Flashback: What Nadler said about impeaching a president in 1998

Then, he was a rank-and-file member of the powerful House Judiciary Committee he now chairs.
IMPEACHMENT HEARING--Jerrold Nadler,D-N.Y.,makes his opening
Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., makes his opening statement during a House Judiciary Committee hearing regarding articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton in December 1998.Douglas Graham / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images file

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By Dan Gallo

In a packed hearing room on Wednesday, Rep. Jerry Nadler will lead the House Judiciary Committee in the next phase of the impeachment process against President Donald Trump.

But Nadler, D-N.Y., has been through the process once before, in a very different capacity. On Dec. 10, 1998, he was a rank-and-file member of the powerful committee he now chairs. As part of the minority — Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress at the time — he opposed the articles of impeachment that had been drafted against President Bill Clinton.

During a 10-minute opening statement, Nadler, who has a law degree from Fordham, laid out a case for what he believed constituted an impeachable offense, framing the issue in a way that now seems prescient.

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Impeachment, he said, was reserved for "a president who would abuse the powers of the presidency to arrogate power to himself or to subvert the system of government."

"It is in fact a peaceful procedure for protecting the nation from despots, by providing a constitutional means for removing a president who misuses presidential power to make himself a tyrant or otherwise to undermine our constitutional form of government," Nadler said. “To impeach a president, it must be that serious.”

That legal opinion seems consistent with his views today. But his views on the political nature of impeachment were very different from his current position, leading a committee that seems irrevocably divided along partisan lines.

Both parties must support impeachment, he said in 1998, or else it would divide the country too much.

"There must never be a narrowly voted impeachment or an impeachment substantially supported by one of our major political parties and largely opposed by the other,” he said then.

“Such an impeachment would lack legitimacy, would produce divisiveness and bitterness in our politics for years to come and will call into question the very legitimacy of our political institutions," he added.

Nadler's office did not respond to a request for comment.