WASHINGTON — The incoming Democratic-controlled House will likely start investigations of various Trump administration decisions, but should be wary of starting impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, a panel of lawyers said Thursday at the National Press Club.
The five lawyers, who have experience in constitutional law issues ranging from Watergate to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, agreed the new members will not be “AWOL” like they said the Republican-controlled Congress has been for the past two years.
“There has been no congressional accountability,” said Jack Quinn, former White House counsel to Clinton.
The panel several times drew parallels to the House vote almost 20 years ago to impeach Clinton and Democrats initiating investigations into the president. The House voted to impeach Clinton for lying under oath about an affair with then-intern Monica Lewinsky, but the Democratic-controlled Senate acquitted him. Clinton’s popularity was not affected.
Quinn advised Democrats to learn from the mistakes made by Republicans in the Clinton trial.
“It really cheapened the extraordinary means of impeachment,” said Richard Ben-Veniste, former prosecutor with the Watergate Special Prosecutor’s Office.
He also said that talk of impeachment now is premature because Special Counsel Robert Mueller is still investigating Russian interference in the U.S. 2016 election. It would be “imprudent” for Congress to act now, he said.
For Georgetown Law professor Susan Low Bloch, impeachment proceedings should not be politically motivated when the purpose is to punish wrongdoing.
The constitution gives the House the power to impeach, while the Senate holds a trial on whether to remove the official.
“It’s irresponsible to start a (impeachment) process,” Bloch said, “when if you were in the Senate you wouldn’t be willing to indict.”
But Jennifer Daskal, from American University’s Washington College of Law, cautioned against equating the Clinton impeachment to what Trump is accused of doing.
The allegations that the Trump administration may have colluded with a foreign government should be taken seriously, Daskal said.