Former Sen. Levin says there’s a ‘day and night’ difference between Clinton, Trump impeachments

Former Sen. Carl Levin | Center for American Progress via Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0

Former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Detroit) called comparisons between the upcoming impeachment trial of President Donald Trump and the 1999 proceeding involving former President Bill Clinton unfounded.

“There’s a day and night difference,” Levin said in an interview with the Advance.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton speaks at the funeral of former U.S. Congressman John Conyers Jr. (D-MI) at Greater Grace Temple on November 4, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. | Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Levin served in the U.S. Senate during 1999 Clinton impeachment trial. He voted to acquit the former president on both counts that were presented. Spencer Abraham, the Republican junior senator from Michigan, voted “guilty” on both counts. 

Abraham lost reelection a year later to now-U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing). Levin retired from the Senate in 2015 and was succeeded by now-U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.). 

Trump was impeached the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday on two counts: the first on alleged abuse of power; the second on obstruction of Congress. Only two other presidents had previously been impeached by the House: Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Clinton in 1998. Both of those presidents were acquitted by the Senate.

Trump becomes 3rd president impeached by U.S. House

Michigan’s 14-member House delegation was split 8-6, with U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (I-Cascade Twp.) siding with all seven Democrats and voting yes on both counts. One of the Democrats is Levin’s nephew, freshman U.S. Rep. Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.). All six Republicans cast no votes on both counts.

The House will now decide on who will serve as impeachment managers and prosecute the impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate.

Carl Levin said in the case of Clinton’s impeachment, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate worked together to develop the rules procedure, as opposed to the Trump impeachment trial, which, from all appearances, looks to be solely a Republican-led process under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

“The Senate proceeded on a bipartisan basis and I give credit to the Republican leadership, not just jamming through and going through some kind of a formal trial for Clinton,” Levin recalled. “And so, you had a real procedure in the Senate — no prejudgment, but a real procedure. Both sides participated in the creation of it. And so, the differences between the Clinton impeachment and this [Trump] impeachment are just huge.”

Democrats’ impeachment articles: Trump abused power, obstructed Congress

The Clinton charges stemmed from a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him by Paula Jones, followed by the president’s testimony denying that he had engaged in a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern. Article I charged that Clinton lied to a grand jury concerning Jones and Lewinsky. Article II charged Clinton with attempting to obstruct justice in the Jones case.

On Dec. 19, 1998, Clinton was impeached. A trial in the Senate began and on Feb. 12, 1999,* Clinton was acquitted on two counts. With 67 votes needed for removal of office, 10 Republicans joined 45 Democrats in a no vote on Article I; five Republicans joined 45 Democrats in a no vote on Article II.    

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman reports on Southeast Michigan, education, civil rights and voting rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.