Ken Starr, promoting a new book, appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” yesterday, and he spoke with host Jake Tapper a bit about the similarities between the presidential scandals in 1998 and 2018. It was, of course, 20 years ago that Starr led an independent counsel investigation into Bill Clinton – a process that culminated in the Democrat’s impeachment.
Yesterday’s interview led to an interesting exchange:
TAPPER: Do you think that President Trump will face the same fate of President Clinton, which is impeachment?
STARR: I hope not, because one of the lessons in the book is, impeachment is hell. The country should not be taken through that. The founding generation wisely knew that it was such a serious action, it requires a two-thirds majority in the Senate. Unless there is a growing national consensus that impeachment is proper, it’s doomed to fail and it’s just the wrong way to go.
It was a jarring comment for a couple of reasons. The first and most obvious problem was the glaring hypocrisy: Ken Starr, of all people, believes the country shouldn’t be subjected to the trauma of a presidential impeachment process, despite the fact that he subjected us to that exact process in the not-too-distant past.
One is tempted to wonder if perhaps Starr is only uncomfortable with presidential impeachment when it’s a Republican in the White House.
But the other problem is that there’s no reason to assume that Starr is necessarily correct about the importance of avoiding a perfectly legitimate constitutional recourse.
Is impeachment “hell”? Must Americans be shielded from such a traumatic process? I won’t make the case that there’s anything routine about the ordeal, but I also like to think Americans are a resilient group of folks who can endure a degree of political drama if the evidence warrants it.
Indeed, the alternative arguably costs us more. If a president faces credible accusations of serious wrongdoing, including alleged corruption, and officials refuse to hold that president accountable, it’s easy to make the case that the country “should not be taken through that,” either.
Americans have confronted a presidential impeachment process twice – once in the 19th century, again in the 20th – and the national toll was perfectly bearable. The costs would be no more severe in the 21st century, especially if much of the country already believes a president of dubious legitimacy deserves to be impeached.
To hear Ken Starr tell it, we’ll collectively struggle to maintain the necessary fortitude to put up with Donald Trump’s impeachment, the merits be damned. I think we’re made of sterner stuff – and we’d be just fine.
Postscript: Anytime this topic comes up, I feel the need to note for the record that impeachment does not remove a president from office. Rather, it’s the political equivalent of an indictment, which initiates a Senate trial. Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson were impeached, but in both cases, the Senate failed to remove them from office, and their terms continued. (Richard Nixon, informed by Senate Republicans that he would lose a trial in the Senate, resigned before the House could impeach him.)