U.S. (CBS) — An independent counsel investigated the president for years, concluding he lied and may have obstructed justice. The House voted to impeach him. But the Senate, which Republicans controlled by a small margin, acquitted him at trial.
That was two decades ago, when Bill Clinton became the second president in U.S. history to face an impeachment trial. Now President Trump is the third, with his Senate trial starting this week. The Democratic-controlled House voted to impeach Mr. Trump nearly 21 years to the day after Clinton’s impeachment. Now, a Senate controlled by the GOP will once again decide whether to remove a president from office.
Impeachment proceedings involve two phases: The House votes first on whether to impeach the president, and then the Senate decides whether to convict the president on those charges. A two-thirds vote is required in the Senate for conviction and removal from office.
There are, of course, stark differences between the Trump and Clinton cases – and some ironic overlap, too.
Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice for lying under oath about a sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The allegations stemmed from the Starr Report, the findings from a four-year investigation led by independent counsel Ken Starr. Starr is now a lawyer on Mr. Trump’s impeachment defense team – even though Mr. Trump called Starr “a lunatic” and “terrible” during the Clinton case.
Mr. Trump also faced a special counsel investigation, led by Robert Mueller, which ran through the first two years of his presidency. The Mueller report detailed 10 instances in which the president may have obstructed justice during the investigation; it neither charged nor exonerated him. But the report ultimately did not factor into Mr. Trump’s impeachment.
Instead, the House impeached him on two charges arising from a separate incident – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress connected to his freezing of military aid to Ukraine after requesting an investigation into Joe Biden. Mr. Trump made the request in a call to Ukraine’s president just one day after Mueller testified before Congress about the outcome of his investigation.
Unlike the Clinton case, neither of the impeachment articles against Mr. Trump are criminal charges. The president’s Republican defenders often cite this in their attacks on the process. But during the Clinton impeachment, some of those same Republicans argued that no crime is needed for impeachment.
In Mr. Clinton’s Senate trial in February 1999, 45 senators voted “guilty” on perjury and 50 voted “guilty” on obstruction – short of the two-thirds needed for conviction, so he was acquitted and finished his second term.
President Andrew Johnson, the first president to be impeached, was acquitted by a single vote in 1868.
For Mr. Trump to be removed, at least 20 Republican senators would have to join every Democrat and independent in voting to convict. Several Republicans, including some who were around for the Clinton impeachment, have already said they want to see the trial end quickly.
An acquittal would make Mr. Trump the first impeached president ever to run for reelection.
Here’s what the senators who are still serving in Congress said during President Clinton’s impeachment. CBS News has reached out to the offices of all 27 senators for comment, and the story will be updated with their responses.
Roy Blunt (R-Missouri)
Blunt was in the House when he voted for Bill Clinton’s impeachment. He called impeachment “our most serious constitutional duty.”
“No president can be allowed to subvert the judiciary or thwart the investigative responsibility of the legislature,” Blunt said at the time.
Blunt said Mr. Clinton’s perjury and urging of others to obstruct justice were “serious felonious acts that strike at the heart of our judicial system.”
“Violating these oaths or causing others to impede the investigation into such acts are serious matters that meet the standard for impeachment,” he said.
Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)
Brown was in the House and voted against impeaching President Clinton.
Richard Burr (R-North Carolina)
Burr was serving in the House during the Clinton proceedings and voted for impeachment. In a statement at the time, Burr said: “The United States is a nation of laws, not men. And I do not believe we can ignore the facts or disregard the constitution so that the president can be placed above the law.”
Ben Cardin (D-Maryland)
Cardin was in the House and voted against the Clinton impeachment. “There are some who are so outraged by how the president was treated, the whole process, the Starr investigation,” he said in 1998. “The other half of our caucus is somewhat in bewilderment that this even elevates to an impeachable offense.”
Susan Collins (R-Maine)
Collins is one of the few Republican senators who voted “not guilty” for both charges against President Clinton.
She said that while his grand jury testimony was often evasive and dishonest, it did not meet the legal standard of perjury, and the attorneys questioning him deserved blame for failing “to pin him down as he gave nonresponsive, evasive, confusing or simply absurd responses.” As for obstruction, she said his actions did not pose “a threat to our governmental institutions,” and noted the legal system treats obstruction as a less serious offense in civil cases like the one Mr. Clinton had faced.
Collins said Mr. Clinton being impeached was enough punishment. “When the history of the Clinton presidency is written, every book will begin with the fact that William Jefferson Clinton was impeached, and that will be not only the ultimate censure but also the final verdict on this sad chapter in our nation’s history,” she said.
Collins is one of the few GOP senators who’s supported hearing from witnesses in Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial. Her office sent CBS News a statement in which Collins said the Trump trial “should follow the model that we used with the Clinton impeachment trial. That process provided for the opportunity for both sides to state their case and for Senators to ask questions through the Chief Justice.” The statement also said Collins “will not support any attempts by either side to subpoena documents or witnesses” until she hears the case and senators ask questions.
Mike Crapo (R-Idaho)
Crapo was in the House and voted to impeach President Clinton.
“Our entire legal system is dependent on our ability to find the truth. That is why perjury and obstruction of justice are crimes,” Crapo said then.
“Perjury and obstruction of justice are public crimes that strike at the heart of the rule of law – and therefore our freedom – in America.”
Dick Durbin (D-Illinois)
Durbin voted “not guilty” for both of the charges against Bill Clinton in the Senate. He said that while Mr. Clinton’s conduct was “clearly wrong,” the process leading to his impeachment trial was “too partisan, too unfair, too suspect.”
“What has occurred here is a personal and family tragedy – it is not a national tragedy which should result in the removal of this president from office.”
Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming)
The Wyoming senator voted to convict Mr. Clinton of perjury and obstruction of justice, the two charges that made it to the Senate. Enzi said he was particularly disturbed by Mr. Clinton’s efforts to influence the testimony of Betty Currie, the president’s personal secretary who allegedly handled gifts for Lewinsky.
Mr. Clinton “was intending to influence the testimony of a likely witness in a federal civil rights proceeding,” Enzi said. “President Clinton was, in fact, trying to get Betty Currie to join him in his web of deception and obstruction of justice.”
Dianne Feinstein (D-California)
Feinstein voted to acquit Mr. Clinton on both charges, though she led the effort to censure him – in other words, pass a congressional condemnation that would not carry a specific punishment. Feinstein called his conduct “immoral, deplorable and indefensible,” but said she still believed he was a “good president.”
“In terms of public policy he’s one of the brightest people I’ve ever seen. He’s been very encouraging to us. He’s gone beyond the pale to help at times. It’s hard to forget all that,” she said at the time.
Her censure effort failed to get enough votes.
Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina)
The South Carolina senator voted for Mr. Clinton’s impeachment on both counts and served as one of the House impeachment managers in his trial. During the proceedings, Graham argued that Mr. Clinton could be impeached even if he did not explicitly tell others to break the law – or, in fact, if he didn’t break the law at all.
“He doesn’t have to say, ‘Go lie for me,’ to be a crime. He doesn’t have to say, ‘Let’s obstruct justice,’ for it to be a crime. You judge people on their conduct, not a magic phrase,” Graham said in a TV interview.
In separate remarks, Graham said, “You don’t even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job in this constitutional republic if this body determines your conduct as a public official is clearly out of bounds in your role.”
Impeachment, he said, “is not about punishment. Impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office.”
Graham has been an outspoken critic of the impeachment proceedings against President Trump, telling CBS’ “Face The Nation” in December 2019 that he has “nothing but disdain for this” and thinks “this whole thing is a crock.” Graham has also said he is “not trying to pretend to be a fair juror here” and “will do everything I can to make it die quickly.”
Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)
The Iowa senator voted to convict President Clinton on both charges. Grassley said Mr. Clinton’s “actions are having a profound impact on our society.”
“His misdeeds have caused many to mistrust elected officials. Cynicism is swelling among the grass roots. His breach of trust has eroded the public’s faith in the office of the presidency,” he said during the Senate impeachment trial.
Grassley said the “true tragedy” of the case was “the collapse of the president’s moral authority” after Mr. Clinton lied on national TV about his affair with Lewinsky.
“There was no better reason than that for the resignation by this president,” Grassley said.
“[O]nce you lose your moral authority to lead, you’re a failure as a leader.”
Now, as president pro tempore of the Senate, Grassley swore in Chief Justice John Roberts to oversee President Trump’s trial.
James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma)
The Oklahoma senator voted to convict President Clinton on both charges. He co-signed a statement during the impeachment proceedings pointing out that federal law “criminalizes anyone who corruptly persuades or engages in misleading conduct with the intent to influence the testimony of any person in an official proceeding.”
Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont)
Leahy voted “not guilty” on both Senate charges in the Clinton case. In a lengthy closed-door statement, he said removing Mr. Clinton from office would be a “symbolic” act that would cause more long-term damage than keeping him. He also said the proceedings had been too partisan.
“Partisan impeachment drives are doomed to fail. The Senate must restore sanity to this impeachment process,” Leahy said. “We must exercise judgment and do justice. We have to act in the interest of the nation. History will judge us based on whether this case was resolved in a way that serves the good of the country, not the political ends of any party or the fortunes of any person.”
Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts)
Markey was in the House and voted against impeachment in 1998. He said President Clinton made a “grievous personal error to the detriment of his family,” but not to the country or Constitution. Markey also said Republicans were simply out to get the president, and that Mr. Clinton’s actions shouldn’t have been investigated in the first place.
“This matter should never have been pursued by Ken Starr. It should never have been pursued by the Judiciary Committee. And it should never have reached the floor of the House of Representatives,” Markey said.
He warned that Congress was at the “threshold of overturning the people’s choice for president through a perversion of the independent counsel law, a runaway, partisan investigation.”
Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky)
The Kentucky senator, who is now the Senate majority leader, said Bill Clinton’s “cold, calculated actions betrayed the trust vested in him by the American people and the high office of the presidency.” He voted to convict on both charges.
“I think that the United States Senate has a clear choice today,” McConnell said in a closed-door statement. “Do we want to retain President Clinton in office, or do we want to retain our honor, our principle, and our moral authority? For me, and for many members in my impeachment-fatigued party, I choose honor.”
McConnell went on, “The president of the United States looked 270 million Americans in the eye, and lied, deliberately and methodically. He took an oath to faithfully execute the laws of this nation, and he violated that oath. He pledged to be the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, and he violated that pledge. He took an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and he willfully and repeatedly violated that oath.”
Fast-forward two decades, and Senate Majority Leader McConnell has criticized the impeachment proceedings against President Trump as partisan and the result of “Trump Derangement Syndrome” from Democrats. He has also impeded efforts to introduce new witnesses and documents, and said he “can’t imagine a scenario under which President Trump would be removed from office.”
Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey)
Menendez was in the House and voted against Mr. Clinton’s impeachment, calling the proceedings “a travesty.”
“Monica Lewinsky is not Watergate. Let he who has no sin in this chamber cast the first stone,” he said.
Jerry Moran (R-Kansas)
The Kansas senator was in the House and voted for Mr. Clinton’s impeachment. “I choose to be on the side that says no person is above the law; that this is a nation of laws, not men; that telling the truth matters; and that we should expect our public officials to conduct themselves in compliance with the highest ethical standards,” he said in a statement.
Patty Murray (D-Washington)
Murray voted to acquit on both charges, while still making clear her disgust with President Clinton.
“I have to say, as a citizen, as a woman, and as a parent, I cannot begin to describe how deeply disappointed and angry I am with the president,” Murray said.
“I trusted him. I thought I knew him. I refused to believe he would demean the presidency in the way that he has. His behavior was appalling and has hurt us all.”
But she said that, as a senator, she did not believe the evidence warranted impeachable offenses.
“This president’s behavior was reprehensible, but it does not threaten our nation,” she said. “In the past year, despite the scandal that ran on the front page nearly every day, our country has prospered. Our economy is growing. Our waters and air are cleaner. Our communities are safer. Our education system is stronger. America is not poised on the brink of disaster. Our democracy is safe.”
Rob Portman (R-Ohio)
The Ohio senator was in the House in 1998 and voted for impeachment.
“I believe the evidence of serious wrongdoing is simply too compelling to be swept aside,” he said on the House floor. “I am particularly troubled by the clear evidence of lying under oath in that it must be the bedrock of our judicial system. I believe the long-term consequence to this country of not acting on these serious charges before us far outweigh the consequences of following what the Constitution provides for and bringing this matter to trial in the United States Senate.”
Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island)
Reed voted to acquit Mr. Clinton on both charges in the Senate.
On “The Takeout” podcast with CBS News’ Major Garrett in April 2019, Reed compared the Clinton case to the recently-released Mueller report, which at the time had stirred talk of Mr. Trump’s potential impeachment.
“What really makes this case different is we’re not talking about personal indiscretions that were embarrassing and were attempted to be obscured,” Reed said about the Mueller findings. “We’re talking about a sovereign nation who tried to – did, in fact, didn’t try – did in fact influence our elections. We’re talking about a reaction to the future, to other elections. This is not, literally, an affair that was a year ago, let’s move on. And that’s a difference we have to look at.”
Reed’s office did not immediately give an updated comment on the impeachment charges ultimately approved against Mr. Trump.
Pat Roberts (R-Kansas)
The Kansas senator voted “guilty” on both charges. In a statement, he said Mr. Clinton had taken several steps to impede the investigation and affect its outcome.
“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?” Roberts asked. “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.”
Chuck Schumer (D-New York)
The current Senate minority leader was in the House and voted against impeaching President Clinton. He said Mr. Clinton’s affair was “tawdry” and his actions were potentially illegal, but still did not warrant impeachment. Schumer also said Starr had “seriously overreached” in his investigation and provided “flimsy evidence.”
“The world economy is in crisis and cries out for American leadership, without which worldwide turmoil is a grave possibility,” Schumer said, adding that the investigation had “run its course” and it was “time to move on.”
As the Trump trial approached, Schumer accused McConnell of killing any chance for a fair hearing. “When you are accused of something you don’t suppress evidence would exonerate you,” Schumer said, adding that the GOP-led Senate could turn the trial into a “nationally televised meeting of the mock trial club.”
Richard Shelby (R-Alabama)
Shelby said that after reviewing the evidence, he did not support the perjury charge against President Clinton. But he did believe it was proven “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Mr. Clinton obstructed Starr’s investigation. So he voted “not guilty” for the perjury charge, but “guilty” on obstruction of justice.
Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan)
Stabenow was in the House in 1998 and voted against impeachment. In a House debate about launching an impeachment inquiry, she criticized Mr. Clinton’s “irresponsible behavior and lack of truthfulness” but said impeachment was not “in the best interests of our country.”
“We must address this crisis fairly and responsibly and get back to the people’s business,” she said.
John Thune (R-South Dakota)
Thune voted in the House for impeachment. “In America there is no emperor,” he said.
“There is one standard of justice that applies equally to all, and to say or do otherwise will undermine the most sacred of all American ideals. President Clinton has committed federal crimes, and there must be a reckoning, or no American shall ever again be prosecuted for those same crimes.”
Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi)
The Mississippi senator was in the House and voted to impeach President Clinton. He said the allegations that Mr. Clinton urged Lewinsky to lie “would amount to a federal felony, and that would mean serious, serious problems for President Clinton.”
Ron Wyden (D-Oregon)
Wyden voted to acquit President Clinton on both Senate charges. He said Mr. Clinton’s lying to his secretary was “very, very disturbing,” but did not find the evidence strong enough for impeachment and removal. Wyden’s impeachment statement said little about Mr. Clinton’s behavior, and instead focused on Wyden’s belief that the impeachment proceedings had been too partisan and Republicans didn’t try to find “common ground.”
“The public is tired of us being at each other’s throats. They are tired of beltway politics that places toxic partisanship over the public interest,” he said.
This is an updated version of an article originally published on April 25, 2019.