Twenty-one years ago, in January 1999, the U.S. Senate began the impeachment trial of then-President William Jefferson Clinton. While Clinton ultimately wasn’t removed from office, much was said during the proceedings about the importance of the process and the motivation for individual votes.
Sen. Pat Roberts, had a stirring, if somewhat rhetorical statement. After listing some of the accusations against Clinton, he asked:
“Do these actions rise to the level envisioned by our founding fathers in the Constitution as 'high crimes and misdemeanors' so warranting removal from office? Our Constitution requires that the threshold for that judgment must be set by each senator sitting as a juror.
“Again, I believe an open-minded individual applying Kansas common sense would reach the conclusion that I reached.” (Source: The New York Times.)
Roberts voted to convict Clinton on both impeachment counts.
Sen. Jerry Moran, then a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, had his own stirring words:
“The untruthful actions of the president are not mere technical violations of federal law; rather, the president’s lies, obfuscation and overt acts to obstruct justice are serious and felonious, and they tear at the essential foundation of our judicial system.” (Source: The Guardian.)
The U.S. Senate will soon hold another presidential impeachment trial (exactly when depends on wrangling between Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell), and we would ask Roberts and Moran to cast their minds back to their statements of more than two decades ago.
Do they truly believe that the accusations against President Trump — all but admitted to by the chief executive and those around him — fail to reach the level of the charges against Clinton? Do they truly believe that pressuring allies to investigate political rivals in exchange for sorely needed foreign aid is a best practice?
If Roberts and Moran are dedicated to upholding the honor and integrity of the highest office in the land, then what do they make of a president who consistently and publicly insults others in the crudest ways, all while pushing against the limits of his power?
We believe that the current senators were correct, more than two decades ago, to treat the charges against Clinton seriously and soberly. They understood the situation and spoke about it clearly and in moral terms.
We're not saying whether they should vote to remove President Trump from office, but we are urging the senators to treat the charges with the utmost degree of import. That would include lobbying to hear from witnesses. Former national security adviser John Bolton has signaled his willingness to testify after months of silence. Senators should want to hear him.
We trust that Roberts and Moran will use the same moral compasses and sober outlooks they employed in 1999.
And if they don’t? That tells us something, too.