A few days ago, Hillary Clinton tweeted this message:

Interesting that Barbara Jordan said that way back in 1974, isn’t it? The context was Watergate. The call for an investigation, impeachment, and a conviction of President Richard Nixon received strong bipartisan support (unlike only slight bipartisanship with Bill Clinton in the 90s and no bipartisanship now with Trump). Therefore Nixon resigned rather than put the country and himself through it.

But there’s more to what Jordan said. Here’s some of the context provided by the text of Jordan’s entire speech. Some excerpts [emphasis mine]:

My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total. And I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction, of the Constitution…

The nature of impeachment: a narrowly channeled exception to the separation-of-powers maxim. The Federal Convention of 1787 said that. It limited impeachment to high crimes and misdemeanors and discounted and opposed the term “maladministration.” “It is to be used only for great misdemeanors,” so it was said in the North Carolina ratification convention. And in the Virginia ratification convention: “We do not trust our liberty to a particular branch. We need one branch to check the other.”

The drawing of political lines goes to the motivation behind impeachment; but impeachment must proceed within the confines of the constitutional term “high crime[s] and misdemeanors.” Of the impeachment process, it was Woodrow Wilson who said that “Nothing short of the grossest offenses against the plain law of the land will suffice to give them speed and effectiveness. Indignation so great as to overgrow party interest may secure a conviction; but nothing else can.

Common sense would be revolted if we engaged upon this process for petty reasons. Congress has a lot to do: Appropriations, Tax Reform, Health Insurance, Campaign Finance Reform, Housing, Environmental Protection, Energy Sufficiency, Mass Transportation. Pettiness cannot be allowed to stand in the face of such overwhelming problems. So today we are not being petty…

the President has counseled his aides to commit perjury, willfully disregard the secrecy of grand jury proceedings, conceal surreptitious entry, attempt to compromise a federal judge, while publicly displaying his cooperation with the processes of criminal justice. “A President is impeachable if he attempts to subvert the Constitution.”

If the impeachment provision in the Constitution of the United States will not reach the offenses charged here, then perhaps that 18th-century Constitution should be abandoned to a 20th-century paper shredder!

So, in essence, Jordan’s speech was a defense of the Constitution – although you’d never know it from Hillary’s oh-so-clever excerpt – and of the gravity of impeachment and the necessity for “high crimes and misdemeanors” to justify it.

Jordan’s speech occurred on July 25, 1974, about two weeks before Nixon’s resignation. Unlike the situation now, it came after an extremely lengthy bipartisan process that involved a roll call vote in the Senate [77-0] to establish an investigatory committee. The committee and numerous counsels involved were bipartisan as well. I remember Sam Ervin the Democrat and Howard Baker the Republican particularly, but there were others.

The difference between the process then and the process now is extreme. During Watergate, Congress reacted to an event and launched a bipartisan investigation. Now, one party is using the intelligence corps to create the appearance of an event, with the long-stated goal – one made clear even before Donald Trump became president – of removing this president from office.

One constant, though, has been the presence of Hillary Clinton:

In 1974, she was a member of the impeachment inquiry staff in Washington, D.C., and advised the House Committee on the Judiciary during the Watergate scandal. Under the guidance of Chief Counsel John Doar and senior member Bernard W. Nussbaum, Rodham helped research procedures of impeachment and the historical grounds and standards for it.

Now Clinton and her fellow Democrats are doing precisely what Jordan warned against: engaging in the process for petty, political, partisan reasons. And Clinton is quoting Jordan to defend it.

[Neo is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at the new neo.]


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