These top GOP senators once claimed obstruction of justice should trigger impeachment
President Donald Trump allegedly directed his personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about a real estate deal the president’s company pursued in Moscow during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to a report by Buzzfeed News.
The allegation that the president compelled a subordinate to lie under oath to Congress are almost identical to similar charges brought against former President Bill Clinton when House Republicans voted for his impeachment nearly two decades ago. According to those articles of impeachment, Clinton mislead his aides about his sexual relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, knowing his employees would parrot that line to a Grand Jury.
Three of the highest-ranking Republican Senators — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Lindsay Graham (R-SC) — all concluded back in 1999 that obstruction of justice met the “high crime” threshold needed to impeach a president. Now, should the House vote to bring articles of impeachment against Trump, the Republican-controlled Senate might soon be tasked with voting to convict the president based on an understanding that the same charges against Trump, if true, would also meet that threshold.
McConnell, Grassley, and Graham’s offices did not respond to ThinkProgress requests for comment.
“The President would seek to win at any cost,” said McConnell, while giving a closed-door impeachment statement as a Senator in 1999. “If it meant lying to the American people. If it meant lying to his Cabinet. If it meant lying to a federal grand jury. If it meant tampering with witnesses and obstructing justice,” he said.
“We must decide whether perjury and obstruction of justice are high crimes and misdemeanors,” McConnell added. “Based on the Constitution, the law, and the clear Senate precedent, I conclude that these offenses are high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Then-U.S. Rep. Graham also gave an impassioned speech at the time saying that obstruction of justice is grounds for impeachment.
“If you determined that he committed the crime of perjury and you determined that he committed the crime of obstruction of justice, based on the precedent of the Senate, I think you would have a hard time saying under the situation of this case that, that’s not a high crime,” said Graham in 1999.
“It’s never been hard to find out whether Bill Clinton committed perjury or whether he obstructed justice. That ain’t a hard one for me,” he said, referring to the obvious nature of Clinton’s crimes.
Grassley, a Senator at the time, added during a closed-door hearing, Clinton misleading his aides about his sexual misconduct also rose to the level of a “serious crime.”
“I believe, based on the evidence before the Senate, that the President lied to these witnesses so they would repeat those lies before official court proceedings. That is obstruction of justice,” Grassley said.
These full-throated denunciations of obstruction — specifically, obstructing justice by pressuring an aide into giving false testimony to Congress, as Trump allegedly did to Cohen — happened almost 20 years ago, but they indicate that senate Republicans know and understand the standard for impeachment, having applied it to a president once already.
As of Friday afternoon, senators largely remain silent on whether this standard would apply to Trump, but the president and his allies, including attorney Rudy Giuliani, are denying the president compelled Cohen to perjure himself.
New statement from Rudy Giuliani is the first denying Buzzfeed's article
"Any suggestion – from any source – that the President counseled Michael Cohen to lie is categorically false."
— Chris Megerian (@ChrisMegerian) January 18, 2019
The president’s efforts include claiming that Cohen has a track record of lying and therefore can’t be trusted, but the Buzzfeed report doesn’t cite Cohen as a source. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators apparently knew about the lie before they confronted Cohen.
Kevin Corke, @FoxNews “Don’t forget, Michael Cohen has already been convicted of perjury and fraud, and as recently as this week, the Wall Street Journal has suggested that he may have stolen tens of thousands of dollars….” Lying to reduce his jail time! Watch father-in-law!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 18, 2019
Cohen admitted to investigators as part of his plea deal he had lied to Congress about the timing and nature of the real estate deal in Moscow.
Mueller has been investigating Trump’s ties to Russia, Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and potentially Russian interference since Trump has taken office. Cohen is among the members of Trump’s inner circle already indicted and charged, and he has pleaded guilty to a campaign violations and of lying to Congress.
The new Buzzfeed report cites two law enforcement officials that allege Trump had directed Cohen to lie to Congress about the presiden’ts involvement in the Trump Tower deal in Moscow. According to the report, Trump developed a plan with Cohen for the then-presidential candidate to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to give the real estate negotiations a boost.
Sources also told Buzzfeed that the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump and son Donald Trump Jr., who told had previously testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee that he was merely “peripherally aware” of the Trump tower project, had also received regular updates about the project from Cohen.