[T]here is likely no Democrat currently serving in Congress who has talked more about impeachment or developed a more fully formed opinion about its intended purpose than Jerry Nadler. He first articulated his view under vastly different circumstances, and in defense of a Democratic president. But over the course of 20 years, it hasn’t changed much.
Born in Brooklyn and educated at Columbia and Fordham, Nadler won his first election to the House in 1992, after a decade representing Manhattan’s Upper West Side in the New York State Assembly. But it wasn’t until 1998 that he gained national attention, as one of former President Bill Clinton’s sharpest and most ardent defenders during the Republican Congress’s attempt to force him from office.
In December of that year, the GOP-led House voted largely along party lines to impeach Clinton on charges that he committed perjury and obstruction of justice while trying to cover up his affair with Monica Lewinsky, who at the time was a White House intern. Clinton became only the second president, after Andrew Johnson, to be impeached, though after a trial in the Senate, Republicans failed to muster the two-thirds majority needed to remove him from office.
Then a backbencher on the Judiciary Committee, Nadler helped lead the opposition among Democrats. In speeches on the House floor, during rallies outside the Capitol, and in appearances on cable news, Nadler assailed the Republican effort as akin to a “coup d’état.”
“The Republican leadership of the House,” he inveighed during one speech, “are trying to undo an election of the president of the United States against the will of the American people—something never before attempted in our history.”
As Nadler saw it, committing perjury to cover up a consensual sexual affair might have been a federal crime, but it did not rise to the level of an impeachable offense, which the Constitution defines as “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” “The Framers of the Constitution didn’t think Congress should be in the position of punishing crimes,” he said at the time, at an anti-impeachment rally in New York. “Impeachment was seen as the defense of the republic and of liberty against a president or other high official who would abuse the powers of his office to make himself a tyrant, to undermine the other branches of government, or to undermine constitutional liberty.” [Continue reading…]