I think I followed the impeachment saga about as closely as an average citizen could. I was so shocked and appalled I made some personal enemies with my vehement opposition to what was obviously an undemocratic usurpation of the constitution against the will of the people. You didn't have to be clairvoyant to know that it was a partisan feeding frenzy that portended the illegal abuse of power that we are seeing today.
And I knew all about Newtie, or at least I thought I did. His immature peevishness was obvious, as that famous Daily News cover shows. But even though I am pretty well informed about this period, I was unaware of this piece that I came across this morning, written in 1998 by a very well-connected journalist for whom I have the utmost respect, Elizabeth Drew:
BARRING a miraculous turn of events -- such as a Democratic sweep of the November elections, which nobody expects, or even a draw, which also isn't expected -- President Clinton will be impeached by the House. It will happen because House Republicans, led by Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., are determined that he be impeached, and also because the Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee have already passed the point of no return. It will happen because the ever-stronger Republican base, the Christian Right, demands that it happen, and few Republicans will risk crossing them. This is more important to most Republicans than the president's job approval ratings.
Some Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee jumped out early for making perjury -- whatever the subject -- an impeachable offense, without appearing to give the matter much thought. In 1974, what constituted impeachment was considered a solemn subject, and the then-Judiciary Committee members spent nearly a year before deciding. The bar is being lowered dramatically -- and dangerously.
As of now the House leadership's plan is that before Congress adjourns for the elections, the House committee will vote on -- inevitably in favor of -- a resolution to begin a formal impeachment inquiry; the inquiry would perhaps begin before the elections. After the elections, the committee would vote articles of impeachment, and the House would approve the articles (or article) before the end of the year, maybe even before Thanksgiving.
Gone, apparently, is the insistence of Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., the committee's chairman, that impeachment must be bipartisan. And Gingrich's statement a month ago that "only a pattern of felonies" and not "a single human mistake" should constitute grounds for an impeachment inquiry. (When Gingrich made this statement, he assumed -- as did a lot of people -- that Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr would come up with a report charging a broad pattern of obstruction of justice on the part of the Clintons.)
Gingrich, the moving spirit behind the current strategy -- shared by the other House leaders -- is driven, according to colleagues, in some substantial part by vengeance. Not against Clinton. Not against what he might see as serious offenses. A major motivation for Gingrich, these people say, is his lasting resentment of his treatment by the House ethics committee. (After a long investigation, the committee in January 1997 voted to reprimand Gingrich for use of tax-exempt foundations for political purposes and recommended a financial penalty for providing "inaccurate information" to the committee, causing a lengthened investigation. The House voted its agreement on Jan. 21.)
Gingrich feels that the process against him was unfair, that even the Republicans on the ethics committee didn't protect him from the Democrats, who were on a tear, so why should he protect the president? This is an unusual rationale for proceeding to impeach a president.
The various establishmentarians' efforts to put together a deal notwithstanding, Gingrich and the other Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., have no interest in letting Democrats off the hook before the elections, or even in talking about a deal before the House has voted to impeach.
"They are discussing it as casually," says one prominent Republican, "as if they were talking about passing a highway bill and saying `let the Senate fix it.' "
This fits with Gingrich's m.o. He was known for his petulance and childishness. You'll recall that after the election that fall, Gingrich was finally tossed out by his own people. But I honestly did not know that the drive to impeach Bill Clinton was motivated in part by Gingrich's hurt feelings over the ethics committee probe. It's so like him.
Run, Newt, Run.