Statement of Rep. Mac Thornberry
(Texas – 13th)
H. Res. 755
In 1998, I voted for three of the four counts of impeachment brought against President Clinton. Those votes were some of the most difficult I have cast during my 25 years in Congress. Impeachment is an extreme remedy, which, in effect, alters a decision made by the American people through an election. It was clear, however, that President Clinton had lied under oath in a judicial proceeding, a felony crime for which other Americans are routinely prosecuted and convicted. In my view, dismissing such a crime because the lies involved private rather than public actions or because the perjurer was the President of the United States would have undermined the rule of law and presented a danger to our constitutional system of government. Therefore, I voted for three of the counts.
The count of impeachment that I voted against in 1998 involved “abuse of power.” It was essentially a repeat of the perjury recited in other counts and a failure to provide information to Congress. It was also one of two counts that failed to receive a majority of the votes on the Floor of the House.
In contrast to 1998, the votes I make today are not difficult at all. After three years of investigating this President, House Democrats center their case for impeachment on one phone call between President Trump and the President of Ukraine, a transcript of which has been released.
I believe that aspects of that phone call, particularly discussing an investigation of a political opponent, were inappropriate for a president. I recognize that ignoring potentially corrupt behavior because of political prominence could lead to another set of problems. Nonetheless, under the circumstances, I believe that it would have been best if the President had avoided such topics.
Inappropriate does not mean impeachable. The Constitution sets a high standard for impeachable conduct: “Treason, Bribery, other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” (Article II, Section 4) A potentially inappropriate conversation does not begin to approach that standard, as the counts brought before us today demonstrate.
Count one alleges “abuse of power,” the same phrase rejected by the House in the Clinton impeachment. The allegations relate to the phone call, an investigation that was never conducted, and a temporary delay in military aid being released. In spite of a last-minute attempt in the Judiciary Committee’s report to allege some form of bribery, the evidence and the law do not support the charge, and the Committee made no serious attempt to prove it. Instead, we are left with a nebulous, subjective phrase that can be used to cover any political or stylistic difference.
Count two alleges “obstruction of Congress.” I find it remarkable that an impeachment process which, in contrast to those prior, has been totally partisan with no attempt at a jointly-decided bipartisan process, would attempt to impeach a president for resisting such partisanship. In addition, I believe that it is a mistake to essentially criminalize the inherent tensions between the legislative and executive branches of government.
To describe these counts as “weak” overstates them. A partisan process, designed from the beginning to achieve a desired result, brings to the Floor two counts that do not begin to meet the constitutional standard for impeachment, even if all of the facts alleged are assumed true. It is a misuse – one might say "abuse" -- of the Constitution’s impeachment power.
One final concern: the partisan process used in this case degrades established boundaries of political competition that have helped this nation survive intense political differences for over two hundred years. As a result, I fear that partisan impeachment efforts may well become just another tool in the political arsenal, expected to be pursued by whichever party loses a presidential election.
The damage done to our constitutional processes and to our institutions by this hyper-partisan, flawed process is greater than any alleged harm done by the President’s phone call. I hope and trust that the American people in their wisdom will see that appropriate boundaries and constitutional balance are restored.