Several Republicans who've pledged to acquit Trump in his impeachment trial had significantly different views in 1999.
Donald Trump is expected to to be acquitted in his Senate impeachment trial on Wednesday, with most Republicans predicted to vote in his favor.
Among those standing steadfast with Trump are 14 current GOP senators who voted to impeach or remove President Clinton from office in the late 1990s. Many of those senators have since shifted their reasoning on why a president can't be removed from office.
Seven Republican senators serving today voted in 1999 to remove Clinton from office: Sens. Mike Crapo of Idaho, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Pat Roberts of Kansas, and Richard Shelby of Alabama.
An additional seven Republican senators were members of the House of Representatives who voted to impeach Clinton: Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Rob Portman of Ohio, John Thune of South Dakota, and Roger Wicker of Mississippi.
All 14 senators who attempted to oust Clinton voted in January to protect Trump by preventing additional witness testimony during the Senate trial, and all are expected to vote against removing Trump from office.
Perhaps the most high-profile among them is Graham. Graham not only voted to impeach Clinton, but was one of the House managers attempting to persuade senators to remove him from office. During the Clinton impeachment, Graham called for witnesses to come before the Senate, demanded senators not make up their mind before the trial, and criticized past presidents for ignoring congressional subpoenas.
Two decades later, Graham reversed course.
"I am trying to give a pretty clear signal I have made up my mind," Graham said in December 2019, weeks before the impeachment trial started in the Senate. "I'm not trying to pretend to be a fair juror here."
Others who voted previously to oust Clinton have also had a change of heart.
Crapo for his part released a statement last month arguing that the founders "expressly rejected a system in which the President serves at the pleasure of the legislative branch."
And Shelby, who once declared that the charge of obstruction of justice against Clinton was proven "beyond a reasonable doubt," concluded in January that Trump's actions "[were] not worthy of removal from office," and announced he would not vote to remove him from office.
Trump was impeached in December on two counts, abuse of power related to his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, and obstruction of Congress for his decision to block crucial witness testimony and hide evidence from House investigators.
Blunt made a similar case against Clinton, stating in December 1998 that "no president can be allowed to ... thwart the investigative responsibility of the legislature." He argued that true punishment was warranted and warned that a simple "censure" was not strong enough. Yet this time around, Blunt has indicated he will be voting to acquit Trump, declaring the outcome of the trial "virtually certain" despite mountains of evidence showing Trump wanted to use his office for personal gain.
McConnell, who voted in February 1999 to convict Clinton and remove him from office, accused the former president at the time of lying deliberately to the American people. He claimed his vote was one of "honor," "principle," and "moral authority."
In Trump's impeachment trial, McConnell has openly admitted to coordinating with the White House on Trump's defense and said in December he had no intention of being an impartial juror. He, too, has implied that he will vote to acquit.
Others have pledged similarly that they will stand by Trump, claiming that the impeachment proceedings against him have been solely politically motivated by Democrats seeking to overturn the 2016 election. Many of those same lawmakers previously said the opposite during Clinton's impeachment trial, with a few arguing that overturning the will of the people was necessary for justice to prevail.
Thune stated in December that he had no intention of voting to convict Trump and accused Democrats of "overturning an election where they didn't like the outcome." Yet when he voted to impeach Clinton in 1999, Thune had no such misgivings, stating there was "one standard of justice that applies equally to all, and to say or do otherwise will undermine the most sacred of all American ideals."
Burr, a former congressman who voted to impeach Clinton in 1999, echoed Thune's thoughts at that time, saying he could not "ignore the facts or disregard the constitution so that the president can be placed above the law."
In January, Burr also said he had no intention of convicting Trump because "the American people [had] duly elected" him.
Inhofe is also among those who voted to convict Clinton previously but has called the impeachment process against Trump "a political sham" and declared before the beginning of the Senate trial that Trump was "not going to be removed from office — period."
Portman for his part concluded that Trump's actions were "wrong and inappropriate," but has said he will refuse to vote to remove Trump from office because it would entail "taking him off the ballot in the middle of an election."
Portman voted to impeach Clinton based on "evidence of serious wrongdoing," saying, "I believe the evidence of serious wrongdoing is simply too compelling to be swept aside ... I believe the long-term consequence to this country of not acting on these serious charges before us far outweigh the consequences of following what the Constitution provides for and bringing this matter to trial in the United States Senate."
Wicker also voted to impeach Clinton, but when the House impeached Trump, he released a statement critical of the House investigation, adding he anticipated Trump would be acquitted in the Senate.
"House Democrats made a historic mistake today," he said at the time. "... Their effort has never been about the facts or accountability. It was always about politics and damaging a president they cannot tolerate."
Some of the senators involved in the Clinton impeachment episode, like Enzi, Moran, and Roberts, have not made public statements about their intentions in the Trump trial.
The Senate is expected to hold a final vote on Wednesday to determine if Trump should be removed from office. There is little expectation that proponents of removal will attain the 67 votes necessary to do so.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.