As Donald Trump’s legal woes mount, the standard response from most congressional Republicans is to avoid the subject altogether. The Washington Post published a good collection of responses from prominent GOP senators who didn’t want to touch the allegations surrounding the president with a 10-foot subpoena.
But then there’s Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of Capitol Hill’s more shameless Trump cheerleaders, who rarely seems to turn down an opportunity to defend his Oval Office ally. The South Carolinian’s latest pitch stood out for me as a little different than most. TPM reported:
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a staunch supporter of President Trump, said Friday that Trump directing Michael Cohen to make hush-money payments could represent a campaign finance violation “in theory.” But he cautioned Democrats against crying impeachment.
“Campaign finance violations have never been used to impeach anybody,” Graham told Neil Cavuto on Fox News.
“If you think that this is worthy of impeachment in the House, go ahead,” Graham said. “I think most Americans probably won’t agree with you.”
The argument here isn’t that Trump is innocent. Rather, Graham treats Trump’s possible guilt as inconsequential. Even if the president participated in an illegal scheme involving hush-money payments, the argument goes, it’s merely a “campaign-finance violation,” and presidents don’t get impeached for campaign-finance violations.
Putting aside questions of propriety, is this true? The historical record gets a little tricky.
In American history, only two American presidents have ever been impeached – Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 – and neither controversy had anything to do with campaign finances.
But then there’s Richard Nixon, who was well on his way toward being impeached when he became the first president to resign from office in disgrace.
In July 1974, the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment against Nixon: Article I dealt with obstruction of justice, while Article III was about contempt of Congress.
But Article II detailed the then-president’s abuses of power – it wasn’t a short list – which included misuses of campaign contributions. Section 4 of Article II specifically pointed to Nixon’s operation’s “unlawful activities,” including “the campaign financing practices of the Committee to Re-elect the President.”
If the response from Graham and his allies is that Nixon wasn’t actually impeached, that’s true. But there’s little doubt that he would’ve been if he hadn’t quit, and the House Judiciary Committee approved several articles of impeachment – passed with bipartisan majorities – which specifically referenced campaign-finance violations.
Whether history will repeat itself remains to be seen, but this context was missing from Lindsey Graham’s latest p.r. offensive.