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Presidents On Trial: An Inside Look At Impeachment. Aired 10- 11p ET

Aired December 27, 2019 - 22:00   ET




FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: 1787, the founders create the American Constitution. They asked, do we need impeachment? James Madison answers, you bet. If men were angels, he wrote, no government would be necessary. James Madison, meet Donald Trump.

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: There were no bribes. They are impeaching me, and there are no crimes.

ZAKARIA: Donald Trump rages.

TRUMP: Two flimsy, pathetic, ridiculous articles of impeachment.

ZAKARIA: While Nancy Pelosi stays the course.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): This is about the Constitution of the United States. So don't mess with me.

ZAKARIA: At issue, a phone call with the president of Ukraine.

TRUMP: My call was perfect.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): No pressure, no pushing, no quid pro quo.

ZAKARIA: Others heard much worse.

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX): He had a desperate man on the phone and he asked a desperate man for a favor.

NOAH FELDMAN, PROFESSOR OF LAW, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Corruptly abusing the office of the presidency.

ZAKARIA: The debate gets ugly fast.

JORDAN: They dislike us so much, they're willing to weaponize the government. This is scary stuff. It's dangerous for our country.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): Come on, get real. Be serious. We know exactly what happened here. 17 witnesses, it's uncontradicted.

TRUMP: These people are stone cold crooked.

ZAKARIA: Then a verdict that turns a political divide into a chasm.

PELOSI: The president is impeached.

ZAKARIA: History becomes the only guide.

Bill Clinton, impeached when he lied about sex.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I did not have sexual relations with that woman.

ZAKARIA: Andrew Johnson, a troubled president, almost removed from office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The impeachment effort against him failed by a single vote in the Senate. He did not deserve to be president of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five men were nabbed in the Democratic National Headquarters here in Washington.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nixon was desperate.

ZAKARIA: Richard Nixon directed a criminal conspiracy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is thinking, what am I going to do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A grave and profound crisis.

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I had to impeach myself.

ZAKARIA: There is no greater fall from no greater height.

Good evening. I'm Fareed Zakaria.

When our great grandchildren study the presidency of Donald Trump, among the first things they will learn is this, he was impeached. It is a historic judgment on a president that cannot be erased. We don't yet know the rest of Trump's story, but we do know he's part of an exclusive club. Only three presidents have ever been impeached, Trump, Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson. Richard Nixon resigned when he saw that impeachment was inevitable.

Each impeachment drama has had its own plot twists. But all spring from the same source: Article II, Section 4 of the American Constitution, the impeachment clause written by our founding fathers. Remember, they were men who had just fought a revolution to escape the tyranny of kings. Their goal was to keep the president from becoming an elected monarch.

Together, they carefully weighed what the grounds for impeachment should be. They agreed on the two worst crimes a president could commit, treason and bribery. Also proposed, maladministration. But James Madison said that was too vague. Impeachment was not a remedy for a bad president.

George Mason from Virginia came up with a broader phrase, high crimes and misdemeanors. Scholars note that the word, high, was used in British law where it comes from to describe crimes committed by people in high office.

And that is the impeachment clause. There have been moments in our history when it saved American democracy. At other times, it's been hurled at opponents as a weapon, a cheap political trick. How will it end this time?


From the moment he stepped onto the political stage --

TRUMP: We're going to win so big. Thank you very much.

ZAKARIA: -- Donald Trump has been the most controversial, the most polarizing figure of modern times. Just one day after he won the election, Americans were taking to the streets.

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

FMR. REP. BETO O'ROURKE (D-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We begin impeachment proceedings.

ZAKARIA: Some Democrats took up the call.

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

ZAKARIA: But through the constant upheaval in the Trump White House, the Mueller investigation, the firings, the indictments, the convictions, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi fought the push for impeachment.

PELOSI: It divided the country, unless there is some conclusive evidence that takes us to that place.

ZAKARIA: Three times, she had the House vote down an impeachment inquiry.

But then came that phone call between Donald Trump and the president of Ukraine.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: I would like you to do us a favor though.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Everything has pointed towards a quid pro quo here.

ZAKARIA: Trump had pressured the Ukrainians, investigate the Bidens or we won't give you the aid money you need.

CASTRO: We know that President Trump asked for a favor to help his political career. It's attempted extortion and bribery. RASKIN: We know exactly what happened here. It's uncontradicted. There is no rival story.

ZAKARIA: Finally, Nancy Pelosi was on board.

PELOSI: The president leaves us no choice but to act.

ZAKARIA: At impeachment hearings, Trump's own officials gave troubling testimony about administration behavior in Ukraine.

GORDON SONDLAND, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE E.U.: Was there a quid pro quo? As I testified previously with regard to the requested White House call and the White House meeting, the answer is yes.

ZAKARIA: Donald Trump insisted he had done nothing wrong.

TRUMP: I'm the first person to ever get impeached and there's no crime, like I feel guilty.

ZAKARIA: The vote against the president --

PELOSI: We passed the two articles of impeachment. The president is impeached.

ZAKARIA: -- revealed the stark, even frightening divide between America's political factions.

REP. BRADLEY BYRNE (R-AL): Read the transcripts. There was no quid pro quo, no bribery no extortion.

REP. SEAN CASTEN (D-IL): We all know that what President Trump did was wrong. We all know it's wrong to withhold foreign aid.

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA): They don't just hate Donald Trump, Madam Speaker, they hate the 63 million Americans who voted for this president.

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D-GA): When you see something that is not right, not just, not fair, you have a moral obligation to say something, to do something.

TIMOTHY NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: 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: To understand today's crisis, we need to go back to the last time America was shaken this profoundly by a political scandal.

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 a fifth column. I had a partisan Senate committee staff, special prosecutor staff, media, we had a partisan Judiciary Committee staff in the fifth column. I gave them the 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 17th, 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: Are you listening, Nixon?


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 serious of dirty tricks, to 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 cover-up.

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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.

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

DEAN: 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But 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.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Butterfield, are you aware of installation of any listening devices on the Oval Office of the president?

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

ZAKARIA: It was a bombshell.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The pressure is on the president to produce those tapes.

ZAKARIA: He fought subpoena after subpoena.

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

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


ZAKARIA: Finally a drastic step.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing like this has ever happened before.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our offices have been sealed by the FBI. ZAKARIA: A mass firing of the men pursuing the tapes, the Saturday Night Massacre.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The news calls the 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does it have to do with the resignation of the attorney general?


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: To many (ph), Western union was robbed (ph). Most of them demanded impeaching Mr. Nixon.

ZAKARIA: Nixon was forced to appoint a new special prosecutor. And as the months went by, 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.

FMR. REP. PETER RODINO (D-NJ): 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.

FMR. REP. CHARLES SANDMAN (R-NJ): 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 circumstances 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.

FMR. REP. LARRY HOGAN (R-MD): There is an obstruction of justice going on. Someone is 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 conservatives who had revered the president put conscience over party.

FMR. REP. M. CALDWELL BUTLER (R-VA): I cannot condone what I have heard. I cannot excuse it. And I cannot will not stand still for it.

FMR. REP. THOMAS RAILSBACK (R-IL): 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.

FMR. REP. WALTER FLOWERS (D-AL): I wake up at nights, at least on those nights I have 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. FMR. REP. TRENT LOTT (R-MS): I must admit in all candidness that is has been very fair.

FMR. REP. ROBERT MCCLORY (R-IL): 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 oppose, no.








ZAKARIA: The committee approved three articles of impeachment, 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 defendants had crumbled.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a countdown of sorts on tonight, a countdown towards the expected end of the Nixon presidency.

RON ZIEGLER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Tonight at 9:00 Eastern Daylight Time, the president of the United States will address the nation.

ZAKARIA: It was over.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is the president waving goodbye as you hear the applause.

ZAKARIA: 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: This time 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 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: Mrs. Clinton, did they read you your rights?

ZAKARIA: Decades later --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Whitewater controversy.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Political turbulence over Whitewater.

ZAKARIA: 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: 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 were 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: When we think of the Clinton impeachment, we think of a certain White House intern. But before there was Monica, there were the McDougals, Jim and Susan. Clinton might not ever have been impeached if not for them. It was Jim McDougal who have 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, SUSAN MCDOUGAL'S EX-HUSBAND: If I'm found guilty, I would go to the slammer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The 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.

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.


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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.

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, ATTORNEY: As quickly and as thoroughly as possible.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you guys get down?

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

KEN STARR, FORMER UNITED STATES SOLICITOR GENERAL: Our job is to gather facts and to get at the truth.

ZAKARIA: Expanding the inquiry way beyond Whitewater.

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

FMR. REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA): 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 has been a sea change in American politics.

ZAKARIA: hey had swept into Congress in 1994.

BAKER: This is an earthquake.

ZAKARIA: Preaching the new gospel of strict orthodox conservatives.

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 at a time or two and then inhaled.

ZAKARIA: Created with the truth.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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 imposturous 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.

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 was secretly recorded by her coworker, Linda Tripp.

LINDA TRIPP, FORMER U.S. CIVIL SERVANT: 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 or testimony is being given under oath?


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

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

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

ZAKARIA: Starr now had a case for perjury.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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 had a relationship with Ms. Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This goes into considerable details.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: 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 MALE: 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.

FMR. SEN. DANIEL PATRICK MOYNIHAN (D-NY): May justice be done, let the heavens fall.

BAKER: If they came to the White House like Republicans did with Nixon in 1974 and said, your time is 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 a 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, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: The Lewinsky issue didn't carry any weight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd say Republicans got stumped (ph).

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 hardcore conservatives, led by House majority whip Tom DeLay, was hell-bent on impeaching him, anyway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Article I is adopted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have witnessed history.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president resigned and his legacy will forever be scarred today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On this article of impeachment --

ZAKARIA: 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 was viewed as a partisan endeavor, because the American people spoke in the midterms of 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, a bipartisan acknowledgement that things had gone too far.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Women will be silenced 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.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY): My greatest mentor, Hillary Clinton.

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

GIILLIBRAND: 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.



TRUMP: They shouldn't be having public hearings. It's a hoax.

ZAKARIA: From the start, Donald Trump refused to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): President Trump's stonewall was complete, absolute and without precedent in American history.

TRUMP: It's a witch hunt.

ZAKARIA: And that very refusal became the second article of impeachment.

PELOSI: The president leaves us no choice but to act.







UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Chairman, there are 23 ayes and 17 nos.

NADLER: The articles are agreed to.

FELDMAN: The Constitution says impeachment is up to the House. It's not up to the president of the United States to tell the representatives, a separate branch of government how it can investigate him.

PELOSI: Article I is adopted.

ZAKARIA: After the House vote --

PELOSI: We passed two articles of impeachment. The president is impeached.

ZAKARIA: -- Donald Trump became the first president to be impeached while running for re-election.

TRUMP: It doesn't really feel like we're being impeached. The country is doing better than ever before. We did nothing wrong. We are going to keep on winning, winning, winning.

ZAKARIA: But he is not the first to use impeachment to rally his base. In the last few decades, impeachment has increasingly been used as a political weapon by both parties.

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

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

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

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

PELOSI: Impeachment is off the table.

NAFTALI: Disagreements over policy were not intended by the founders to be the basis 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.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Change has come to America.

ZAKARIA: In 2008, Barack Obama was elected on a promise to help heal the country's extreme partisan divide. But the candidate who had campaigned on, yes, we can, ran into a wall of Republican opposition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hell, no, you can't.

ZAKARIA: The tea party formed 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 hyper-partisan 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, but there was another serious consequence.

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 that is one of, Andrew Johnson was one of America's worst presidents.

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

ZAKARIA: Republicans in Congress despised Andrew Johnson.

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

ZAKARIA: President Johnson vetoed almost all the measures to give civil liberties and representation to grants (ph). The Republican- controlled Congress decided to wage to 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 battered a president Andrew Johnson was, there were no grounds to impeach him.

ZAKARIA: The Senate was one vote away from removing President Johnson 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: When Donald Trump faces trial in the Senate, it remains to be seen whether anyone will remember the lessons of history.



ZAKARIA: On this crucial issue, I know that many people have quickly taken up firm and unalterable positions. I did 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 the events of the past few months along with the gravity of the charges against the president have led me to support the impeachment of Donald Trump. Let me explain why now and not before.

TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening --

ZAKARIA: I believe that Donald Trump's campaign did some shady things in dealing with the Russians. But I thought that Robert Mueller was right to paint a somewhat ambiguous picture. And ambiguity wasn't enough for me to call for impeachment.

NADLER: Integrity and accountability.

ZAKARIA: Trump's efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government, however, are different.

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

ZAKARIA: It appears that acting as the president, not a candidate, using the power and machinery of the United States government, 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 claim that it does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense.

What has been even more troubling is Donald Trump's refusal to cooperate with the impeachment process.

TRUMP: They are pursuing an illegal, invalid and unconstitutional bull (BLEEP) impeachment.

ZAKARIA: Other presidents have contested a specific subpoena or request for a document. Donald Trump effectively rejected Congress' ability to hold him accountable at all.

The rule of law has built up over centuries in the western world, but it's very 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 be possible always to enforce compliance.

And the rule at the heart of the U.S. system is the separation of powers. The founders' greatest fear was that too much power in the hands of government would mean the end of liberty. So they ensured that power was shared and 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.

But the system only works if all sides respect it. Congress doesn't have an army or police force at its disposal, neither does the Supreme Court. When the Supreme Court held unanimously that Richard 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 is the president waving goodbye. You hear the applause.

ZAKARIA: All modern American 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: 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.

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 has eroded slowly but irreversibly.

Germany's Weimar Republic was a well-functioning liberal democracy. And within a few short years, using mostly legal means, it became a totalitarian dictatorship.

I know that America is far from that grim scenario today. But we are living at a time when the Constitution's laws, rules and norms that sustain liberty and the rule of law are under attack across the world. From Poland and Hungary to Turkey and India, the democratic fabric is fraying.

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 the disruption, we might all live to regret it. Those are my thoughts.

But as we head into the 2020 elections, you should make up your own mind on this issue, which is really central to America's democracy and its future.

I'm Fareed Zakaria. Thank you for watching.