Former Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr warned the Senate on Monday afternoon that the country had entered an “Age of Impeachment,” where the House attempts to rid itself of presidents it opposes politically.
Starr was the surprise leadoff witness on the second day of the White House legal team’s presentation of its opening argument, against expectations that the president’s attorneys might respond to a New York Times story about John Bolton’s new book. That issue was brushed aside by White House lawyer Jay Sekulow, who told the Senate that they would not deal with “speculation” that did not meet “evidentiary standards.”
Starr noted that while the Constitution requires Senators to take an additional oath to do impartial justice, when sitting as members of a court of impeachment, the members of the House of Representatives do not.
The House, he noted, had passed constant resolutions against President Donald Trump, calling for his impeachment. And he suggested that the invocation of that disruptive power had become far too frequent.
Starr looked back to the impeachment investigations of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, noting that the independent counsel statute — the very law that enabled Starr to investigate Clinton — gave the House a license to impeach the president and was arguably unconstitutional. Both parties united to repeal it.
“Enough was enough,” Starr said, noting that 21 years of the independent counsel statute provide its failure.
And yet, he said, “The impeachment habit proved to be hard to kick” in American political culture.
“Presidential impeachment has become a weapon to be wielded against one’s political opponent.”
The Nixon impeachment, the first contemplated in more than a century, was bipartisan, he noted — and Rep. Peter Rodino (D-NJ) emphasized that point.
Impeachment, like war, is “hell,” Starr said, recalling the words of General William Tecumseh Sherman. “It divides the country like nothing else.”
The impeachment of federal judges — who serve for life — was an important check on abuses by the judiciary, he said. But the impeachment of a president, he said, was “a measure of last resort.”
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.