In fact, such resistance has been used against presidents in past impeachment efforts. One of three articles of impeachment approved by the House Judiciary Committee against Mr. Nixon before he resigned in 1974 charged that he “willfully disobeyed” congressional subpoenas, thereby “substituting his judgment as to what materials were necessary for the inquiry.”
In his report to Congress in 1998, Mr. Starr argued that among the grounds for impeachment was what the prosecutor considered Mr. Clinton’s “frivolous” and “patently groundless” assertions of executive and other privileges to thwart a perjury and obstruction of justice investigation stemming from the president’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. In that case, though, the House opted against including such a charge in the articles of impeachment passed against Mr. Clinton.
In some ways, Mr. Trump is employing a version of Mr. Clinton’s strategy, albeit on steroids. During Mr. Starr’s investigation, Mr. Clinton repeatedly sought to block testimony or documents, only to be overruled by the courts, just as Mr. Nixon was in the Supreme Court’s groundbreaking and unanimous U.S. v. Nixon decision. Unlike Mr. Trump, Mr. Clinton finally agreed to testify before Mr. Starr’s grand jury, although only after refusing six times and eventually being subpoenaed.
When the Republican-led House took up the matter, it did little original investigating of its own, relying primarily on Mr. Starr’s findings, so there were not the sort of subpoenas to resist the way Mr. Trump is now. But Mr. Clinton likewise felt outrage about the effort to impeach him, convinced that it was a partisan witch-hunt, and set about discrediting it with the public.
House Republicans rejected protections and limits sought by Mr. Clinton’s team, and his Democratic allies attacked the process, accusing the other side of railroading the president and making it an us-versus-them fight to keep wavering Democrats on Mr. Clinton’s side. House Democrats privately called their strategy “win by losing,” reasoning that the more process motions they lost on partisan votes, the more illegitimate the effort would seem.
In the end, the House voted almost entirely on party lines to impeach Mr. Clinton and, with Democrats sticking by him, the Senate voted to acquit him after a trial — the scenario that, flipping the parties, looks most likely to repeat itself with Mr. Trump.
“In one respect, President Trump seems to be borrowing from the Clinton White House playbook,” said Ken Gormley, the author of “The Death of American Virtue” about Mr. Clinton’s battle with Mr. Starr. “He is attempting to throw gasoline over the entire impeachment process in the House and light a match, in order to cause a conflagration and treat the entire process as illegitimate from the start.”
Get more stuff like this
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting stuff and updates to your email inbox.