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Former congressman recalls fallout from Clinton impeachment

Robert Houk • Updated Sep 29, 2019 at 10:51 AM

With U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launching impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump last week,  former U.S. Rep. Bill Jenkins believes members of Congress would be wise to remember the lessons learned from the 1998 impeachment of Bill Clinton.

“It was a very serious issue,” Jenkins, who retired from the 1st District seat in 2004, told the Press last week. “Nobody really wanted it to happen.”

The Rogersville Republican was completing his first term in the Republican-controlled House when Clinton was impeached on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. The Democrat was acquitted of both charges in the Senate.

“I took no pleasure in participating, but as a judge, I felt it as my obligation,” said Jenkins, who had previously served six years as a Hawkins County Circuit Court judge.

Jenkins said the impeachment hearings were expensive and distracted Congress from other key issues.

“Things that should have been addressed weren’t getting done,” Jenkins said.

He said both political parties “would suffer for years” as a result of the fallout from the Clinton impeachment.

Even so, Jenkins voted for impeachment. He cited the seriousness of the perjury charge against Clinton, which he said legal scholars told House members rose to the standards of “high crimes and misdemeanors” established by the nation’s founders for impeaching a president.

“From all the testimony, I felt there was no question he (Clinton) had committed perjury,” Jenkins said. “The president later lost his law license in Arkansas as a result of perjury. Of course the Senate saw it differently.”

Jenkins said he would not be surprised if a similar outcome occurs in Trump’s case, with the House voting to impeach and the Senate voting to acquit the president.

“We will see what happens,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins has some simple advice for today’s members of Congress who are grappling with the impeachment issue.

“There was a great lesson I learned as a judge,” Jenkins said. “We routinely told jurors not to make any decisions until they have heard from all sides.”

Likewise, he said members of Congress should not “pass judgment” on Trump’s impeachment until all the evidence is presented. 

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