Clinton Official Laments Partisan Impeachment Divide: 'Democrats and Republicans Equally Took This Process Seriously' in 1998

Joe Lockhart, who served as press secretary in Bill Clinton's White House, argued Wednesday that "both sides" took the impeachment process against the former president "seriously" back in 1998, contrasting the Democrats reaction back then to the Republican response to the inquiry against Donald Trump now.

The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on Trump's impeachment on Wednesday, with the articles expected to pass in the Democrat-contolled chamber of Congress largely along party lines. While some Republicans have expressed concern and criticism of Trump's actions toward Ukraine, which led to the impeachment inquiry, GOP leaders have largely defended the president and dismissed the entire investigation.

"The biggest difference between this time and last time is in 1998, Democrats and Republicans equally took this process seriously," Lockhart said in an interview with CNN. "Democrats—one of the first people to use the 'I' word was [former Democratic Representative] Dick Gephardt, you know that this might be impeachable," the Clinton-era White House official noted.

Clinton became the second president in U.S. history to be impeached by the House in December 1998. The vote passed largely along party lines, with just a few Democrats voting in favor of articles of impeachment. The president was not removed by the Senate, however, and the American public's approval of Clinton remained high throughout the inquiry.

"In the House, we had, I think, 38 members of the Democratic party vote to open the [impeachment] inquiry [against Clinton]," Lockhart said. "Both sides took it seriously and they debated the same basic facts," he continued. "This time, the Democrats are using evidence and facts, the Republicans are making up conspiracy theories. And the fact that no one's going to vote [in support] of something so much more consequential than what we were talking about in '98, shows that they're not a serious party any longer and they don't view the Constitution and the rule of law the way they used to."

Newsweek has reached out via email to the press secretary of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, for comment.

McCarthy has referred to the impeachment inquiry led by Democrats as a "sham" and argued that the president's actions were "absolutely" not impeachable.

"Other countries admire us because we believe in the rule of law, we believe in due process. But not in Nancy Pelosi's House when she became speaker," the congressman said after the articles of impeachment were revealed by the House Judiciary Committee last week.

Trump faces impeachment on articles of, "Abuse of Power" and "Obstruction of Congress." The president repeatedly pressured Ukraine to announce an investigation into discredited claims that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden acted corruptly toward Ukraine to benefit his son Hunter's business dealings in the Eastern European nation, as well as into a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine and the Democrats, not Russia, conspired to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. Multiple former and current Trump administration officials testified as part of the inquiry that the president temporarily withheld nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine—though Congress had already approved the package—and a White House meeting with the country's president Volodymyr Zelenskiy as part of the pressure campaign.

Impeachment protest
Protesters supporting the impeachment of President Donald Trump gather outside the U.S. Capitol on December 18 in Washington, D.C. Win McNamee/Getty

The "Obstruction of Congress" charge resulted from the White House's refusal to cooperate with the inquiry, blocking subpoenaed documents from being reviewed and barring key administration officials from testifying. As the Constitution grants the House of Representatives the "sole Power of Impeachment," Democrats argued that the president violated the Constitution by stonewalling their investigation.

Trump and his supporters have consistently argued that the entire investigation is a "witch hunt" and purely "partisan." In a Tuesday letter sent to Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who represents California, Trump attacked the inquiry and continued to deny any wrongdoing.

"By proceeding with your invalid impeachment, you are violating your oaths of office, you are breaking your allegiance to the Constitution, and you are declaring open war on American Democracy," the president argued.

Clinton Official Laments Partisan Impeachment Divide: 'Democrats and Republicans Equally Took This Process Seriously' in 1998 | U.S.