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On the Brink: When a President Faces Impeachment. Aired 11p- 12a ET

Aired November 27, 2019 - 23:00   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: This is what impeachment looks like.

NIXON: Ollie, only the CBS crew now is to be in this room during this. Only the crew. No -- no there will be no picture -- no -- after the broadcast. You've taken your picture.

ZAKARIA: Facing certain removal, Richard Nixon is moments away from resigning as president.

NIXON: It's enough, OK? All Secret Service -- are there any Secret Service in the room?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's plenty, Mr. President.


ZAKARIA: There can be no greater fall from no greater height.

COLDPLAY (singing): I used to rule the world. Seas would rise when I gave the word. Now in the morning I sleep alone, sweep the streets I used to own.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five men were nabbed in the Democratic national headquarters here in Washington.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nixon was desperate.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's thinking what am I going to do?

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

NIXON: I'm not a crook.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hold on a second.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One thing leads to another.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A grave and profound crisis.

COLDPLAY (singing): One minute I held the key. Next, the walls were closed on me, and I discovered that my castles stand upon pillars of sand, pillars of sand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're 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: President Nixon --




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a fallen leader.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ayes have it. Impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors.

NIXON: I have impeached myself.

COLDPLAY (singing): That's when I ruled the world.

ZAKARIA: Impeachment is no longer just history. Good evening. I'm Fareed Zakaria.

It is happening now. The House is conducting an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. We don't yet know how this will end, but we do know we need history more than we ever have. It's the only guide to how and why and even if this president should be impeached.

Remember the Founding Fathers who wrote the impeachment clause had just fought a revolution to escape the tyranny of kings. Their goal was to keep the president from becoming an elected monarch, unrestrained in his exercise of power.

Together, they carefully weighed what the grounds for impeachment should be. They agreed on treason and bribery. Also proposed was maladministration. James Madison objected. He said that was too vague. Impeachment wasn't a remedy for a bad president.

But what if a president, Madison asked, 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 a broader phrase -- "high crimes and misdemeanors," and that is Article II, Section 4 of the American Constitution.

There was a moment in our history when it saved American democracy. But at other times, it's been turned into a cheap political trick hurled at opponents as a weapon. So which is it right now?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president deserves to be impeached.


ZAKARIA (voice-over): Almost three years into the Trump presidency, calls for his impeachment come every day, sometimes every hour.

REP. MAXINE WATERS (D-CA): I say impeachment, impeachment, impeachment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Impeach Trump! Impeach Trump! Impeach Trump!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Impeach Trump! Impeach Trump! Impeach Trump!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Impeach Trump! Impeach Trump! Impeach Trump!

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

ZAKARIA: But this was just one day after Donald Trump was elected president.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, hey, ho, ho. Donald Trump has got to go!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey, hey, ho, ho. Donald Trump has got to go!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, hey, ho, ho. Donald Trump has got to go!

ZAKARIA: From the first moment, Donald Trump has been the most polarizing president in an already bitterly divided America.

TRUMP: We will impeach him. We will impeach him.

The people said, But he hasn't done anything wrong.

Oh, that doesn't matter. We will impeach the president. TIMOTHY NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN/CO-AUTHOR, "IMPEACHMENT:

AN AMERICAN HISTORY": 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: That dangerous state of affairs -- we disagree on the facts, on reality itself -- is reflected in how Americans feel about impeachment.

In a new CNN poll, exactly half of Americans say they support the impeachment and removal of Donald Trump. But is the case strong enough?

About a year ago at the height of the Mueller investigation, I put that question to one of the country's premier constitutional scholars.

NOAH FELDMAN, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: I'm not calling for the impeachment of Donald Trump. I think it would be very unwise to pursue impeachment unless there were a high probability of removing the president from office. And as I read the circumstances now, there isn't a high probability of that.

ZAKARIA: That was then. This is now.

FELDMAN: So here you have the president of the United States abusing his power openly.

ZAKARIA: Noah Feldman is talking about Trump's apparent quid pro quo to Ukraine: Investigate the Bidens, or we won't give you the aid money.

FELDMAN: It's extremely clear that it is a quid pro quo. It's laughable to think that the president was not trying to gain personally in investigating Joe Biden.

ZAKARIA: This constitutional scholar is worried about the very survival of America's defining document.

FELDMAN: It's absolutely essential to the entire constitutional structure. If the president abuses his power, Congress has to check the president's actions. It's the only branch with that authority and responsibility, and that's what the impeachment process is fundamentally for. And the Constitution will fail.

ZAKARIA: In other words, for Feldman, democracy may depend on impeaching the president. For others, it is Congress that is overreaching.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): This is un-American.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Honk to impeach!

ZAKARIA: To understand today's crisis, we need to go back to the last time America debated these issues.

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 five-front war with a fifth column. I had a partisan Senate committee staff, special prosecutor staff, media. We had a partisan Judiciary Committee staff, and a fifth column. I gave them a sword, and they stuck it in, and they twisted it with relish.

ZAKARIA: 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 17, 1972.

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

ZAKARIA: Why was someone breaking into the Democrats' campaign offices?

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

ZAKARIA: Well, Richard Nixon won the presidency in 1968 by promising to get America out of Vietnam.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (SINGING): All we are saying --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you listening, Nixon?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (SINGING): -- is give peace a chance.

ZAKARIA: But as the war dragged on, the anti-war 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.

NIXON: I suppose he went up the wall?

ZAKARIA: Cripple the Democrats. One of them was the Watergate break- in. In 1972, Nixon won re-election by a historic landslide.

NIXON: I, Richard Nixon, do solemnly swear --

ZAKARIA: 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.

ZAKARIA: Nixon hated the press, because it was digging into the very story he was desperate to hide, that the White House was deeply involved in the Watergate coverup. His campaign seemed to work. Early in his second term, Nixon's

approval ratings 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.

HOWARD BAKER (R), FORMER TENNESSEE SENATOR: What did the president know and when did he know it?

ZAKARIA: As the country watched, White House counsel John Dean turned on his president.

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

ZAKARIA: 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 a million dollars or more. He told me that that was no problem.

ZAKARIA: It was John Dean's word against the president of the United States.

DEAN: I have no comment.

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

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

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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: It was a bombshell.

DAN RATHER, FORMER CBS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: 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 a second term.

ZAKARIA: Instead, Nixon would spend the rest of his presidency trying to keep anyone from hearing them. He fought subpoena after subpoena.

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

ZAKARIA: Even as he tried to convince the American people that Watergate was a press creation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is it about the 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. One can only be angry with those he respects.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, Mr. President!

ZAKARIA: Finally, a drastic step.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing like this has ever happened before.

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

ZAKARIA: A mass firing of the men pursuing the tapes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No one is allowed in at the moment.

ZAKARIA: 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.

SAM DONALDSON, FORMER ABC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Does it have to do with the resignation of the attorney general?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it might.

ZAKARIA: 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: Tens of thousands of telegrams flooded Washington.

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

ZAKARIA: 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: 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.

PETER RODINO (D), FORMER NEW JERSEY CONGRESSMAN: The meeting will come to order.

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

RODINO: Make no mistake about it. This is a turning point, whatever we decide.


ZAKARIA: 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.

CHARLES SANDMAN (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY CONGRESSMAN: A highly partisan prosecution if ever there was one.

ZAKARIA: 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.

SANDMAN: 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: But as emotions began to run high, the facts were calmly recited and documented. And something surprising happened.

LARRY HOGAN (R), FORMER MARYLAND CONGRESSMAN: There's an obstruction of justice going on. Someone's trying to buy the silence of a witness.

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

HOGAN: The thing that's 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're 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: One by one, rock-ribbed (ph) conservatives who had revered the president put conscience over party.

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

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

ZAKARIA: Perhaps the most conservative southerner was Walter Flowers of Alabama. He had served as the segregationist George Wallace's campaign chairman.

WALTER FLOWERS (R), FORMER ALABAMA CONGRESSMAN: I wake up nights, at least on those nights I've been able to go to sleep lately, wondering if this could not be some sordid dream. Impeach the president of the United States.

ZAKARIA: 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.

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

ROBERT MCCLORY (R), FORMER ILLINOIS CONGRESSMAN: 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."








ZAKARIA: The committee approved three articles of impeachment --




ZAKARIA: -- obstruction of justice, contempt of Congress, abuse of power.













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

RON ZIEGLER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, the president of the United States will address the nation.

ZAKARIA: 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: The impeachment the framers had imagined, it worked. Democracy worked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is the president waving good-bye, and you hear the applause.

ZAKARIA: But the scandal itself triggered a loss of faith in government and in politicians.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did they read you your rights?

ZAKARIA: 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: This time --


ZAKARIA: -- it was a completely different story.



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

ZAKARIA: 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: 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?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did they read you your rights?

ZAKARIA: Decades later --

JENNINGS: The Whitewater controversy.


BERNARD SHAW, FORMER CNN ANCHOR: Political turbulence over Whitewater.

ZAKARIA: Whitewater became a massive, spiraling investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there a deal, Monica?

ZAKARIA: That led prosecutors to a sex scandal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ayes have it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: William Jefferson Clinton is impeached.

ZAKARIA: 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: -- explode into a constitutional showdown?


PETER BAKER, CO-AUTHOR, "IMPEACHMENT: AN AMERICAN HISTORY: 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, Miss Lewinsky.

ZAKARIA: When we think of the Clinton impeachment --


ZAKARIA: -- 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 MCDOUGAL, FORMER FINANCIAL PARTNER WITH THE CLINTONS: If I'm found guilty, I'll go to the slammer.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER GEORGIA CONGRESSMAN: Whitewater development is not going to go away. There are too many questions.

ZAKARIA: -- the Clintons came under fire, too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Questions have been raised about the Clintons' financial and personal involvement with McDougal.

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

ZAKARIA: 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: Clinton had a fateful choice to make: block a special counsel and take a beating in the press --

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

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

P. 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: The first special prosecutor, Robert Fiske --

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

ZAKARIA: -- vowed to wrap up his investigation quickly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's get out of the way. Would you guys get down?

ZAKARIA: But he was replaced, and his successor, Ken Starr, was far more aggressive --

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

ZAKARIA: -- expanding the inquiry way beyond Whitewater.

STARR: Which is -- which --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How is this Whitewater?

P. 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: No one could have been happier with Starr's aggressive approach than Newt Gingrich and the Republicans.

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


ZAKARIA: They had swept into Congress in 1994.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is an earthquake.

ZAKARIA: 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: 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: Creative with the truth.

GENNIFER FLOWERS, ACCUSED BILL CLINTON OF AFFAIR: I was Bill Clinton's lover for 12 years.

ZAKARIA: And a womanizer.

CLINTON: These tabloid accusations were false.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, AUTHOR, "UNCOVERING CLINTON": They viewed him as almost an imposter as president.

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

ZAKARIA: 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 Congress or the courts or the public?

ZAKARIA: His investigation was winding down.

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

ZAKARIA: Then out of the blue, some explosive tape recordings came his way.

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

ZAKARIA: Conversations with Monica Lewinsky --

LEWINSKY: We fooled around.

ZAKARIA: -- that were secretly recorded by her co-worker, Linda Tripp.

LINDA TRIPP, FORMER CO-WORKER OF MONICA LEWINSKY: If you get to orgasm, that's having sex.

LEWINSKY: No, it's not.

TRIPP: Yes, it is.

LEWINSKY: No, it's not.

ZAKARIA: 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: Starr learned that the president was testifying about Lewinsky in another matter.


ZAKARIA: 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've never had an affair with her.

ZAKARIA: Starr now had a case for perjury.

DARYN KAGAN, FORMER CNN ANCHOR: There are new allegations of infidelity and perjury this morning against President Clinton.

ZAKARIA: Over the next few months, all hell broke loose.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Charges of sex, lies, and audiotapes.

ZAKARIA: Clinton kept denying the affair.


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

ZAKARIA: 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 Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This goes into considerable detail.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many viewers may find it somewhat offensive.

ZAKARIA: Starr released a detailed, X-rated account of the scandal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bringing her to orgasm on two occasions.

ZAKARIA: 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.

DANIEL PATRICK MOYNIHAN (D), FORMER NEW YORK SENATOR: Let justice be done though the heavens fall.

P. 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: But Clinton, the ultimate comeback kid --

CLINTON: I never should have misled the country.

ZAKARIA: -- 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: 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, JOURNALIST: The Lewinsky issue didn't carry any weight.

TUCKER CARLSON, FORMER CNN COMMENTATOR: I'd say Republicans got stumped.

ZAKARIA: 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: -- 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: President Clinton was thrilled, thinking he was in the clear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On Capitol Hill, Tom DeLay is known as the hammer.

ZAKARIA: But hard-core conservatives, led by House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, were hellbent on impeaching him anyway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Article 1 is adopted.

SHAW: We have witness history.

ZAKARIA: The House impeached Bill Clinton almost entirely along party lines.

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


ZAKARIA: In the Senate, he was easily acquitted.

REHNQUIST: -- 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: 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: A bipartisan acknowledgement that things had gone too far.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Women will be silent no more.

ZAKARIA: But today in the "me too" era, Clinton's impeachment is being seriously reconsidered, his affair with a young intern seen by many as an abuse of power.


ZAKARIA: Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, who holds Hillary Clinton's old Senate seat --

GILLIBRAND: Women's voices matter.

ZAKARIA: -- said in 2017 that Bill Clinton should have resigned.

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



ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump refusing to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They shouldn't be having public hearings. This is a hoax.

ZAKARIA: Donald Trump is refusing to comply with the impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives.

TRUMP: Nancy Pelosi, she hands out subpoenas like they're cookies. You want a subpoena? Here you go, take them, like they're cookies.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The president is obstructing Congress from getting the facts that we need.

TRUMP: How do you impeach somebody that's doing a great job?

ZAKARIA: Harvard Law professor Noah Feldman says the president's defiance has plunged this country into a constitutional crisis.

FELDMAN: When Congress is trying to investigate, it must have cooperation from the other branches of government. When the president says, No, I won't participate, the whole system is hamstrung. The Constitution doesn't tell you what should happen next. We're in a genuine crisis.

ZAKARIA: Despite White House orders not to testify, a string of current and former high-level officials have come forward, some with damning evidence against Donald Trump.

NAFTALI: He knows that impeachment is likely, and he wants to be able to run against a partisan impeachment in 2020.

TRUMP: They know they can't win the 2020 election, so they're pursuing the insane impeachment witch hunt.

ZAKARIA: Trump likes to paint impeachment as a partisan war, and the strategy is working in some quarters. That's because, in the last few decades, impeachment has often been used as a political weapon.



NAFTALI: Impeachment went from being something that you use only in moments of constitutional crisis --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Impeach king Obama!

NAFTALI: -- to something you use for everyday partisan battles. That is a horrible development for the American people.


ZAKARIA: 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.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bush can't have my son!

ZAKARIA: An anti-war movement grew quickly, and it used impeachment as a weapon.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bring down these war criminals like Bush. He needs to be impeached.

ZAKARIA: But the leader of the Democrats, Nancy Pelosi, wanted none of it.

PELOSI: 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: 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: The president of the United States. And the vice president of the United States.


ZAKARIA: Impeachment fever would only get worse under the next president.


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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we can. Yes, we can.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, we can. Yes, we can.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we can. Yes, we can.

ZAKARIA: But the candidate who had campaigned on "yes, we can" ran into a wall of Republican opposition.


ZAKARIA: 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: This new hyperpartisan Congress presided over a growing impeachment movement.

JOSHUA MATZ, CO-AUTHOR, "TO END A PRESIDENCY": When you promise that you're out to impeach the president, you can make a name for yourself. You can raise money. You can rally the base.

OBAMA: Impeach him. Really?

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

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

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

On April 15, 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.

NAFTALI: He was essentially an incredibly racist, neo-Confederate who was dead set against Congress's program of reconstructing the south.

ZAKARIA: 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: 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: That trap was called 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: 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: 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: Historians today regard the impeachment trap as unconstitutional.


MATZ: Impeachment fell into disrepute.

ZAKARIA: 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 (on camera): On this crucial issue, I know that many people have quickly taken up firm and unalterable positions. I have not. I think that impeachment is a nuclear option to be undertaken in the most extreme circumstances.


The best mechanism to remove bad leaders in a democracy is through elections.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Impeach Donald Trump!

ZAKARIA: And in today's already deeply polarized climate --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why are you doing this? Are you looking for a fight?

ZAKARIA: -- an impeachment will only make the wounds worse and the healing more difficult.

But as I have written in "The Washington Post," the events of the past few months have led me to support an impeachment inquiry. Let me explain why now and not before.

TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening --

ZAKARIA (voice-over): I believe that Donald Trump's campaign did some shady things in dealing with the Russians, and he seemed too eager to cover it up and fire people that were investigating it. But I thought Robert Mueller was right to paint a somewhat ambiguous picture, and that wasn't enough for me to call for impeachment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Integrity and accountability.

ZAKARIA (on camera): But Trump's efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government are different.

TRUMP: It's a country, I think, with tremendous potential.

ZAKARIA: It appears that acting as the president, using the power and machinery of the United States, he threatened to withhold taxpayer funds for his personal-political gain. That is the definition of abuse of power.

Even many of Trump's defenders argue that what he did was undoubtedly bad, but claimed that it does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense.

What has been far more troubling is Trump's refusal to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.

TRUMP: They're pursuing an illegal, invalid and unconstitutional, bull-(EXPLETIVE DELETED) impeachment.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Other presidents have contested a specific subpoena or a request for documents. Donald Trump is effectively rejecting Congress's ability to hold him accountable at all.

The rule of law has been built over centuries in the western world, but it remains fragile, because it's based on a bluff. The bluff is that, at the highest level, everyone will respect the rules, even though it might not always be possible to enforce compliance.

The rule at the heart of the U.S. system is the separation of powers. The founders' greatest fear was that so much power in the hands of government would mean the end of liberty, so they ensured that power was shared and that each branch would act as a check on the other.

The crucial feature for James Madison, the chief architect of the Constitution, was "giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others."

As he explained in Federalist 51, "Ambition must be made to counteract ambition."

(on camera): But the system only works if all sides respect it. Congress doesn't have an army or police force at its disposal. Nor does the Supreme Court. These branches rely on the president to accept their authority and enforce their laws and rulings.

When the Supreme Court held unanimously that Richard M. Nixon could not use executive privilege to withhold the Watergate tapes, President Nixon immediately agreed to comply, even though he knew it would mean the end of his presidency.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's the president waving good-bye. You hear the applause. ZAKARIA: All modern U.S. presidents, both Republican and Democratic, have expanded their powers, and that expansion has been excessive in the past few decades. But Donald Trump is on a different planet.

TRUMP: I alone can fix it.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): He has refused to comply with wholly constitutional legislative requests for documents, information and testimony. Were his position to prevail, the U.S. president would become an elected dictator.

Impeachment is a political process, which means public support is vital.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Do you solemnly swear or affirm that the testimony you will give today shall be the truth?

ZAKARIA: The inquiry should be undertaken as a great act of public education about the specifics of this case but also about the American system of checks and balances.

(on camera): A democracy can turn into a tyranny, not all at once, with a bang. But over time. Officials, even elected, even popular, can simply weaken and then dispense with constitutional constraints or legislative checks. Liberty is eroded slowly, but irreversibly.

(voice-over): Germany's Weimar Republic was a well-functioning liberal democracy, and within a few short years, using mostly legal processes, it became a totalitarian dictatorship.




ZAKARIA (on camera): In the long history of the world, liberal democracy has been a brief, fragile experiment. If we look away now as it is being undermined, unwilling to deal with the discomfort or disruption, we might all live to regret it.

Those are my thoughts. But you should make up your own mind about this issue, which really is central to America's democracy and its future.

I'm Fareed Zakaria. Thanks for watching.