report had charged Clinton with numerous potentially impeachable offenses. His team had included current Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed special counsel Robert Mueller to investigate potential conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign during the 2016 election and the subsequent obstruction of justice by the president.

The House Judiciary Committee ranking members and the president also gained access to three dozen boxes of supporting documents. The panel conducted no additional substantive investigations before recommending four articles of impeachment to the full House, which adopted the articles on perjury before a federal grand jury and obstruction of justice. It voted down the articles on perjury in the Paula Jones case and abuse of power.

The Mueller investigation had concluded before the onset of the Ukrainian scandal. The special counsel report provided background on the conduct of Trump, but no direct information of the articles of impeachment voted upon by the full House on abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. These articles mirrored two of the three articles recommended by the House Judiciary Committee before Richard Nixon resigned from office.

Fourth, all relevant witnesses had already testified under oath during the Starr investigation of the scandal, including Clinton and Lewinsky. Secret Service agents testified along with many current and former White House officials, including three chiefs of staff, deputy counsel, chief personnel officer, director of Oval Office operations, the United Nations ambassador, senior aide to the president, and his personal secretary. The independent counsel also interviewed a top donor Walter Kaye and confidant Vernon Jordan. Lewinsky, Jordan, and Sidney Blumenthal testified at the trial, but provided no significant information beyond what Starr already reported.

McConnell has proudly dubbed himself the “grim reaper” who presides over the graveyard of his Senate. The leader who kills hundreds of bills passed by the House without a vote, and who let nomination by President Obama of the eminently qualified Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court suffer a lingering death, cares nothing about principle or truth. He clings to the inappropriate Clinton precedent only because it serves his purpose of dismissing the charges against Trump with as little damage as possible to the president, the Republicans, and his own death grip on the Senate.

Allan Lichtman is an election forecaster and distinguished professor of history at American University. He is the author of the forthcoming book “Repeal the Second Amendment” and is on Twitter at @AllanLichtman.