Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the President Pro Tempore of the United States Senate for another few weeks until he retires at the end of this term, dismissed criminal allegations against President Donald Trump, suggesting on Monday that they do not matter because he supports the administration. He blamed the partisanship of Democrats, argued that “you can make anything a crime under the current laws if you want to,” and dismissed the Department of Justice’s allegations as irrelevant because the economy is doing well under Trump.
But two decades ago, the same Utahan was one of the most vocal critics of then-President Bill Clinton and supported his removal from office, saying it was his sworn duty as a U.S Senator — even though the economy was booming then too.
Back in 1998, Hatch was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and was outraged by Clinton’s improper relationship with a female White House intern and his denial of it under oath. “What a jerk,” Hatch famously said after Clinton admitted the affair on national television without apologizing. After the Republican House of Representatives impeached Clinton on four counts of what they — on mostly party- line votes — deemed “high crimes and misdemeanors,” Hatch voted to convict the president and remove him from office.
In a February 1999 statement in the Congressional Record, Hatch explained that he had no choice but to hold the President of the United States accountable for his wrongdoing.
I know none of us enjoys sitting in judgment of the President, our fellow human-being, but that is our job and we cannot ignore our responsibility. I believe most of us will do a sincere job of trying to fulfill our oath to do impartial justice.
He explained that he believed Clinton’s wrongdoing was worse because presidents must live up to a higher standard.
Committing crimes of moral turpitude such as perjury and obstruction of
justice go to the heart of qualification for public office. These offenses were committed by the chief executive of our country, the individual who swore to faithfully execute the laws of the United States. This great nation can tolerate a President who makes mistakes. But it cannot tolerate one who makes a mistake and then breaks the law to cover it up. Any other citizen would be prosecuted for these crimes.
But, President Clinton did more than just break the law. He broke his oath
of office and broke faith with the American people. Americans should be able to rely on him to honor those values that have built and sustained our country, the values we try to teach our children — honesty, integrity, being forthright.
Moreover, he expressly dismissed his own argument, noting that the fact that the president is doing a good job or has a good economy cannot excuse his misbehavior.
Whether President Clinton has done a ‘‘good job’’ is a matter of partisan debate. In fact, adopting a ‘‘good job’’ exception — a term that is so flexible and vague as to be meaningless as a constitutional standard — merely exasperates the partisan tensions ever present in impeachment trials.
The same analysis applies for the ‘‘good economy means no removal’’ theory. It is intuitive that economic growth can never justify crime or acts rising to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors warranting removal. If President Clinton is removed, our economy will not suffer. The world will still spin on its axis.
Hatch concluded his argument with a particular on-point debunk of himself nearly two decades later. “To those of us who have ourselves taken an oath to uphold the Constitution — which represents the rule of law and not of men — it should not matter how brilliant or popular we feel the President is,” he said. “The Constitution is why we govern based on the principle of equality and not emotion. The Constitution is what guides us as a nation of laws and not personalities. The Constitution is what enables us to live in freedom.”