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Above the Law?. The Politics of Impeachment. I. Problem: Impeachment vs. Democracy – Overturns an election! What’s the justification?. Public Opinion as Rationale? Unpopular decisions? Popular but corrupt Presidents? Disinterested Judicial Proceeding? House impeaches (indictment analogy)

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Above the Law?

The Politics of Impeachment


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I. Problem: Impeachment vs. Democracy – Overturns an election! What’s the justification?

  • Public Opinion as Rationale?

    • Unpopular decisions?

    • Popular but corrupt Presidents?

  • Disinterested Judicial Proceeding?

    • House impeaches (indictment analogy)

    • Senate is judge, jury, and executioner: Makes the rules, decides guilt or innocence

    • Chief Justice is mere figurehead

  • Dilemma: Process is inherently political, yet we want it to be “just”


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II. Case Studies: Does Public Opinion Matter?

  • Nixon: Watergate

    • Early 1972: Nixon hires 50 FBI agents to sabotage Democrats in Presidential election

    • June 17: Men working for Nixon campaign caught repairing bugs in Democratic headquarters (Watergate)

    • June 23: Nixon asks CIA to thwart FBI investigation into Watergate break-in


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4. 1973: The Cover-Up

  • Nixon campaign pays the burglars to keep silent at trial

  • Under threat of jail time, some burglars confess to being employed by Nixon campaign

  • FBI Director resigns after it is revealed that he destroyed documents relating to the investigation

  • Nixon appoints independent counsel to investigate

  • Independent counsel subpoenas White House tapes  Nixon fires the Attorney General, deputy Attorney general because they refuse to fire independent counsel  New AG (Robert Bork) then fires the independent counsel for Nixon


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5. 1974: The March to Impeachment

  • Congress and new independent prosecutor demand tapes  Supreme Court orders them handed over

  • Nixon hands over tapes – with 18½-minute gap. Initial claim of accidental erasure refuted by evidence section was erased not once but eight times over

  • Revealed: Nixon evaded taxes, accepted illegal contributions, harassed political opponents with IRS audits and FBI investiagtions

  • July: House committee passes articles of impeachment. Nixon vows to fight impeachment in Senate

  • August: “Smoking gun” tape discovered. Reveals Nixon ordered CIA to block investigation. Senate Republicans tell Nixon enough votes exist to convict. Nixon resigns.




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B. Reagan: Iran-Contra

  • Arms-for-Hostages

    • 1983: Iran-backed groups bomb US Marine compound, US embassy, other targets: hundreds of US Marines and civilians killed

    • 1984: Iran-backed groups take Americans hostage in Lebanon

    • 1984: Reagan offers Iran arms for the hostages (arms sales prohibited by law against selling arms to terrorist sponsors)

    • 1985: US secretly permits Israel to sell arms to Iran.

    • 1986: US sells arms directly to Iran. Huge profits made, three hostages released (two more taken).


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f. Reagan admits responsibility

  • November 13, 1986: “Our government has a firm policy not to capitulate to terrorist demands.... We did not—repeat, did not—trade weapons or anything else for hostages, nor will we.”

  • March 4, 1987: “A few months ago, I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.”


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2. The Contra Connection

  • 1980s: Contra rebels fight the Communist government of Nicaragua

  • 1984 Boland Amendment: Congress declares the Contras to be terrorists because they attack schools and farms, mine roads used by civilians  outlaws military aid to contras.

  • 1984: Reagan orders CIA to find ways to circumvent Boland Amendment

  • 1986: “The Enterprise:” Aides to Reagan (CIA director Casey, National Security Advisor Poindexter, his subordinate Oliver North) use secret profits from Iran arms sales to buy weapons for contras

  • Independent prosecutor appointed to investigate – North shreds documents as agents search his office!


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3. “The Firewall:” Did Reagan approve aid to the Contras?

  • After receiving immunity, North testifies he assumed Reagan had authorized his actions

  • Poindexter (North’s boss) says he never told Reagan  Most Americans (including Republicans) think he is lying to protect Reagan (George W. Bush picks him to manage secret information database in 2001)

  • Former NSA McFarlane testifies that Reagan ordered aides to find ways around the ban on aid in 1984

  • 1992: Prior to leaving office, President Bush pardons most convicted conspirators. Pardoned men refuse to testify, ending investigation.




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C. Clinton: The Lewinsky Affair

  • The Civil Suit

    • Paula Jones: Civil lawsuit against President for sexual harassment while governor of Arkansas. Supreme Court allows suit to proceed.

    • Clinton subpoenaed: Questioned about Paula Jones and other women. Denies having “sexual relations” with intern Monica Lewinsky, as does Lewinsky when she is questioned.

    • Lewinsky “friend” Linda Tripp comes forward with tapes in which Lewinsky brags about sex with President Clinton


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2. The investigation

  • Independent counsel given authority to investigate possible perjury

  • Lewinsky agrees to immunity deal – produces semen-stained dress to prove the affair

  • Clinton called to testify before grand jury – admits “inappropriate relationship” but denies perjury based on technicalities: “That depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.”


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3. The impeachment

  • After impeachment hearings begin, Democrats make gains in midterm elections of 1998.

  • House impeaches on two counts: Clinton’s continued deception before the grand jury (but not his lies in the initial civil deposition) and obstruction of justice (for encouraging Lewinsky to testify in the civil case that no affair existed)

  • Senate acquits on both counts.




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