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    Political Junkie
    Send your questions about campaigns and elections.
    The Price of Impeachment: Clinton's Pension?

    By Ken Rudin
    Special to washingtonpost.com
    Friday, September 11, 1998

    One of these days, this column will return to the business of the '98 campaign and political trivia/history. For now, however, the travails of President Clinton seem to have captivated your attention.

    Question: If Bill Clinton is impeached, will it disqualify him from retirement benefits? – Sam Johnson, The Woodlands, Tex.

    Answer: It's been hard to get a definitive answer on the current law. John Labovitz, a constitutional scholar and the author of "Presidential Impeachment," says that at least as of the days of Watergate, a president who was removed from office on conviction in an impeachment trial would lose his retirement benefits, but a president who resigned before removal would not.

    Question: Impeachment, as you note, can involve "any civil officer" (see the Sept. 4 column). Does that cover federal judges? – Ted Couch, Cherry Hills Village, Colo.

    Answer: It does. In fact, of the 16 federal officials impeached by the House since 1797, 13 were judges. The most recent cases include three U.S. District Judges:

  • Harry Claiborne of Nevada, who was impeached in 1986 for income tax evasion;
  • Alcee Hastings of Florida, impeached in 1989 for perjury and conspiracy to obtain a bribe; and
  • Walter Nixon of Mississippi, impeached in 1989 for perjury.

    All three were later convicted by the Senate and thus removed from office. Hastings came back to win a congressional seat in Florida in 1992 and still serves – as a member of a chamber that voted overwhelmingly to impeach him.

    Question: You didn't answer the question about censuring the president (also in the Sept. 4 column). Is it because it really doesn't mean much at all? Does it mean the president loses his limousine for a month or what? In other words, censure seems to be nothing more than a way to say don't ever do that again. Big deal! – Wendell Fountain, Jacksonville, Fla.

    McCarthy
    Neither Joe McCarthy (above) nor Thomas Dodd (below) ever recovered politically following their censure in the Senate.
    Dodd
    (Collection of Ken Rudin)
    Answer: Clearly, the stakes are not nearly as high for a pol who is censured, compared to one who is impeached/convicted/removed from office. But whether or not a censure is a "big deal" is hard to say.

    There is no boilerplate case to look at to see what effect a censure has. Rep. Gerry Studds (D-Mass.) was censured in 1983 for having sex with a teenage congressional page and subsequently lost his chairmanship of a Merchant Marine and Fisheries subcommittee for the rest of that Congress. Studds won reelection the following year with 56 percent of the vote, recovered his chairmanship shortly afterward, and served until his retirement in 1996.

    On the other hand, Sen. Dave Durenberger (R-Minn.), "denounced" (another word for censured) in 1990 for financial misconduct, did not run again when his term expired in 1994. Two other senators, Democrats Thomas Dodd of Connecticut and Herman Talmadge of Georgia, were defeated in their bids for reelection following their respective censures in 1967 and 1979.

    Joe McCarthy, the anti-Communist Wisconsin Republican who was "condemned" (read: censured) by the Senate in 1954, lived the remaining 29 months of his life as a political has-been and after-thought.

    All four senators mentioned here retained their jobs after being censured, but their power was diminished dramatically.

    Question: If the Constitution provides instructions for handling an impeachment of a president, why is the taking of such action considered a "constitutional crisis?" Granted, it is a moment of crisis for the country, but the Constitution itself is not in jeopardy. Any thoughts? – Ronni Backer, Danbury, Conn.

    Answer: You're right, of course. It's a government crisis involving principles of the Constitution. The Constitution itself survived the excesses of the Nixon administration, and it will survive the Clinton investigation. But the country went through a wrenching experience in 1973-74, with people reeling from the day-in-and-day-out disclosures that ultimately toppled the president. Few people seem eager to see the nation go through similar turmoil this time. Obviously, a lot depends on what's in Ken Starr's report to Congress.

    Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: junkie@washingtonpost.com

    Ken Rudin, the political editor at NPR and a former editor of the Hotline, writes the "Political Graffiti" column for The Hill, a Capitol Hill weekly. He is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.

    © Copyright 1998 Ken Rudin

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