The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Power Up: Joe Lieberman strayed from the party line during Clinton's impeachment. He thinks today's senators should, too.

with Brent D. Griffiths

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The Investigations

LIEBERMAN LOOKS BACK: More than 20 years ago, then-Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman broke from the Democratic Party by delivering an extraordinary and emotional public lashing of President Clinton for his "immoral" behavior deserving of "public rebuke and accountability." Now, Lieberman says it's up to Republican senators to put country over party to ensure a fair and impartial impeachment trial of President Trump. 

In an interview with Power Up, the 2000 vice presidential nominee -- who later became an independent -- told us he was asked by a friend to express his unorthodox opinions yet again. This time, as a participant in the defense of Trump in the Senate impeachment trial, which will begin in earnest on Tuesday after today's swearing-in and reading of the articles. 

Lieberman said he was asked by "a friend of mine who is supportive of the president but does not work in the White House" to "consider making a statement to the Senate during the time allotted to the President’s Defense Team about my understanding of the law of impeachment based on my experience in the trial of President Clinton." (A source who spoke with Trump last week told Power Up that the president raised the prospect of Lieberman's involvement in the upcoming trial.) 

  • Lieberman told us he declined the request: "Because I spend much of my time these days, including serving as Chair of No Labels, working to bring bipartisanship back into our national government, I thought it would not be constructive for me to step into the middle of an impeachment trial that will inevitably be partisan." 

No position on Trump's actions -- yet: Lieberman, for his part, has yet to come to "a conclusion about either impeachment article and will not until after the Senate trial is done." 

  • Lieberman, despite his criticism, ultimately did not vote to find Clinton guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors: "I worked a lot on this in the Clinton trial, and I had a point of view about what the president did, but I also had a point of view that it didn’t amount to an offense basis of taking him out of office," he added. 

The former Connecticut attorney general who called us from his New York law firm was skeptical that today's Senate will ultimately be able to replicate the efforts by then-leaders Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) to work together in the deeply partisan environment. 

  • "It’s going to be a heavy lift, for the current Senate to do the same as we did in ‘99," he told us. "But [it] really requires Sens. McConnell (R-Ky.) and Schumer (D-N.Y.) to have a meeting of the minds in the same way that Sens. Lott and Daschle did in ’99. Otherwise, it is going to be very hard to create a process that most, if not all senators can agree on." 
  • While Lieberman said while he understands the political risks today in crossing Trump, he hopes Senate Republicans commit to an impartial process, which to him includes calling witnesses.
  • "I would say that there probably should be some witnesses, particularly if they weren’t heard in the House they are not part of the House record," he said of the battle raging between McConnell, the Senate majority leader, and Democratic leadership. 

Lieberman ultimately struck a middle path on Clinton: Lieberman worked closely with his Republican colleagues in a GOP-controlled Senate to conduct the trial in a bipartisan manner. The chamber voted to acquit Clinton 55-45 in February 1999. Lieberman made an unsuccessful push for a separate Senate censure resolution to express "contempt for the President's misconduct." 

  • "Such a censure would not amount to a punishment, nor would it be intended to do so," Lieberman said then. "What it would do, particularly if it united Senators across party lines and positions on removal, is fulfill our responsibility to our children and our posterity to speak to the common values the President has violated, and make clear what our expectations are for future holders of that highest office." 

The apology pulpit: Lieberman had one piece of advice for Trump that he believes could make a difference in tempering the political firestorm we're seeing on Capitol Hill: To apologize and express regret for his actions in Ukraine. He pointed out that apologies made a difference not just for Clinton but for President Ronald Reagan, too. 

  • Clinton delivered multiple expressions of regret and remorse about his affair with Monica Lewinsky, but he made a last-ditch apology in December 1998 where he said he was "profoundly sorry for all I have done wrong in words and deeds."
  • While the House still voted to impeach Clinton the following day, Lieberman told Power Up it was "a critical moment."
  • Perhaps a more comparable moment to Trump's current predicament is the Iran-Contra scandal, Lieberman told us: People were "beginning to talk about a possible impeachment of President Reagan."
  • But after Reagan contritely accepted responsibility during a nationally televised speech from the Oval Office in 1987, "the personal opposition to him totally dissipated," Lieberman told us. 

No dice: Lieberman doesn't "expect an apology from President Trump," and isn't sure if "it would have altered enough votes to stop the impeachment in the House." Still, Lieberman notes that Trump "probably would have picked up some Democratic votes in the House and would have made it a lot easier for some of the Republicans in the Senate who are struggling with this now to vote without hesitation to acquit him." 

He's praying for them: Lieberman hopes that once senators enter the chamber after taking the oath of impartiality, along with Chief Justice John Roberts, that "it will have kind of the inspiring effect it had on the current Senate to rise above the partisanship" and that lawmakers will rise to their "historic responsibility." 

  • The gravity of the situation will hit soon: "This brilliant hybrid that the framers of the Constitution created?" Lieberman added of impeachment, "we all felt different, I think, and ultimately less partisan. This was a unique moment in history as it will be when this Senate convenes. So, I wish them well, and I will pray for the senators and for the republic." 

THEN AND NOW: Our chief correspondent Dan Balz covered Lieberman's break with Clinton in 1998. He wrote Power Up with some reflections on that moment. 

The bottom line: "This is different territory today than when Lieberman made his speech in September 1998," Dan writes: 

Sen. Joe Lieberman’s public rebuke of Bill Clinton was one of those rare moments in Washington, when a trusted ally of a president turns against him and in the plainest language possible condemns his behavior in the most public of settings.

The criticism came after Clinton had admitted on national television of an inappropriate relationship with Monica Lewinsky on the evening when he had given testimony to independent counsel Ken Starr—an admission that he had been lying to the American people for most of the year.

Imagine how the current White House might react if a Republican senator went out in public as the impeachment trial begins and offered criticism approaching Lieberman’s. Which is why it is far less likely that members of the president’s party will take such a step, regardless of their personal and private feelings.

Lieberman gave voice to what many Democratic lawmakers were feeling about Clinton at the time. As Lieberman put it, what the president had done—both in his sexual encounters with Lewinsky and his “intentional and premeditated” denials—was immoral, disgraceful and deserving of rebuke. What he didn’t say, but others did, was that many others in Clinton’s party felt the same way.

Whatever their private feelings about the president’s actions with regard to Ukraine, Republican lawmakers have been reluctant to offer any public criticism of Trump. To the contrary, they have gone in the other direction, claiming they saw no essential wrongdoing. Only a few have expressed any criticism.

It’s possible that as the trial unfolds, a few of them might speak out more forcefully about the president’s conduct, but the cost of doing so today is far greater than it was for Lieberman in 1998. This president plays by different rules and in every case to date, those who have strayed from the strict party line have felt the wrath of the president and his supporters. 

On The Hill

IMPEACHMENT MOVES TO THE SENATE: "The House delivered two articles of impeachment to the Senate, laying the groundwork for President Trump’s trial as Republicans rallied behind the idea of parity between the two parties in possibly calling witnesses," our colleagues Elise Viebeck, Rachael Bade and Seung Min Kim report.

Happening today:

  • Chief Justice Roberts will be sworn in: Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the Senate pro tempore, will swear in the chief justice. The chief justice, per the Constitution, presides over the trial. 
  • The senators take their oath: Just like in 1999, senators will take a special oath for their trial administer by the chief justice. The moment will be captured by a rare photograph of the Senate floor that had to be specifically allowed for the occasion.
  • A reminder of what follows: The White House expects the trial to last no more than two weeks, but Clinton's lasted five weeks and President Andrew Johnson's went for 11.

Meet the managers: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi formally named seven lawmakers as House impeachment managers, meaning they will be responsible for presenting the House's case in the trial against Trump. Our colleague Amber Phillips has a detailed look at all of them.

  • They are: House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (N.Y.), House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), House Democratic Caucus chairman Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), Sylvia Garcia (Tex.), Val Demings (Fla.), Zoe Lofgren (Calif.) and Jason Crow (D-Colo.).
The seven House impeachment managers delivered the two articles of impeachment against President Trump to the Senate on Jan. 15. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Key differences from 1999: There were 13 Republican managers in 1999. All of them were white men. This time there are three women (Garcia, Demings and Lofgren), two African Americans (Demings and Jeffries) and one Latina (Garcia). 

  • What they bring to the table: All but one has legal experience. The exception, Demings, was the first female police chief of Orlando. Lofgren is the only Democratic lawmaker to be involved in three impeachments (she a was a staffer on the Judiciary panel during Nixon's presidency and was serving in Congress during Clinton's impeachment). Interestingly, Pelosi picked two freshmen lawmakers (Garcia and Crow) for a position that is typically regarded as very high-profile -- in Crow's case he also represents a competitive district.
  • Who was left out?: Some House Democratic freshmen had asked party leaders to consider Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.), a former Republican who switched his registration shortly after coming out in support of impeachment. Amash told CNN's Jake Tapper that House leaders never even met with him about the prospect.

The pen is mightier: Pelosi's decision to hand out commemorative pens, more common for landmark bill signings, that she used to sign the articles sparked some criticism, given that the speaker has preached solemnity throughout the process.  

The People

YOU ONLY LEV ONCE: Lev Parnas, a former associate of Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, completed his break from their orbit late last night. He gave a stunning interview in which he said that multiple officials, most notably Trump himself, knew of his efforts to get the Ukrainian president to announce investigations related to former vice president Joe Biden, our colleagues Colby Itkowitz, Paul Sonne and Tom Hamburger report

  • On Trump: "President Trump knew exactly what was going on,” Parnas told MSNBC host Rachel Maddow. “He was aware of all my movements. I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani, or the president. I have no intent, I have no reason to speak to any of these officials.”
  • Rudy was not amused: "Who cares? Believe him at your peril,” Giuliani texted our colleagues, adding: “We all make mistakes. I feel sorry for him and his family.”

Meanwhile more of Parnas's documents were released: "Hundreds of pages of photos, messages and calendar entries show Parnas enlisting a top official at the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action to assist in promoting media coverage he helped arrange and attending functions with Republican congressmen and Trump family members," our colleagues write.

  • There's also a possible connection to Trump: "A calendar entry released as part of the cache shows Parnas had a scheduled breakfast with Trump in New York on Sept. 26 — after the public revelation of a whistleblower complaint about a call the president had with his Ukrainian counterpart."

The Campaign

WHAT BERNIE AND WARREN SAID DURING HANDSHAKEGATE: "In a tense and dramatic exchange in the moments after the Democratic debate Tuesday night, Elizabeth Warren accused Bernie Sanders of calling her a liar on national television," CNN's Kyle Blaine, Jeff Zeleny and Marshall Cohen report.

The full exchange:

"I think you called me a liar on national TV," Warren can be heard saying. "What?" Sanders responded.

"I think you called me a liar on national TV," she repeated.

"You know, let's not do it right now. If you want to have that discussion, we'll have that discussion," Sanders said, to which Warren replied, "Anytime."

"You called me a liar," Sanders continued. "You told me -- all right, let's not do it now."

How CNN did found it: "The conversation was not captured on the primary audio feed from the candidates' podiums," CNN reports. "After the debate, CNN did an inventory of the audio equipment that was used and found two backup recordings from the microphones Sanders and Warren were wearing."

  • More details: "CNN then synchronized the audio recordings with the footage that was broadcast live on Tuesday night. The conversation played out on the debate stage, in public view, and occurred before Sanders and Warren's clip-on microphones were removed."

In the Media

NEW BOOK SHOWS TRUMP AS ERRATIC, UNIFORMED: "President Trump reveals himself as woefully uninformed about the basics of geography, incorrectly telling Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, 'It’s not like you’ve got China on your border.' He toys with awarding himself the Medal of Freedom," our colleague Ashley Parker writes of fellow Post reporters Philip Rucker and Carol D. Leonnig's new book, "A Very Stable Genius,” out Tuesday.

Some key highlights:

  • Trump appeared to not know about Pearl Harbor: “'Hey, John, what’s this all about? What’s this a tour of?," Trump asks, according to the book, his then-Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, as the men prepare to take a private tour of the USS Arizona Memorial, which commemorates the December 1941 Japanese surprise attack in the Pacific that pulled the United States into World War II," Ashley writes. "Trump had heard the phrase ‘Pearl Harbor’ and appeared to understand that he was visiting the scene of a historic battle, but he did not seem to know much else," the authors add, later quoting a former senior White House adviser who concludes: “He was at times dangerously uninformed."
  • He wanted to allow U.S. companies to legally pay bribes: "In spring 2017, Trump also clashed with Tillerson when he told him he wanted his help getting rid of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a 1977 law that prevents U.S. firms and individuals from bribing foreign officials for business deals," Ashley writes. "It’s just so unfair that American companies aren’t allowed to pay bribes to get business overseas,” Trump says, according to the book. “We’re going to change that.”
  • And was very eager to meet with Putin: "Early in his administration, for instance, Trump is eager to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin — so much so, the authors write, 'that during the transition he interrupts an interview with one of his secretary of state candidates' to inquire about his pressing desire: 'When can I meet Putin? Can I meet with him before the inaugural ceremony?' he asks."


JUST SAYING HELLO: As we can see in the video of the testy exchange between Sanders and Warren, businessman Tom Steyer popped in between the two briefly. Thanks to CNN, we now know what Steyer said too: "I don't want to get in the middle. I just want to say hi Bernie." (Sanders responded: "Yeah good, Okay.") 

  • The awkward exchange tickled Twitter more than Steyer's tie: