tv The Presidency History of Impeachment CSPAN March 23, 2019 11:00am-12:11pm EDT
coauthors of "history of impeachment" discuss the only three presidential impeachment proceedings ever conducted. those involving andrew johnson, richard nixon and bill clinton. participating are historians john meacham and timothy neftali, white house correspondent peter baker and jeffrey engel, director of the center for presidential history at southern methodist university in dallas. this is just over an hour. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2019] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> good evening, everybody. my name is thomas dipiero of he humanities and sciences here at smu and i'm pleased to welcome you. tonight's event is sponsored by the center for presidential history, and i'm pleased to announce that just recently the center was moved. we were very pleased to welcome them here because they complement the research and teaching mission of the university so well. the center for presidential
history promotes the study of u.s. presidency through teaching, research, public outreach events and also through its collective memory project which is an oral history run by staff on the center who film and record archives of people who have been in various administrations as well as local officials who work closely with those administrations. the center also runs a very robust postdoctoral fellowship program. it's been in effect for about five years and it's rapidly become probably the most influential and famous fellowship program of its kind. each who completes the term has published a book or contracted a book at a major university press such as harvard, cornell, and they all get jobs and that's a good thing. we're very proud of them. [applause] the center for presidential history complements the work we do.
in addition to the work they do in their own teaching and research, they complement the department of history as well as the center for southwest studies. you'll be pleased to note, because i know there are a lot of history buffs here we're bucking the national trend at smu and getting more and more students studying history, booking history majors, and that's a great thing. [applause] >> i know many of you have been to some of the center's events such as this before, and we're thrilled. there have been over a hundred events in the past six years. as you know they are free of charge. we would like to have seen more people. we have a very big waiting list for this event so one of the things we'll be doing in the near future is roll out a donor's event, a special set of possibilities and events for people who choose to support the center. this will be special lectures for these people. luncheons, events, and you'll have an opportunity to support students who want to study abroad on the center's program. they take a study abroad program.
they do dj in britain and france, and not all students can afford to pay so we're hoping we'll get support so more students can take this fantastic program. i would like to introduce our panelists -- before i forget, this event tonight is co-sponsored by the center for political studies and we're also in collaboration with the world affairs council of dallas-fort worth, president jim falk. i also want to call out to the editor of the project who is here with us tonight. that's mollie toubin. are you here? give us a wave. [applause] thomas: our contributors on the panel tonight are peter baker, who is the chief white house correspondent of the "new york times." [applause] thomas: timothy naftali who teachers at nyu, a frequent contributor to cnn. [applause] thomas: jon meacham is pulitzer prize-winning historian. [applause]
thomas: and jeffrey engle who is the founding director of the center for presidential history. [applause] thomas: and just this month he was named the 2019 smu faculty member of the year by the students. [applause] >> tonight's event is moderated by someone who all of you in dallas know. you've heard her voice many times. she asks some of the most penetrating questions i've heard. co-producer of kr's fabulous program. [applause] >> i just want to remind everybody that i have an ipad here because we're accepting questions from the audience but we'll take them via twitter so they will filter into me as they
come through and the tweet, you can tweet @cphsmu if you've got a question. gentlemen, welcome. we'll start with you, jeffrey, the most obvious question is the one that i know you like the least. that is, what did the framers intend when they created a provision for impeachment? >> they intended -- in case -- they intended a failsafe in case there was ever a problem that a president were to have in office and it were discovered that that president was damaging the country in some way. not, and this is critical, i haven't said anything funny yet. [laughter] >> not, and this is critical, not a president who is just bad at his job. in fact, the term is used and discarded was maladministration. if a president was simply incompetent or bad or had bad policies, the voters would take care of that.
what they were really concerned about was a president who was doing something that would damage the country in some way, which is really why they came up with this wonderful phrase high crimes and misdemeanors which all of them completely understood. we don't. but they did, but i think it's actually obvious if you go back and think about what they thought about that term, a high crime is a crime against the state. something that hurts the body politic, which means something which is not necessarily a legal crime but something which hurts the people. that's when you know that somebody should be removed from office. of course, they wanted it to be a high bar so they made it difficult through a congressional process but they wanted to make sure it was discovered that apartment was dangerous that he or should could be removed. >> living under tyranny? >> yeah, they just fought a revolution against tyranny. even going back further, they had an offense that some sovereigns were helpful and some sovereigns were not.
they were driven in many ways during the revolutionary period by a real locking notion of what made a sovereign or a government good. that simply was one that took care of the people and a sovereign that put themselves above the people or, in worst cases, put themselves at war with the people, did not take care of the people's needs, which is how the colonists, or colonists thought of them, via the british king, the instigator for the revolution, that was a father that should be discarded so when they thought about an executive, a president that could be so powerful that he could go off the rails in some way they had a lot of historical reason to fear this because they themselves had just gone away from a sovereign, an executive, who had, in their minds, put them at war against the american people. >> when they were setting up these rules and making decisions
there were people that had to be convinced that something like impeachment should be included in the constitution. what were the arguments against it? >> the arguments against it actually, really are fascinating because as i said before they wanted to dispense with the idea we could get rid of a president simply for maladministration but they also realized anything you give congress one of the competing branches of government and we all know the government was set up in a sense to fight against each other, to compete for power against each other, if you gave congress the opportunity in any way, shape, or form, to say, we have, no pun intended, a trump card over the presidency, that we're able to remove the president when we see fit, that's a really dangerous idea, because, you know, in essence, if it just takes congress agreeing that a president should be impeached, to impeach him, well, that means that congress in some way could ultimately reign supreme over the presidency and that's not
the situation they wanted as a balance of power. i do have to say when we talk about this entire framework of fear of executive power that's really a more modern notion in many ways than the founders had. the people at the convention were more concerned and spent more time talking about a tyrannical congress. that congress was the one you needed to watch out for because they presumed the president would be somewhat limited by the congress but they had a lot of experience, especially with the state legislatures, with congress that had simply run amok over the executive so they wanted to make sure impeachment was possible but very difficult. >> jon, in the best of circumstances, abraham lincoln is an impossible act to follow. andrew johnson was really no abraham lincoln. >> i knew abraham lincoln. [laughter] the one state in the union where you can make that joke. >> why initially were republicans optimistic about the
chances that johnson would do what they wanted? >> well, they are in the moment. remember, andrew johnson, i'm a tennessean, so you all can thank me later for your independence. [laughter] >> if it weren't for -- y'all could be part of spain, i made that joke about george w. bush the first time i met him, peter, it's a great subject, he was governor then, and at the governor's mansion i said that, he went, that's pretty funny, asshole. [laughter] >> it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. >> hi, how are you? >> are we proud of our boy? he said mal administration twice and lockian. 12 years of graduate school you get lockian. sorry what was the question? >> andrew johnson was, and i'm just going to jump in here, we've only used his name as a
verb, or as an adjective, but voldemort, i think this moment is most like the johnson one, where johnson was a temperamentally erratic, nontraditional politician in that he did not have a natural political base in washington. johnson was from tennessee. he was a democrat. he had been put on the ticket in 1864 to balance out the border states. he was not a republican. and so for the republican party, to have him come to power, that terrible easter weekend in 1865 was shocking, a shock upon shocks. the impeachment unfolded because of an existential disagreement about what the verdict of the civil war actually meant.
it was a significant policy difference, and they went in search of a pre-text on which to i am beach him. -- impeach him. it's kind of remarkable, when you think about it, that it took, what, 80 years, from almost exactly, from philadelphia to the impeachment, for impeachment to be used as a political tool. i think it speaks well of the system, that it was, in fact, this existential question, remember, johnson vetoed the civil rights act. he vetoed the freed man bureau's act, he opposed the 14th and 15th amendments. not a lot of revision or work to do on johnson. not much there to admire. he believed that congress was in a conspiracy against him. [laughter] >> he denounced fake news. he didn't have very good hair. the whole thing.
[laughter] it kind of resonates. so, in many ways, what i think the johnson story tells us is that impeachment as a weapon of politics is very, very hard to execute. but at least, and i think this separates my guy from tim and peter's, my guy was -- johnson was embroiled in a fundamental argument about the nature of the country, and nixon had a more -- i'm jumping -- nixon had committed crimes. peter's guy was more -- it was a cultural clash in many ways. johnson was the most serious debate because here was someone from the defeated region at the top of power, trying to undo the
verdict of the battlefield, and in their frustration, the republicans struck out, lashed out, using the mechanics of impeachment. >> so he was impeached for violating the tenure of office. very briefly what was that? >> it is hopeless. david stewart, a colleague of ours, who is a lawyer and historian, there is just one parachute while you're a historian, even he never figured it out. he wrote a book trying to figure it out. it was an attempt to curtail johnson's capacity to remove lincoln's cabinet. so it was basically about edwin stanton and keeping the lincoln officials in power. the republican congress were worried that johnson would clean house and bring in people to support this reactionary vision
of what the country could be. remember, 750,000 americans, which is now the number we pretty much agree on, had died fighting over amid what lincoln called the fiery trial. it was the ratifying struggle of the american experiment, and then, by a constitutional and political happenstance, a president is in power who wants to undo that. and so in the ferocity and chaos of that political moment impeachment is what they settled on. >> how did johnson survive? >> bribery mostly. [laughter] >> honestly, it's a little mixed. the old story, was it curly in boston, who said, never say what -- never write down --
never write down what you can say and never say what you can gesture. that was kind of the story. there was a lot of money flying around in the conviction trial. and there is frankly, president kennedy, who tim is writing about, wrote a very uplifting and totally wrong chapter in profiles in courage about the deciding vote, in the impeachment -- in the conviction trial. i don't know if you agree with this, but basically, backstory, there is, kennedy was under extraordinary political pressure because he had managed to avoid voting to censure joe mccarthy. he was in the hospital. he was always in the hospital. but he didn't even pair up his vote and he realized that this had alienated the northern wing of the party, and he needed something to sort of clean up his national reputation as he went into the 1960 campaign.
he wrote "profiles in courage." if you're going to find profiles in courage be good to find one in the south if you're a democrat, and a southern hero, and that was the profile. as if there was some great principle stand here. it was really about not -- not wanting impeachment to be used as jeff was saying, too often. but basically johnson bought his way to survival. >> you said that nixon's impeachment began not with a break-in at the watergate, but with the saturday night massacre. that's what pushed the country over a psychological line. talk about that. >> before i get to that, i think that john f. if kennedy wrote "profiles in courage" to be the vice president and he wanted to be the northerner liked by the south. he saw himself, because he was not fully committed to civil rights when he was running for
vice president, so that's why when you read about johnson, he said some wacky things, about andrew johnson. he almost writes he liked him. just as jon said, it speaks extremely well of the country that it took 80 years for the country to go through its first impeachment crisis. it speaks even better that it took nearly -- it took over a hundred years to have it a second time. and i think for those of us who are suffering from ocd, because every day, there is a crisis, i mean, imagine what peter has to do, right? peter is a heroin dealer. [laughter] >> and that's why we need the wall. [laughter] >> sorry.
>> i want to make this point because, if you're under a certain age, this will shock you and if you're a certain age you've forgotten. [laughter] >> richard nixon, nixon's trouble started in the summer of 1972 but it takes 16 months for a congress dominated by democrats to begin impeachment hearings. now, you've got to wonder, wait a second. given the nature of our political moment, 16 months. part of the reason is, jon's guy, which is the lesson that the washington community learned about impeachment from the johnson era, you don't do it, okay? it's anti-democratic. it's traumatic for the country. it's traumatic for members of congress. it's not the way to deal with a bad president. in the case of andrew johnson, they are doing it the year, an election year. they could have waited a few
more months and ultimately he's obviously not re-elected. in the case of nixon, it's nixon who pushes the washington community and many americans over a psychological edge and he does that when he fires archibald cox. he does that when he forces the justice department to fire archibald cox and the attorney general and the deputy attorney general says no. this yale scholar who happened to be solicitor general, who, by the way, i interviewed him, he didn't want to do it either but he felt that the president had the authority, in article 2, to do it, and he fired archibald cox. and that raised the question of president nixon's legitimacy. not just partisans. the key part of the story that interested me, because, you know, we've done a lot of writing about nixon. when jeff asks us to do this book together, the story i wanted to understand, because of
the current political moment we live in, is, was everybody partisan in 1974? and why was it that republicans voted against richard nixon? and that's the story. that's what interests me. we all have to wonder sometimes can we be bipartisan as well as nonpartisan. the nixon story is phenomenally interesting because nixon pushed republicans over the edge by his misconduct. >> a question as to whether a sitting president could be indicted for obstruction of justice, has that question been resolved, well, i'm not a lawyer and ivy tree hard not to be one on tv. -- and i try very hard not to be one on tv. but i can tell you how that was looked at in the nixon. and i have the story from archibald cox's number two, henry, and from some memoirs that have been published.
the members of the special committee staff, the watergate special prosecution staff, all agreed that the president could be indicted. with one exception. the special prosecutor himself, from the state of texas, jaworski disagreed the reasons why varied on whom you asked but it seems clear that he decided not to litigate the issue because the impeachment proceedings had already started. he had already replaced archibald cox. he said let's not deal with the issue. we'll just let congress manage it, and after congress decides what to do with nixon, if you're a private citizen we can indict him. what i can tell you for a fact is you had this extraordinary
moment in american history when the judge that was overseeing the grand jury responsible for indictments, and his law clerk, the judge was john sirica, he's no longer with us but his law clerk is with us, and the special prosecutor, all listened to the famous cancer on the presidency conversation and concluded, by january of 1974, that richard nixon was a criminal. and that he should go to jail. the problem was, there was no procedure by which you could do anything with that knowledge. because as jeff describes in his section, committing a crime is not a sufficient cause for impeachment. so the problem was how do you get information about the fact that richard nixon was a criminal, by the way, the judge
was appointed by dwight eisenhower. he was no democratic partisan. and leon jarorski was a democrat but a conservative democrat, in fact, that's why the nixon white house chose him. they both concluded nixon was a crook and the problem is, how do you get that information to the house? and one of the weaknesses in the constitutional approach to impeachment is that it's not clear that a criminal president doesn't have enough power to prevent evidence that would prove him to be criminal to get to the house. so you have -- in a sense, the constitution rests on the assumption that either the data you need to make this judgment is available to everyone or that the president will willingly hand it over. and the problem here was that
richard nixon was engaging in a act of cover-up and obstruction of justice. the tapes, the tape they heard, because nixon wanted to stave off impeachment right after the saturday night massacre and he turned over the eight tapes that had been requested but there were many, many more including the famous smoking gun conversation. so the problem for these independently minded nonpartisan people was how do you get this information to congress, and i had never wondered about this problem, and to a certain extent, this is a problem we will always face when we have a criminal president. by the way, presidents are innocent until proven guilty but just imagine if a president were criminal, knowingly criminal, think of all the tools they have at their disposal to prevent that information from getting to
congress. there is nothing in the constitution that forces their hand. sorry, that's a little depressing. >> what will it take to get republicans to align against nixon? >> you know, i think, john f. if keep's book, i'm writing about him as president, profiles in courage, as jon said, is not a great book. you can write a wonderful story, however, about the "profiles in courage" of the republicans and the southern democrats, in the summer of 1974. these people decided that they needed, that they felt richard nixon should be impeached and they knew their constituents didn't want it and they knew the base didn't want it. the president retained 30% support until the very end but that doesn't tell you about support because there is intensity of support. there was an intensity of support for him in the south, and there was an intensity of support for him in many, many republican districts outside, in
that era there weren't many republican districts in the south but outside the south so these people decided that their responsibility was to us as constitutional officers, that they were like grand jurors, and that their child was beyond party. they had a duty to consider whether this was a moment to use impeachment as, one of them described, a safety valve, that the continued existence of a presidency would set a precedent -- it would undermine our rule of law and constitution going forward because should that president survive through the end of his term, that's sending a signal to all huge mal-factors that you can get away with it in the united states and the republicans who came to this conclusion, and i know this because some of them kept diaries which i read, decided that they had no choice despite the fact that their constituents would not be happy, but to remove this man because he was a threat to our
constitution. and these men, there is a very important woman in the story and this will surprise you. her name was barbara jordan, barbara jordan wasn't sure -- she wasn't prepared to impeach nixon. she was among those that was uncertain. she talked to these republicans and southern democrats about this. ultimately, she made her decision, she was not part of a small group that rewrote the articles of impeachment, so they were comfortable, but she didn't make up her mind until late in the process. she wanted no part of it. she felt a huge burden of making this decision rested on her shoulders and she knew as a constitutional officer she owed it to the american people not to choose on party but on principle. so she's a great story and she's also a profile in courage. the rest of this group were men, and they were white, and they were from various parts of this country, and they weren't people
we necessarily would like for other reasons. for example, one of them was george wallace's campaign manager in the 1968 campaign. his name was walter flowers. i'm not sure we would like his views on a number of issues. but he decided that even though richard nixon was good for his cause, because richard nixon, he's the origin of the dog whistle, richard nixon was undermining the structure of this country. the others were, ones from the corn belt. another one was from roanoke, virginia. one was from rural maine. was one from upstate new york. these are the real heroes of 1974, and one would hope that should we ever be in a similar presidency again, that those kinds of heroes are among us.
>> if he had destroyed the tapes, would he have finished his term? >> yes. no doubt in my mind, he would have finished his term. first of all -- >> why didn't he? >> well, that's what makes -- this is really, really interesting and important about this era. richard nixon self-sabotaged. not because he wanted to leave office as he said, i think leaving office before the end of my term -- [inaudible]
>> thank you. i'm not going to do that anymore. i was the director -- [inaudible] when it became a federal institution. richard nixon was temperamentally ill-suited to be president in that he was an introvert in an extrovert's job. what he did not know, other than being sneaky and running a cover-up, which we know from the tapes he did, he actually was not very good at creating public sympathy for himself. he, unlike other presidents who have come under scrutiny, he actually with drew from the public space. there wasn't any social media, but he was a near recluse in 1974. he used surrogates to get his story out and his surrogates were not like certain surrogates in this era. they were not attack dogs. richard nixon was very sick with pneumonia, when alexander butterfield, alexander butterfield, he's the man who put the system, the taping system in the white house at the request of the president and,
you know, his chief-of-staff. when alexander butterfield tells the staff of the watergate, the senate watergate committee about the taping system, he also tells white house lawyers that he's just done this. so the white house has a little bit of notice before the public knows this. the president, it just so happens, is at the naval hospital and he's sick with pneumonia, and his lawyers and his chief-of-staff gather around his bed to discuss what to do, and -- >> this is when? >> july, 1973. you can't make this up. okay? and they are debating, and the
president is getting all kinds of advice. vice president sprio agnew, who has not yet had to resign for taking bribes when he was governor and then bribes when he was vice president, his advice is, burn them. john connelly, coming from a state that creates some of the best barbecue in the world, said build a bonfire. the president's lawyer is worried about an obstruction of justice charge against him, himself, as well as the president. because, and the lawyers out there will know this is a challenge, if you know that's something is going to be subpoenaed and you destroy it, you actually could be charged. i don't know if a court will
find you guilty but you could be charged with obstruction of justice. so everybody in that room knew that these tapes would be subpoenaed. and his lawyer said, no, but it turns out that two things mattered most. one, the president's chief-of-staff, a man named bob haldeman, who is apparently, by some people, he was on a pedestal for being the most effective chief-of-staff in history, believe me, he wasn't, he said, don't worry, mr. president. the tapes will exonerate you. [laughter] in what universe? it says a lot about haldeman, but al haig, you know, he's always the source of a good story, about 50% of them are true. i don't know which side this one
falls in but he told us at the nixon library, but haig said, well, actually, when no one else is around the president turned to me and said, would you destroy them? al? and, now, keep in mind, we're talking about 4,000 hours of reel-to-reel tapes. this is not. this is a room in the old executive office building, so think about the problem of destroying, okay? he says, will you destroy it? and haig says i can't do that to my family. i can't do that. get your valet to do it. get -- to do it, and so, the president may actually have considered doing it, but the logistics of destroying this many tapes were enormous. and, in any case, he wasn't fully well. he's still in the hospital when butterfield testifies. i am convinced that had the tapes been destroyed, everything else we've discussed, i mean,
the special prosecutor wouldn't have been fired. you wouldn't have the grand jury, the judge of the grand jury concluding the president had engaged in obstruction of justice, the conversation that the judge referred to, where it all came here to him, involved the president talking about hush money on dean and when john dean expected the president to say, we can't do this, the president said, how much will it cost? and john dean came up with a funny number, he said a million dollars. which, you know, if you've seen austin powers, and instead of the president saying, oh, my god, this is outrageous. he says, well, you know, we can find that. you wouldn't have had that on tape. you would have just had john dean's word against richard nixon's and when it's the word of a staff who is facing imprisonment versus the president, the american people choose the president. so i think nixon would have ended his term. >> let's talk about what happens when an extrovert in an
extrovert's job finds himself facing impeachment. [laughter] the point has been made that it was 80 years before the first impeachment. another century before the second. what are we to make of the fact it was 25 years between nixon's impeachment and bill clinton's? >> it's interesting because you had people that had been involved in the previous impeachment now engaged in that same issue. that didn't happen in nixon. no one in the nixon case had been involved in the johnson case in. this case, first lady herself had served on the house judiciary committee during the nixon impeachment. she had drafted memos, been involved in legal research and personally involved. a lot of the other figures, in fact, sam dash, comes from the watergate committee, comes into the ethics council, ken starr. members of congress had served in 1974 were still there in 1998
and 1999, so this is not a distant memory for them. this is a real living event in the life of the country. and they were trying to decide based on watergate precedent and to some extent on the johnson precedent, how do they treat the allegations against bill clinton. for the most part they tossed out the johnson precedent because it was so long ago and it was so different and seen as so political they decided it wasn't really that useful to them trying to figure out a road map. the nixon thing was different. nixon was, in fact, the model for what they did. when the house judiciary committee, decided they were going to pursue articles of impeachment, they literally took the nixon ones and pasted language into their own. the house judiciary committee chairman in the watergate era was a man named rodino who used his name for a password for the computer when they were drafting
the articles of impeachment in 1998. that's what you typed into the computer to get them so they were very consciously modeling what they were doing on nixon's. the problem is, they are trying to fit a square peg into a circular hole or vice versa, whatever, and they were trying to fit a different set of facts into what made watergate unique, and, in doing so, they tripped themselves up because then they set the standard that high and the question is, could you meet that standard? is everything short of watergate not impeachable or not? that was a question they couldn't answer, to the satisfaction of the country, in effect. so, you're right. watergate was a very living memory. it's shaded and affected the conversation through the months. >> i think a lot of americans think bill clinton was impeached for having an affair?
>> which is not true and i understand why people feel that. it was the proximate beginning of what led to the impeachment, if he kept his pants on everything would have been fine. he didn't do that -- it's a good lesson for all of us. yes. that's a different kind of maladministration. [laughter] >> the truth is he had warning, right? when he ran, jeff will tell us what happened down the road in 1992, he had warning in 1992 that the country had changed its view of a president's behavior. you no longer were able to consider something to be a private life. it was out of bounds. we weren't going to talk at it. he had that. with gennifer flowers, he had fair warning. we were paying attention. this was subject to scrutiny whether it was fair or not, he couldn't help himself anyway. he's the guy who couldn't and ol his own appetites
that leads to the situation but he was not impeached for having an affair. he was impeached for lying under oath and for obstruction of justice. he was required by a federal judge to answer questions in a deposition, in a lawsuit brought by paula jones, who had been an arkansas state employee who alleged that he sexually harassed her. he was required by the court to answer truthfully. he was required by the court not to try to obstruct her right to have a fair lawsuit. so, okay. let's just say for the sake of argument that he did these things and we aren't going to argue, does that constitute a high crime misdemeanor? that's the question. i always find the clinton impeachment to be this murky middle between the johnson impeachment and the nixon impeachment in this way. if the johnson impeachment was basically a policy dispute wrapped up in the guise of a criminal high crime and misdemeanor controversy and nixon was, i think it's a very clear example of abuse of power. a no-brainer on the impeachment scale, where does it leave us with clinton? if a president violates the
law, let's say for the sake of argument he did and he later admitted he gave false testimony under oath, he had his law license suspended, found in contempt of court by the judge for lying under oath and so forth, so there is a documentary record that in fact, he did commit what we would consider to be crimes. is that enough to justify removal from office? and the difference between him and nixon is that nixon used power of his presidency in the furtherance of his efforts, and clinton didn't. for the most part. you can make an argument, truthfully, though, it was him trying to hide his private behavior that was abhorrent, in a circumstance where he was obligated to tell the truth but he wasn't damaging the country, i think, in the way jeff was talking about, in a broader sense but does it damage the country if the person we trust with ultimate power, to take care of the laws which are in force, which is what the constitution tells us he's supposed to do, doesn't do that, where is the line drawn? how do you have accountability
for a president and is this anything short of impeachment if we decide, well, there is a crime, and it's abhorrent and we should not accept this and yet we don't think he should be removed from office. 60% of the people think he's doing a good job, and we don't think it rises to that level. >> how did he manage to flip the script publicly and have 60% of people thinking he was doing a good job and ought to remain in office? >> a great question. a couple of things. first, it turns out that lying works. okay? and i hate to say that i hope -- if my son is watching at home please don't listen to this because it's not true but the truth is because he lied for seven months, between january 1998 and august of 1998, when he finally come forward and semi tells the truth that he had an affair with monica lewinsky, the country had come to terms by it at that point. they weren't shocked anymore. they had come to believe that of course he did. the power of that had diminished to some extent. had he admitted it right up
front it's very possible he might have been forced to resign. at least that's the conclusion he drew from it. and i think by the time it gets to congress, the country had basically had six or eight, nine months of this, tired of it. the other thing is, we had a good economy. he was perceived to be a good president. we were not at war. and he did a very good job of what he called compartmentalizing, which is to tell the country i'm concerned about your issues and let them deal with this muck and i'm not dignifying that. it's kind of a false front. i'm not focused on that the truth is he was consumed by it. he goes to the middle east at one point. he's in gaza and he's supposed to be negotiating, you know, middle east peace and his aide looks of his shoulder and notices clinton writing on his legal pad. focus on your job. focus on your job. [laughter]
of course it's going to consume him but he gave the impress to -- impression to the country that he was focused on his job, and he maintained that popular support and the truth is, it is not a criminal proceeding. it is, in fact, a political proceeding, impeachment and if you're a president who is popular, you know, you're going to undercut the power of impeachment effort against you because the country doesn't want you to be removed. >> 20 years later we think in different ways about the balances of powerful men. i wonder if bill clinton existed in this moment, could he have survived? >> that's a great question. there is no question to reappraise clinton at this moment. it's not just monica. monica, of course, she was consensual, willing, in fact, in some ways, the provocateur.
she raised her thong and all of that. that's true, but today we look at that a little different. he was a person of ultimate power. and even if she was consensual, she was 22 years old and there is something very imbalanced about that. there is no question that we would look at a person in his position today taking advantage of that position to obtain personal gratification in a different way, and then you add the other allegers, victims he's had over the years, who have alleged various things about him. paula jones, kathleen willey and in particular, broderick, they were not consensual and in keeping with the things that we've focused on in the country in the last two years, certainly would be considered to be sexual assault. and there is this moment, you know, those three women have been -- and their allegations have been re-evaluated. kiersten gillibrand, who is
running for president and holds hillary clinton's seat, in mind sight, bill clinton should have resigned. i don't know if he would have necessarily survived today. having said that we have a president today who has been accused of various things, and he is still president and he's not been forced out. in fact, he was elected even after some of these allegations had been made. it's hard to say. >> go ahead. >> that point is really important because it shows how far we've come not only from bill clinton but also gary hart to the present situation, where the raging debate over president trump's, one of his many -- is not whether or not he had sexual relations with an adult film star, it was which bank account did they pay for it out of. no one is disputing, really, the fact that he did something that in previous iterations of the presidency, would easily have left -- have led to removal from office or at least would have been a scandal far beyond the question of campaign finance.
>> i think that's right, although, for the record, he doesn't officially deny that he did anything with her. it's interesting because, you look at that you know, put aside russia for a second and obstruction of justice, the allegations -- [laughter] >> okay. that's your official -- welcome to our encounter group. >> jon's -- he's used them up but the allegation is that he violated the law to cover up sexual indiscretion. what do we use bill clinton of? violating the law to cover up sexual indiscretion. it's a little different, campaign finance law but in essence that's at the heart in. this day and age, obviously, there are a few other issues also on the table. >> we currently have a president in the white house who has been the subject of impeachment conversations since at least
since right after michael flynn left. how unusual is that in the course of american history, that serious conversations have been taking place for this much of a president's first term? >> unprecedented. even before. from the day he was elected, you had people from the very day he was elected talking about whether they could impeach him or not. we've never had that happen obviously. johnson was the closest, trump was elected -- johnson was not. it will be seen as illegitimate by lincoln's partisans. trump won. however unfair people might feel about that he did. and so, to begin talking about impeachment from the very start shows how differently we think about that process and how differently we think about this president. >> there has been a lot of damming reporting but we haven't seen the mueller report yet. how much of the ire over trump
is political and how much of it is motivated by evidence that's been reported by journalists? >> that's a great question. of course, you know, obviously, a witch-hunt, you know, has been used to death but, look, people are out to get him, and they are interpreting every action through the most sinister and most suspicious light, and it's a political plot. and some of them, i'm sure, actually belief that. some may be looking at that as a strategy for defending him. either way, the clinton example shows that a partisan impeachment or an impeachment that's perceived to be partisan doesn't work. tim has talked about republicans abandoning nixon. if the president's own party sticks with him, or her, he will not be impeached and, so, there is both, i think, a genuine belief on the part of a lot of people that trump has been targeted unfairly by the fake news media, by the prosecutors, and so on, and by the f.b.i.,
and even those who don't necessarily believe it understand it's a good strategy. >> i want to add that there was no real analogy or no parallel for devon nunez in the nixon story. did you not have -- now, democrats were in charge of both houses of congress, that's true. but you had very prominent republicans who participated in the senate watergate committee hearings. one of the huge differences between those two eras is that, by this point, in the nixon scandal, we would have all had the opportunity independently to listen to testimony. no tapes, but to listen to testimony and to see documents that disturbed a lot of americans regardless of party. so already, each of us would have had the opportunity to some extent be a juror, because of the senate watergate committee. now, senate watergate committee was a bipartisan committee. yes, it was run by erwin, sam erwin but he had howard baker as
his number two and they both got almost equal time. and republicans were not leaving the chambers saying this is a witch-hunt. they were not saying to americans, don't listen to what this committee is saying, and everything they are talking about is made up. that didn't happen. so the american people got a base of documents and fact to chew over. that doesn't mean we're all going to agree, but we had a base on a fact. we don't in this instance. and that's one -- and we'll see when the mueller report, in its redacted form comes out, well, actually, i'll explain to you, you know, i'm not involved in the process, i can tell you, one reason i assume it's going to be redacted, and this is really important, i'm not going to take a side on mr. mccabe but i suspect he was a public servant,
the reason why the f.b.i., which those of you who know something about the f.b.i., you know it's not a partisan organization, but it has been used by presidents politically, both on the left and the right, johnson used it politically. and, but here's the thing. why were they so nervous when james comey was fired? well, you don't need security clearance to understand. you just go to something called the intelligence committee's assessment of the russian intervention in the 2016 campaign. adjectives matter a lot in the intelligence community. the f.b.i. and the c.i.a. had high confidence that putin not only intervened in the election to mess things up and have us start to doubt our democratic institutions but to help donald trump get elected.
so in the f.b.i., they had high confidence. now, we don't know the reason or the evidence. but they had high confidence and then you have this man fire the head of the f.b.i. so, now, i suspect the mueller report will include some of the data that gave the f.b.i. and others high confidence that russia had a favorite in the election, and i think because we're still spying on russia, that stuff can't be de classified yet. i would like it to be de classified but after i feeling knowing something about, you know, how tears get released or don't get released, that that will not be withheld because we don't want putin to know how we know for sure that he actually made the call. >> the difference, i would say, he's right, we haven't seen the evidence that mueller will present, we hope to see most of it at some point. one thing we have seen that we didn't see in nixon for the first umpteen months, is that trump tells us out loud through twitter, all the things that nixon said on the tapes quietly.
imagine, no, i'm serious, he's very open. the justice department shouldn't be investigating this. this is outrageous. this is a witch-hunt. they should be going after my opponents. he says out loud, this is part of the defense against obstruction of justice, it's not obstruction because he's telling you this. >> yes, but there is one difference. nixon did all of that and he also ordered obstruction of justice. donald trump has not admitted publicly actually, because his argument publicly is i'm innocent. these people, it's a witch-hunt. it's unfair. i want it to stop because i'm innocent, richard nixon was guilty on the tape. >> right. we don't know if there are any tapes this time or emails, or what have you. >> so let's imagine the mueller report comes out and is redacted only in the most sensitive areas, so it drops and is available to the american public. how much -- do you think it will contain that will surprise people after all the reporting that's been done?
you can have followed the larger newspapers in this country and have a great deal of information about the kinds of things that the mueller team is investigating. will it be -- has all of that reporting been almost a safety valve so people won't be so surprised by revelations that might be in the mueller report? >> i think it's like an iceberg. mueller is the best iceberg you can imagine. i think we've seen the top. i don't think we have any idea what he's doing. i know this. it's an old joke about "60 minutes" in the 1970s. if you were a c.e.o. you knew it would be a bad week when mike wallace called you on monday. bob mueller starts investigating you and your cfo and your lawyers are cooperating. jesus. and, i mean this totally sincerely, peter baker is the best in the arena, and -- [applause]
and is performing a remarkable civic function by standing up and being called an enemy of the people. >> that part is true. [laughter] >> but -- this is a difficult time for people who do what peter does. the president of the united states is -- [applause] >> he's creating a climate of anxiety, fear, toward people who are simply trying to do what jefferson wanted us to do, which was to debate, find a decision, whatever that might be, but there had to be a free exchange of ideas. for all of that work, i think this investigation is so wide-ranging and just what rumsfeld would call no unknowns. i can't speculate. if anything, i would speculate there are elements, characters,
that we've never heard of. and the fear, the fear is be that when this appears, in peter's newspaper, and online, will the country accept it as dispassionate fact and then make a decision, or is that 35 to 40% of the country that will follow him anywhere going to say, this is the document to which it's fake, it's artificial. what do you think? >> yeah, i think, i agree with all of that except for the nice thing you said about me. because, in fact, actually, i'm a terrible reporter, robert mueller has been the most leak proof government operation i have ever seen. he really is. i say that with great frustration. but it also means that john may be right. he may know so much more than -- we may not have a clue what he knows but -- so we're guessing.
we're really guessing here. he's shown a small bit of his hand, i think almost all of the prosecution he's brought so far against americans have for the most part been of the obstruction of justice category with the exception of manaforte's financial issues. he's not yet charged anybody with anything that would amount to collusion. is that because he hasn't found it or because he's holding it back and he's going to lay out a big case? i don't know. the truth is, and we've done this a couple of times, when you sit down and you try to pull together all of the things we do know in public because as you said, there has been a lot of reporting, and you pull together it together all in one place, one long article sometimes, it can be rather extensive and extraordinary what's already known, and yet it's been to some extent discounted by a lot of the public. well,da -- does he come out with something that not only adds to our knowledge but is so definitive and so damming that
it does move the needle. changes the dynamics because right now, on capitol hill at least, there is no republican mood for impeachment. there is zero, you know -- appetite for that and the question is, how do you move 20 there is zero appetite that. the question is, how do you move 20 republican senators? because if you don't move 20 republican senators there is no , point. >> this is a much bigger issue of whether the president should be impeached or enjoy the last two-odd years of his administration. if it turns out that there is a lot of information that in a previous era would have been previously understood to be factually true, and that there is a large percentage of americans who decide they don't believe the evidence, that's a bigger question. what got nixon was that the
american people could hear him on the tapes, they recognized the voice, and they believed them to be true. i saw a great speech by president obama the other day that he didn't give. it was pieced together. what can we come up with that a portion of the american people wouldn't say not that i disagree with it but that isn't true by what i've seen with my own eyes? >> a number of the president's, who listened to those tapes, say, he is talking about hush money, but did he ever paid it?
if he didn't pay it, that's not a crime. they went on to say, we don't impeach presidents because they have bad lieutenants. impeachment is about the president. you have to prove that the president ordered something bad which raises the bar. what's interesting to me is, given that president trump does not send emails, we don''t know if he tends to write anything. [laughter] i thought i put that delicately. >> it was. unless omarosa and cohen have surreptitiously taped him, what would that be?
nixon's tapes did it. they proved that he had participated in the cover-up. what kind of evidence with the american people need to accept that donald trump wanted his campaign to find out what wikileaks was up to and didn't care that wikileaks might be associated with the russians? >> i want to ask, can any of you conceive of donald trump as we know him stepping down in the face of impeachment proceedings? [laughter] >> i will quote peter baker. [laughter] who, in december 17, you did one of these long stories that you are talking about, about trump's daily life.
you quoted somebody saying that trump had said during the transition, i want to treat every day of the presidency as a tv show in which i vanquish my rivals. >> right. >> so, no. [laughter] >> if i could extend on that -- >> did you quote peter baker? [laughter] >> that is the next volume. >> the baker tapes. >> the baker tapes. >> what really worries me is that the constitution is relatively clear on how you impeach and convict a president. there is nothing about how you physically remove him from the oval office. think about the scenario.
the president gets impeached and convicted, he's in the white house, he's pleading to his to his followers, they are trying to take away your president, and his followers tend to be heavily armed. all it takes is 15,000 of them showing up heavily armed and washington, d.c. and you get something worse than tiananmen square. >> the secretary of defense said he was so concerned that someone in the white house would order a troop movement. he didn't think it would be nixon. nixon had other people to do these things. he made it clear to the chain of command that unless you hear the voice of the president of the united states, you may not move troops. that is how nervous the pentagon was that richard nixon would hang on to power.
after the supreme court unanimously found that the president had to turn over the tapes, richard nixon did not want to obey the supreme court. it took 7 hours. we don't really know how he was prevailed upon. i write in the big that al hague defected to the union at that point. president nixon did not want to obey the supreme court. because we have a separation of powers, there are opportunities for the president to say no. fortunately, president nixon saw the writing on the wall and left. who knows what this president would do in a similar situation?
>> these gentlemen need to get through the room to where they are signing books. if you would just stay in your seats until they have exited the auditorium, please. gentlemen, thanks so much. [applause] >> it is an honor and a privilege. >> thank you. >> thank you, you were great. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2019] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> the 30th anniversary of the exxon valdez oil spill. remembering president george h w bush and the inventor of the world wide web. all this weekend on american history tv. today at 12:30 p.m. eastern, three programs marking the 30th
anniversary of the exxon valdez oil spill, the second largest in the u.s. >> the captain called the coast said wemediately and are hard aground and evidently we are leaking some oil. he said on the radio he would try to rock the boat and get off the reef and perceived, which was a terrifying possibility. there is a good chance it could have sunk or capsized. sunday at 8 p.m. eastern on "the presidency," james baker remembers his longtime friend george h.w. bush. to serve astunate his secretary of state. they understood he had to defend
me and protect me even when i was wrong. >> and later, computer scientist tim berners-lee. >> imagine you discover climate change or the cure for cancer and the pieces of the problem are in different people's brains, but they are connected on the internet. can the web be a place -- the goals for the web, it should be a collaborative place. spaceonder around the .ooking, i can pick them up i want them to be able to link anything to anything. >> watch american history tv, this weekend on c-span3. secretary clinton: next, the new
school history professor claire potter talked about the 1969 stonewall riots and rise of the gay rights movement. she described the uprising and reflected on the legacy of the stonewall inn, now a national monument in new york city. we recorded the interview in chicago at the annual american historical association meeting. >> claire potter is someone who studies and teaches history at the new school. let's talk about the stonewall riots. what happened? prof. potter: stonewall riots. , when thenight patrons of the stonewall inn, who were on the margins of the gay community, not who we think of now as being in the center of gay, lesbian, and transgender politics