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Presidents Under Fire: The History Of Impeachment. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired December 02, 2018 - 21:00   ET





RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Have you got an extra camera in case the lights go out?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST (voice-over): This is what impeachment looks like.

NIXON: Ollie?


NIXON: Only the CBS crew now is to be in this room during this, only the crew.


NIXON: No, there will be no picture. No, after the broadcast. You have taken your picture.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Facing certain removal, Richard Nixon is moments away from resigning as president.

NIXON: Enough, OK? Out. All Secret Service, there any Secret Service in the room?



ZAKARIA (voice-over): There can be no greater fall from no greater height.


BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Five men were nabbed in the Democratic National Headquarters here in Washington.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC HOST: The Whitewater controversy --



FELDMAN: He's thinking, what am I going to do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Andrew Johnson's impeachment was over policy. He did not deserve to be President of the United States.

NIXON: Well, I am not a crook.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One thing leads to another.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A grave and profound crisis.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are in the office of the President of the United States.

How can you talk about blackmail and keeping witnesses silent?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: William Jefferson Clinton.

CLINTON: I did not have sexual relations with that woman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The impeachment effort against him failed by a single vote in the Senate.





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a fallen leader.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ayes have it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For high crimes and misdemeanors.

NIXON: I have impeached myself.


ZAKARIA: Good evening, I'm Fareed Zakaria.

The Constitution's impeachment clause was written by men who fought a revolution to escape the tyranny of kings. And now they wanted to keep the president from becoming a monarch.

In one version, the grounds for impeachment were treason and bribery. Also proposed, maladministration but James Madison said that was too vague.

What if, he asked, a president were to cook up a scheme of peculation?

In other words, what if the president were a crook?

So George Mason of Virginia came up with the additional phrase, "high crimes and misdemeanors." And that is Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution.

There was a moment in our history when it saved American democracy. But at other times it has been turned into a cheap political trick, hurled at opponents as a weapon.

So which is it today?

To answer that question, we need to understand the past so we know whether impeachment will work when we really need it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are seriously talking about impeachment.

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS: They will immediately try to impeach the president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well on our way to impeachment.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): The word "impeachment" has been used, by our count, at least 12,000 times this year. And that's just on cable news.

REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: I said impeachment, impeachment, impeachment.

CROWD: Impeach Trump. Impeach Trump. Impeach Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thousands are in the streets now here this evening.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): This was just one day after Donald Trump was elected president.

CROWD: Hey, hey, ho, ho, Donald Trump has got to go!

ZAKARIA (voice-over): But the outcry is hardly surprising. Donald Trump is the most polarizing president in an already bitterly divided America.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will impeach him. We will impeach him. The people said, but he hasn't done anything wrong. Oh, that doesn't matter. We --


TRUMP: -- will impeach the president.

NAFTALI: We have been through periods of polarization before. The difference now, I think, is that we don't have a common baseline of facts. We disagree on reality.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): That dangerous state of affairs, we disagree on the facts, on reality itself, is reflected in how Americans feel about impeachment. In November exit polling, 77 percent of Democrats favored removing the president from office; just 5 percent of Republicans supported impeachment.

Is there evidence to support an impeachment case against Donald Trump?

NOAH FELDMAN, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: As a legal matter, there is enough material alleged now that, if true, would support an impeachment charge.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): But, says Harvard Law School's Noah Feldman ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The President of the United States.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): -- that doesn't mean the president could or should be impeached. We will explore that question later in the hour.

But first, we need to go back to understand what happens when democracy depends on impeaching the president.

We now think of Watergate as a time when America came together and forced a crooked president out of office. But to Richard Nixon and the Republican Party, the Watergate scandal was a partisan war.

NIXON: It was a fiery front war with the Fifth Column. I had a partisan Senate committee staff, special prosecutor staff, media. We had a partisan Senate Judiciary Committee staff, a Fifth Column. I gave them a sword and they stuck it in and they twisted it with relish.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): The real story of the war Nixon describes is one that few Americans know. It's a story of a small group of men, who turned impeachment into an act of patriotism. It all begins on June 17th, 1972.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Five men were arrested early Saturday while trying to install eavesdropping equipment at the Democratic National Committee.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Why was someone breaking into the Democrats' campaign offices?

NIXON: I again proudly accept that nomination for President of the United States.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Well, Richard Nixon won the presidency in 1968 by promising to get America out of Vietnam. (MUSIC PLAYING)

ZAKARIA (voice-over): But as the war dragged on, the antiwar movement exploded. As Nixon campaigned for a second term, he feared Vietnam might give his enemies the ammunition to defeat him.

And so his men planned a series of dirty tricks to cripple the Democrats. One of them was the Watergate break-in. In 1972, Nixon won reelection by a historic landslide.

NIXON: I, Richard Nixon, do solemnly swear.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): But the Watergate story was still growing. So just weeks after the election, inside the Oval Office, Richard Nixon declared war on the press.

NIXON: The press is the enemy. The press is the enemy. The press is the enemy. Write that on the blackboard 100 times and never forget it.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Sound familiar?

TRUMP: You are the enemy of the people. Go ahead.

Well, I called the fake news the enemy of the people.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): There are other reminders of the present day. Donald Trump directs particular anger at certain news organizations.

TRUMP: It's like the failing "New York Times," which is like so bad. Or CNN, which is so bad and so pathetic. They are the fake, fake, disgusting news.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Nixon went after "The Washington Post," whose reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, led Watergate coverage.

NIXON: I want it clearly understood that from now on, ever, no reporter from "The Washington Post" is ever to be in the White House.

Is that clear?


NIXON: None ever to be in. Now that is a total order. And if necessary, I will fire you, you understand?

ZIEGLER: I do understand.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Nixon hated the press --


ZAKARIA (voice-over): -- because it was digging into the very story he was desperate to hide, that the White House was deeply involved in the Watergate cover-up. His campaign seemed to work. Early in his second term, Nixon's approval rating soared. But then

came the first crack in the White House defense. In the summer of 1973, all of America was riveted by the Senate Watergate hearings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did the president know and when did he know it?

ZAKARIA (voice-over): As the country watched, White House counsel John Dean turned on his president.

JOHN DEAN, NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I began by telling the president that there was a cancer growing on the presidency.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Dean testified that the Watergate burglars were blackmailing White House aides.

DEAN: The White House was now being directly subject to blackmail and I didn't know how to handle it.

I told him I could only make an estimate that it might be as high as $1 million or more. He told me that that was no problem.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): It was John Dean's word against the President of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, nothing less than Richard Nixon's presidency may ride on whether the public believes John Dean or not.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Most Republicans continued to stand by their president. But then, from a little known White House aide, a dramatic twist.

ALEXANDER BUTTERFIELD, NIXON WHITE HOUSE AIDE: My name is Alexander Porter Butterfield.

Mr. Butterfield, are you aware of the installation of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the president?

BUTTERFIELD: I was aware of listening devices, yes, sir.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): It was a bombshell.

SAM DONALDSON, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: The pressure is on the president to produce those tapes.

NAFTALI: Had it not been for the tapes, I'm convinced Richard Nixon would have completed his second term.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Instead, Nixon would spent the rest of his presidency trying to keep anyone from hearing them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The White House made it clear today that President Nixon has decided not to release tapes of his conversations.

NIXON: If I were to make public these tapes, the confidentiality of the Office of the President would always be suspect from now on. ZAKARIA (voice-over): He fought subpoena after subpoena.

NIXON: I have never heard or seen such outrageous, vicious, distorted reporting.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Even as he tried to convince the American people that Watergate was a press creation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is it about television coverage of you in these past weeks and months that has so aroused your anger?

NIXON: Don't get the impression that you arouse my anger.


NIXON: One can only be angry with those he respects.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, Mr. President.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Finally, a drastic step.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing like this has ever happened before.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our offices have been sealed by the FBI.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): A mass firing of the men pursuing the tapes, the Saturday night massacre.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The news caused a sensation in the White House Press Room and sent reporters scrambling for their telephones.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A grave and profound crisis in which the president has set himself against his own attorney general and the Department of Justice.

DONALDSON: Mayor Wilby (ph), does it have to do with a resignation of the attorney general?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it might.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): By the time it was over, the attorney general, the deputy attorney general and the special prosecutor were all out.

NAFTALI: The bipartisan American outrage changes the politics of the situation for Richard Nixon.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Tens of thousands of telegrams flooded Washington.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So many, Western Union was swamped. Most of them demanded impeaching Mr. Nixon.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Nixon was forced to appoint a new special prosecutor. And as the months went on, bit by bit, he was forced to turn over the tapes. They were as damning as he had feared. White House counsel John Dean's testimony turned out to be entirely accurate.

NIXON: How much money do you need?

DEAN: I would say these people are going to cost a million dollars over the next two years.

NIXON: You could get a million dollars and you could get it in cash. I know where it could be gotten.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): It was clear, Nixon's defenses were beginning to crumble.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you consider the crimes to be impeachable if they did apply to you?

NIXON: Well, I've also quit beating my wife.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The meeting will come to order.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): In July of 1974, in a packed hearing room, the House Judiciary Committee began to debate removing the president.

REP. PETER RODINO (D), NEW JERSEY: Make no mistake --


RODINO: -- about it. This is a turning point, whatever we decide.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Committee chairman Peter Rodino was a Democratic machine liberal from Newark, New Jersey. He was new to the job. Some doubted whether he could handle it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A highly partisan prosecution if ever there was one.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Many Nixon loyalists were angry and still immovable. For Republicans, impeaching their president was tantamount to political suicide. So they kept holding out for more evidence.

REP. CHARLES SANDMAN (R), NEW JERSEY: The weight of evidence must be clear. It must be convincing. And let's keep to those two words. You can't substitute them for anything else, clear and convincing.

But you cannot and you should not, under any circumstance, attempt to remove the highest office in the world for anything less than clear and convincing.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): But as emotions began to run high, the facts were calmly recited and documented. And something surprising happened.

REP. LARRY HOGAN (R): There is an obstruction of justice going on. Someone is trying to buy the silence of a witness.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Nixon Republican Larry Hogan, the father of Maryland's current governor, was moved by the evidence.

HOGAN: The thing that is so appalling to me is that the president, when this whole idea was suggested to him, didn't, in righteous indignation, rise up and say, get out of here. You are in the Office of the President of the United States.

How can you talk about blackmail and bribery and keeping witnesses silent?

This is the presidency of the United States.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): One by one, rock-ribbed conservatives, who had revered the president, put conscience over party.

REP. CALDWELL BUTLER (R), VIRGINIA: I cannot condone what I have heard, I cannot excuse it and I cannot and will not stand still for it.

REP. THOMAS RAILSBACK (R), ILLINOIS: I wish the president could do something to absolve himself.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Perhaps the most conservative Southerner was Walter Flowers of Alabama. He had served as the segregationist George Wallace's campaign chairman.

WALTER FLOWERS, WALLACE CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: I wake up nights, at least on those nights I have been able to go to sleep lately, wondering if this could not be some sort of dream.

Impeach the President of the United States?

ZAKARIA (voice-over): But he did vote to impeach, even though Walter Flowers said it gave him an ulcer. Even the conservatives who stuck with the president reached across the aisle to say thank you.

REP. TRENT LOTT (R), MISSISSIPPI: I must admit, in all candidness, that it has been very fair.

REP. ROBERT MCCLORY (R), ILLINOIS: This impeachment inquiry has been both historic and honorable.

NAFTALI: Republicans understood that they were not going to carry their base if they voted for impeachment. And some of them did it anyway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All those in favor, signify by saying aye. All those opposed, no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Donahoe (ph)?








ZAKARIA (voice-over): The committee approved three articles of impeachment.




ZAKARIA (voice-over): Obstruction of justice.


ZAKARIA (voice-over): Contempt of Congress.




ZAKARIA (voice-over): Abuse of power.














ZAKARIA (voice-over): Chairman Peter Rodino left the room and cried.

Official impeachment would come later with a full House vote. But it never happened. Nixon's wall of Republican defenders had crumbled.

WALTER CRONKITE, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: There's a countdown of sorts on tonight, a countdown toward the expected end of the Nixon presidency.

ZIEGLER: Tonight at 9 o'clock, Eastern Daylight time, the President of the United States will address the nation.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): It was over.

NIXON: I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as president, I must put the interests of America first. Therefore, I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): The impeachment the framers had imagined, it worked. Democracy worked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is the president, waving goodbye.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): But the scandal itself triggered a loss of faith in government and in politicians. It would be 25 years before impeachment would come up again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your testimony is subject to the penalty of perjury, do you understand that, sir?

ZAKARIA (voice-over): This time --


ZAKARIA (voice-over): -- it was a completely different story.





CLINTON: In all my life I've wanted to be involved with people.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): In 1978, a bright-eyed 32-year-old Bill Clinton was running for governor of Arkansas.

CLINTON: I've tried to bring out the best in people through politics and I've really been very happy doing it.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): He and his wife, Hillary, were also investing in some real estate, a nice little patch of land in the Ozarks called Whitewater. That plot of land on the White River, a two-bit real estate deal that ended up losing money, would change the course of history. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you a subject or a target?

Did they read you your rights?

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Decades later ...

WILLIAMS: The Whitewater controversy --


BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: Political turbulence over Whitewater.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Whitewater became a massive spiraling investigation that led prosecutors to a sex scandal ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ayes have it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: William Jefferson Clinton is impeached.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): -- that became the second presidential impeachment in American history.

How on Earth did that little corner of Arkansas ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hereby deliver these articles of impeachment.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): -- explode into a constitutional showdown?

PETER BAKER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": It was a two-bit real estate deal and yet somehow one thing leads to another. And we are on the House floor debating whether the President of the United States should be removed from office.

CLINTON: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.


ZAKARIA (voice-over): We think of a certain White House intern. But before there was Monica, there were the McDougals, Jim and Susan. Clinton might never have been impeached if not for them.

It was Jim McDougal who had convinced the Clintons to invest in Whitewater and they had other financial ties as well. So when Jim and Susan landed in legal trouble for fraud ...

JIM MACDOUGAL, CLINTON COLLEAGUE: If I am found guilty, I'll go to the slammer.

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: Whitewater development is not going to go away. There are too many questions.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): The Clintons came under fire, too.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Questions have been raised about the Clinton's financial and personal involvement with McDougal.

BAKER: In the end, nothing came of it in terms of the Clintons themselves but it planted the seed for something much bigger, something that would lead to this ultimate constitutional confrontation.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): There was a growing drumbeat for an independent counsel to investigate Whitewater.

CLINTON: We did nothing improper and I have nothing to say about it.



CLINTON: Old story.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Clinton had a fateful choice to make: block a special counsel and take a beating in the press ...

BLITZER: It appears to be a case of the president's past coming back to haunt him.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): -- or give in, leaving himself open to a potentially limitless investigation. The president gave in.

CLINTON: I don't want to be distracted by this anymore. Let them look into it. I just want to go back to work.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Years later, he would call that decision one of the biggest miscalculations of his presidency.

BAKER: Once you have an independent counsel appointed with no budget and no limits, the prosecutors will keep looking for the crime until they can find it.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): The first special prosecutor, Robert Fisk ...

ROBERT FISK, SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: As quickly and as thoroughly as possible.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): -- vowed to wrap up his investigation quickly. But he was replaced and his successor, Ken Starr, was far more aggressive ...

KEN STARR, SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: Our job is to gather facts and to get at the truth.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): -- expanding the inquiry way beyond Whitewater --

STARR: -- which is -- which is --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How is this Whitewater?

BAKER: The investigation kind of leads in all these different directions.

GINGRICH: This is truly a wildly historic night. I mean, this is just --


ZAKARIA (voice-over): No one could have been happier with Starr's aggressive approach than Newt Gingrich and the Republicans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There has been a sea change in American politics.

SEN. BOB DOLE, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are winning. We are winning.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): They had swept into Congress in 1994.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is an earthquake.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Preaching a new gospel of strict orthodox conservatism.

NAFTALI: Newt Gingrich reshapes the Republican Party. Our base wants this, we do this. We do not compromise with Democrats.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): President Clinton became the Democrat the Republicans despised the most. He was morally corrupt, they said.

CLINTON: I experimented with marijuana a time or two and didn't inhale.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Creative with the truth.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was Bill Clinton's lover for 12 years.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): And a womanizer.

CLINTON: These tabloid accusations were false.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, YAHOO! NEWS: They viewed him as almost an imposter as president.

STARR: The law is the law. The law is sacred.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Meanwhile, Ken Starr had been digging into the Clintons for more than two years -- to no avail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to be working for the Congress or the courts or the public?

ZAKARIA (voice-over): His investigation was winding down.

STARR: I'm not going to be making any statements.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Then out of the blue, some explosive tape recordings came his way.

MONICA LEWINSKY, CLINTON WHITE HOUSE AIDE: I never expected to feel this way about him.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Conversations with Monica Lewinsky ...

LEWINSKY: We fooled around.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): -- that were secretly recorded by her coworker, Linda Tripp.

LINDA TRIPP, LEWINSKY FRIEND: If you get to orgasm, that's having sex.

LEWINSKY: No, it's not.

TRIPP: Yes, it is.

LEWINSKY: No, it's not.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Starr expanded his investigation even further, to look into Lewinsky.

ISIKOFF: My instant reaction is, that's nuts. I couldn't believe that Starr was going down this road.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you understand, sir, that your answers to my questions today are testimony that is being given under oath?


ZAKARIA (voice-over): Starr learned that the president was testifying about Lewinsky in another matter.

PAULA JONES, CLINTON ACCUSER: It's just humiliating, what he did to me.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): A sexual harassment lawsuit brought by Paula Jones.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your testimony is subject to the penalty of perjury.

Do you understand that, sir?


ZAKARIA: In his testimony, Clinton was not truthful about Lewinsky.

CLINTON: I never had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. I never had an affair with her.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Starr now had a case for perjury.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are new allegations of infidelity and perjury this morning against President Clinton.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Over the next few months, all hell broke loose.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Charges of sex, lies and audiotapes.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Clinton kept denying the affair.

CLINTON: There is no improper relationship. The allegations I have read are not true.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): But Starr was able to get Monica Lewinsky's dress that had Clinton's DNA on it. The president was forced to tell the truth.

CLINTON: Indeed, I did have a relationship with Ms. Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong.



SCHIEFFER: -- considerable details.

BLITZER: There was, in fact, semen on that dress.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many viewers may find it somewhat offensive.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Starr released a detailed X-rated account of the scandal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "Bringing her to orgasm on two occasions."

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Listing 11 possible grounds for impeachment, including lying under oath and obstruction of justice.

It's easy to forget in hindsight but Bill Clinton was in real danger of being pushed out of office. Many of his fellow Democrats were furious with him.

SEN. DANIEL MOYNIHAN (D), NEW YORK: "Let justice be done though the heavens fall."

BAKER: If they came to the White House like the Republicans did with Nixon in 1974 and said your time's up, that would have been it.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): But Clinton, the ultimate comeback kid.

CLINTON: I never should have misled the country --

ZAKARIA (voice-over): That was able to rally the party and the country back to his side.

CLINTON: I will continue to do all I can to reclaim the trust of the American people and to serve them well.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): His behavior may have been reprehensible, his allies said, but he was hardly the threat to the republic that impeachment was designed for. The American public agreed. The Democrats scored a shocking upset in the midterm elections, gaining seats in the House. BOB WOODWARD, "THE WASHINGTON POST": The Lewinsky issue didn't carry any weight.

CARLSON: I'd say the Republicans got stung.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Newt Gingrich, who had predicted a big Republican victory ...

GINGRICH: We have a chance to win some very startling victories all over the country.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): -- lost his job as Speaker.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shouldering the blame for a disappointing election.

NAFTALI: Impeachment is a two-edged sword. You may intend to use it against your executive enemy but it could very well hurt you even more politically.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): President Clinton was thrilled, thinking he was in the clear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On Capitol Hill, Tom Delay is known as The Hammer.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): But hardcore conservatives, led by House Majority Whip Tom Delay, were hell-bent on impeaching him anyway.

REP. TOM DELAY (R), MAJORITY WHIP: The House has no choice but to proceed with an impeachment inquiry.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Some Republicans preferred a lesser punishment for Clinton, censure rather than impeachment. But Delay's political maneuvering took that option off the table.

BAKER: Republicans were given a choice: you either impeach him or you let him off.

Which is it going to be?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Article I is adopted.

SHAW: We have witnessed history.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): The House impeached Bill Clinton almost entirely along party lines.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The president, resigned that his legacy will be forever scarred today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On this article of impeachment.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): In the Senate, he was easily acquitted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: William Jefferson Clinton is not guilty. NAFTALI: In retrospect, the 1998-99 effort to impeach and remove Clinton is viewed as a partisan endeavor because the American people spoke in the midterms in 1998 and said we don't really want to impeach this president.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): After the Senate trial, Congress took the law that created Ken Starr's job and let it die.

STARR: No, I'm not going to comment.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): A bipartisan acknowledgement that things had gone too far.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Women will be silent no more.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): But today, in the #MeToo era, Clinton's impeachment is being seriously reconsidered, his affair with a young intern seen by many as an abuse of power.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), N.Y.: My greatest mentor, Hillary Clinton.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, who holds Hillary Clinton's old Senate seat ...

GILLIBRAND: Women's voices matter.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): -- said last year that Bill Clinton should have resigned.

GILLIBRAND: The kinds of behavior that was tolerated a long time ago would never be tolerated today and we can't allow it to be tolerated today.





GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, George Walker Bush, do solemnly swear.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): When George Bush was sworn in as the 43rd President of the United States ...

BUSH 43: So help me God.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): -- the cloud of Bill Clinton's impeachment still hung over the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The President of the United States, George W. Bush.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): What no one knew then was that a new kind of partisan warfare had been unleashed. Every president that came after Clinton has had to contend with impeachment fever.



BAKER: It no longer seemed unthinkable to impeach a president because we'd just done it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He lied to us. He should be impeached.

NAFTALI: Impeachment went from being something that you use only in moments of constitutional crisis to something you use for everyday partisan facts. That is a horrible development for the American people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a grotesque sight to look at.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): After one of the most traumatic moments in American history, the country came together.

BUSH 43: I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you and the people -- and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): The country supported President Bush as he took the United States into battle to destroy Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. But there were none.

And the occupation of Iraq was a tragic mess. An antiwar movement grew quickly. And it used impeachment as a weapon.

BRENDA STOKELY, AFSCME-NY DISTRICT COUNCIL 1707 PRESIDENT: Bring down these war criminals like Bush. He needs to be impeached.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Impeachment talk got louder.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will the House come to order.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): And Democratic congressman --


ZAKARIA (voice-over): -- Dennis Kucinich introduced dozens of articles of impeachment. But the leader of the Democrats, Nancy Pelosi, wanted none of it.

NANCY PELOSI, HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Impeachment is off the table.

NAFTALI: Disagreements over policy were not intended by the founders to be the bases for a serious attempt at impeachment.

FELDMAN: It's not a crime or a misdemeanor under the Constitution to make a mistake.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): After Bush's mistake, the country was totally polarized in its view of the president and the partisan gap was the widest ever recorded.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States and the Vice President --

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Impeachment fever would only get worse under the next president.

OBAMA: Change has come to America.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): In 2008, Barack Obama was elected on a promise, to help heal the country's extreme partisan divide.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, we can! Yes, we can!

ZAKARIA (voice-over): But the candidate who campaigned on "Yes, we can," ran into a wall of Republican opposition.


ZAKARIA (voice-over): The Tea Party formed around an almost fanatical opposition to Barack Obama. In 2010, it propelled a wave of new Republicans to Congress.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What does it feel like?

OBAMA: It feels bad.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): This new hyperpartisan Congress presided over a growing impeachment movement.

JOSHUA MATZ, BLOGGER AND AUTHOR, "TO END A PRESIDENCY: THE POWER OF IMPEACHMENT": When you promise that you are out to impeach the president, you can make a name for yourself. You can raise money. You can rally the base.

OBAMA: Impeach him?


OBAMA: Really?

NAFTALI: Impeachment is not supposed to be used a rallying cry to get people to vote for you. Both sides played around with it.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Impeachment campaigns against Presidents Bush and Obama never gained legitimacy or real legislative support.

So, one could argue, who cares?

It's only talk.

NAFTALI: If you play around with impeachment that way, over time, the American people are going to misunderstand its constitutional power and its necessity.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): When Barack Obama left office, he was more popular than George Bush but the gap between the people who loved him and the people who hated him was even larger than it had been with President Bush.

ZAKARIA: The stark polarization of the last few years is the worst in American history with one exception: the period around the Civil War.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): On April 15th, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The country was still deeply divided over the Civil War.

Enter Andrew Johnson, the vice president who succeeded Lincoln. Johnson was a Southern Democrat, whom Lincoln had picked to create a national unity ticket. There are few things historians agree upon but this is one. Andrew Johnson was one of America's worst presidents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was essentially an incredibly racist neo- Confederate who was dead-set against Congress' program of reconstructing the South.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Republicans in Congress despised Andrew Johnson.

FELDMAN: He stood for the repression of African Americans, whom a war had just been fought to liberate.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): President Johnson vetoed almost all the measures to give civil liberties and representation to blacks. The Republican-controlled Congress decided to wage a political war.

FELDMAN: It set an impeachment trap for him.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): That trap was the Tenure of Office Act.

FELDMAN: Congress passed a law over Johnson's veto that said he could not fire his own cabinet members.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): When President Johnson fired his Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, the House approved 11 articles of impeachment against him, one of which accused the president of bringing Congress into ridicule and disgrace.

NAFTALI: Their entire approach to impeachment was partisan and ideological. However bad a president Andrew Johnson was, there were no grounds to remove him.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): The country was one vote away from removing President Andrew Johnson from office, essentially because Congress did not like him or his policies.

MATZ: Johnson basically agreed to cease all of the behavior that had been so problematic to go along with the congressional reconstruction program.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Historians today regard the impeachment trap as unconstitutional.

MATZ: Impeachment fell into disrepute.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Johnson's impeachment would serve as a warning about the consequences of a partisan impeachment in a sharply divided country.

MATZ: It raises blood pressures and in some perverse ways it actually makes impeachment harder to use when you might really need it.





ZAKARIA: At the end of each of my specials, I've always stood before you and given you my views on the topic at hand. I'm going to do that now but in a slightly different way. Impeachment is such a combustible issue with political, legal and historical dimensions, that I thought it best to ask the basic questions we all wonder about and then listen to what some of our experts had to say.


ZAKARIA (voice-over): It's important to understand that impeachment is a political process. An impeachable offense is, at the end of the day, whatever Congress defines as such. But we live in a constitutional republic shaped by law and history.

So what can we say about the mandate given to Congress under which you can impeach a president?

In other words, what are high crimes and misdemeanors?

FELDMAN: High crimes and misdemeanors --


FELDMAN: -- which is the phrase used in the Constitution, has a very concrete, specific meaning. "High" means pertaining to high office. So if your crime or misdemeanor has nothing to do with your office, you're not really covered by the framers' idea of impeachment.

NAFTALI: If you look carefully at the reasoning of Republicans and Democrats who have voted for impeachment over the course of our history, you'll notice that they always come back to the idea that some action or some pattern of conduct by the chief executive represents a threat to our democracy and to our Constitution.

ZAKARIA: One of the questions we must all wonder about is, why is it that we hear so much talk about impeachment these days?

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Bush, Obama and now Trump. When did this all start?

MATZ: It really has been about 20 years from the Clinton impeachment that impeachment talk has so overtaken our political discourse. President Trump came to office with about one-third of the American public already supporting his impeachment. That's extraordinary.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): And that gets us to the elephant in the room.

ZAKARIA: Has Donald Trump committed offenses that could be considered impeachable?

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Like money laundering, which some suspect in his real estate deals, or fraud, involving Trump University, or tax evasion, which is why some theorize he won't show us his tax returns.

FELDMAN: Crimes that Trump may allegedly have committed before he had anything to do with the office of the presidency do not count as high crimes and misdemeanors and they would not be impeachable offenses, in my view.

ZAKARIA: What about the issue of obstruction of justice?

FELDMAN: Obstruction of justice is a charge that was used both against Richard Nixon and against Bill Clinton. And if it's real, it's a very strong ground for impeachment.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Harvard Law professor Noah Feldman says, that when the president fired James Comey, he may have committed obstruction of justice.

FELDMAN: My own view is that he could have done so if he did it with corrupt intent. It's true that the FBI director works for the president and the president has the right to remove him on any whim that he might have.

But the fact that the president can remove Comey doesn't mean that it's permissible for him to do if he did it for gain.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): To prove that, you'd need a smoking gun.

FELDMAN: It's very hard to prove corrupt intent.

ZAKARIA: Feldman does see possible charges in another case, Michael Cohen's sworn testimony that the president directed him to make an illegal payment to Stormy Daniels. Cohen says it was made to influence the election.

FELDMAN: A president who distorts the electoral process and breaks the law in doing so is someone who is potentially impeachable.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The president thinks this is a witch hunt.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): And what about special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation? FELDMAN: If there were evidence that Donald Trump further colluded with Russians in a way that undercuts the legitimacy of the election, that would be an even deeper parallel to the Richard Nixon case.

NIXON: -- see the constitutional process through to its conclusion.

ZAKARIA: Of course, we don't yet know what Mueller may have found in his investigation. But there was one area where I was surprised to find considerable agreement among our experts. All spoke with wariness about wielding the sword of impeachment.

NAFTALI: Impeachment is capital punishment for a presidency. It's something that Congress should not consider unless all other avenues are no longer open.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): And what would an impeachment process look like in the deeply divided America that we live in today?

MATZ: A lot of folks think that impeachment just falls out of the sky like some kind of sword of Damocles. And I'm here to tell you that it doesn't. Congress has to decide whether impeachment is the right move.

ZAKARIA: Unless there is overwhelming proof that the majority of the country accepts, impeachment will not bring this country together.

MATZ: It creates a crisis of domestic governance. It activates the worst kinds of partisan tribalism on all sides of the aisle.

FELDMAN: The only circumstances where I would actively support impeachment would be where there was evidence so glaring that failure to impeach would essentially show the hypocrisy of the whole system.

ZAKARIA: In other words, America might be too polarized today to be able to deal with an impeachment honestly and responsibly. That's a dark verdict on the state of our politics but it rings true and it has a worrying consequence.

MATZ: When you live in a world of broken politics and when you live in a world of extraordinary partisan polarization, it just may not be possible to generate the consensus necessary to use the impeachment power.

That's a scary thought. There may be circumstances where we just can't wait for the next election. And I don't have --


MATZ: -- a reassuring answer to that.

ZAKARIA: Throughout this special report, I have tried not to tell you what to think about this explosive issue but to give you the facts and context to help you think. I hope I've succeeded.

And that is our program tonight. I'm Fareed Zakaria. Thank you for joining us.