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How This Impeachment Inquiry Differs From The Last 2


We've known the who. We've known the what. And now we know how the House of Representatives plans to proceed with the impeachment inquiry into President Trump. Today's House vote establishes the rules for how things go from here. It is the third presidential impeachment inquiry in the last 45 years. And, NPR's Brian Naylor reports, the rules this time are very similar to these last two.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: First, let's start with a little history. In July of 1974, the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon. By August 8, he announced he was resigning. In 1998, the Judiciary Committee approved four articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton, of which the House approved two. The late Michigan Democrat John Conyers argued against impeachment on the House floor then.


JOHN CONYERS: I am witnessing, in the most tragic event of my career in the Congress, in effect, a Republican coup d'etat in process.

NAYLOR: Former Republican Congressman Tom Campbell served in the House then and voted for impeachment. He says the process this time around is similar to the one Clinton faced.

TOM CAMPBELL: The process seems very fair to me and very consistent with how the House operates in the two previous impeachment matters.

NAYLOR: The process approved by the House today allows for the investigation led by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, to continue. That investigation, involving Democrats and Republicans on three House panels, will hold public hearings next month. Schiff will then turn his findings over to the House Judiciary Committee, which would begin the formal process of whether to draw up articles of impeachment and allow the president or his attorneys to cross-examine witnesses and subpoena their own, although they'll need support from the chairman or a majority vote to do so.

Campbell, who now teaches law at Chapman University, says there are a few differences between the process this time and when Clinton was impeached. Then, he says, House members voted to authorize an impeachment inquiry only after they received the report of independent counsel Kenneth Starr. Starr investigated, among other things, whether Clinton lied about the affair he had with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

CAMPBELL: So in that sense, every member of the House had available to her or him the findings of this special prosecutor. Now in this case, that's not so unless one refers to Robert Mueller's report.

NAYLOR: And while the White House has blasted the current proceedings as a sham, in part because of the closed-door hearings it's held, Democrats point out that Starr's investigation also used closed-door interviews and grand jury proceedings that were not open to the public until later.

THOMAS SCHWARTZ: The Nixon investigation, of course, didn't start as impeachment; it started as a investigation into the Watergate break-in.

NAYLOR: Thomas Schwartz teaches history and political science at Vanderbilt University.

SCHWARTZ: And so there were, of course, the very famous Watergate hearings in the summer of '73 that went on at great length that were sort of a national obsession. And the question - you know, the famous Howard Baker question of...


HOWARD BAKER: What did the president know, and when did he know it?

NAYLOR: Democrats point out that after the Watergate hearings ended, the Judiciary Committee also conducted several closed-door hearings as it proceeded with impeachment. Fast-forward to today. There are similarities in the proceedings against Trump, Clinton and Nixon. But as he looks back at the Watergate era, Schwartz says the climate has changed.

SCHWARTZ: The political climate is so different, and this president retains a very strong support within his party in a way that Richard Nixon really lost or did not have that same degree of loyalty. He also has a media platform that Nixon did not have. The media environment was very different.

NAYLOR: And while there was a bipartisan nature to the Nixon impeachment inquiry, it had evaporated by the time Clinton was impeached. And the era of partisanship and polarization present then is still very much with us today.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.
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