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Clinton on Impeachment

Compiled by Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 18, 1998; Page A18

The last time a president faced an impeachment inquiry, Bill Clinton was a University of Arkansas law professor running for Congress. Here is what he had to say in the days before President Richard M. Nixon resigned:

"There's not any point now in his putting the country through an impeachment since he isn't making any pretense of innocence now."
Aug. 6, 1974, Arkansas Democrat

"I think it's plain that the president should resign and spare the country the agony of this impeachment and removal proceeding. I think the country could be spared a lot of agony and the government could worry about inflation and a lot of other problems if he'd go on and resign.

... [There is] no question that an admission of making false statements to government officials and interfering with the FBI and the CIA is an impeachable offense."
Aug. 8, 1974, Arkansas Gazette


Just as in 1974, the question of what constitutes "high crimes and misdemeanors" justifying impeachment remains open to interpretation. Here is how Clinton defined it then and now:

"I think that the definition should include any criminal acts plus a willful failure of the president to fulfill his duty to uphold and execute the laws of the United States. [Another] factor that I think constitutes an impeachable offense would be willful, reckless behavior in office; just totally incompetent conduct of the office and the disregard of the necessities that the office demands."
– February 1974, The Grapevine

"Nothing less than the gravest executive wrongdoing can justify impeachment. The Constitution leaves lesser wrongs to the political process and to public opinion. ...Private misconduct, or even public misconduct short of an offense against the state, is not redressable by impeachment."
– Sept. 11, 1998, Preliminary Memorandum Concerning Referral of Office of Independent Counsel, prepared by President Clinton's lawyers

NOTE: The articles quoting Clinton in August 1974 are posted on the Internet site of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the merged successor to the two newspapers. The February 1974 statement comes from a University of Arkansas underground newspaper as quoted in a New York Times opinion piece by John W. Whitehead, who conducted the interview. Whitehead, then a law student, is now president of the Rutherford Institute, a Virginia foundation financing Paula Jones's legal case against Clinton.


© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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