Republican lawmakers are openly discussing the prospect of impeaching Hillary Clinton should she win the presidency, a stark indication that partisan warfare over her tenure as secretary of state will not end on Election Day.
Chairmen of two congressional committees said in media interviews this week they believe Clinton committed impeachable offenses in setting up and using a private email server for official State Department business.
And a third senior Republican, the chairman of a House Judiciary subcommittee, told The Washington Post he is personally convinced Clinton should be impeached for influence peddling involving her family foundation. He favors further congressional investigation into that matter.
“It is my honest opinion that the Clinton Foundation represents potentially one of the greatest examples of political corruption in American history,” said Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., who leads the Constitution and Civil Justice subcommittee. “Now that perspective may be disproven, time will tell. But given that conviction on my part, I think all options are definitely on the table.”
The impeachment talk is the latest sign that Clinton will not be handed a clean slate – let alone an extended honeymoon – by Republican lawmakers.
It comes after months of accusations from GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, who has repeatedly referred to his rival as “Crooked Hillary” before and after federal investigators announced they would not charge Clinton or her associates over the email matter.
Chants of “Lock Her Up!” coursed through crowds at the Republican National Convention and at dozens of Trump rallies. The FBI’s disclosure last week that it is examining potential new evidence in the email probe has offered new fuel for the attacks.
“Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt person ever to seek the presidency, and if she were elected, it would create an unprecedented constitutional crisis,” Trump said Wednesday at a rally in Pensacola, Fla. “You know it’s going to happen. And in all fairness, we went through it with her husband. He was impeached. … Folks, do we want to go through this again?”
Republican lawmakers have aggressively questioned Clinton’s State Department dealings for months, with a special committee impaneled to probe the handling of the 2012 Benghazi attacks and separate probes of the department’s personnel practices and handling of classified documents found on her private email server.
Top GOP leaders have previously indicated they will aggressively investigate Clinton if she is elected president. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said last month he considered a Clinton administration a “target-rich environment” and that “we’ve got two years’ worth of material already lined up” for investigations.
Should they keep control of the House in the next Congress, Republicans could easily launch impeachment proceedings, with political will as the most significant obstacle.
The House Judiciary Committee typically investigates charges of official wrongdoing and, if it finds them to be warranted, forwards articles of impeachment to the House floor. Articles approved by a majority of the House are then sent to the Senate for a trial, with a two-thirds majority required for conviction.
Neither Chaffetz nor House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., have called for Clinton’s impeachment, but they have made clear they intend to continue probing her emails. In a joint letter sent Thursday, the two chairmen called on Attorney General Loretta Lynch to preserve documents related to the email investigation, including the new evidence the FBI disclosed last week.
Chaffetz and Goodlatte have also asked the federal investigators to probe whether Clinton committed perjury during 2015 testimony before the Benghazi panel.
Democrats have warned voters in recent days of apparent GOP obstruction to come, citing the impeachment threats.
“It doesn’t matter what evidence . . . they’ll find something – that’s what they’re saying already,” President Barack Obama said Wednesday during a campaign stop in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. “How does our democracy function like that?”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday that impeaching Clinton for alleged actions that took place before the election “would be a brazen attempt to nullify the vote of the American people, outside our constitutional framework and destructive to the Framers’ intent.”
But the senior Republicans say they are convinced Clinton has broken the law and are speculating that she could be criminally charged after she is elected.
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told Fox News Tuesday the probe into Clinton’s emails “will continue whether she wins or not.”
“Assuming she wins and the investigation goes forward and it looks like an indictment is pending, at that point in time under the Constitution, the House of Representatives would engage in an impeachment trial,” he said, warning of a possible “constitutional crisis.”
In a separate Fox News interview Thursday, McCaul accused Clinton of committing “treason” in mishandling classified documents.
FBI Director James Comey said in July there was no “clear evidence” that Clinton or associates willingly broke federal laws but “were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, told a Wisconsin newspaper Monday that Clinton could be impeached, citing federal laws against “willful concealment and destruction.”
“I’m not a lawyer, but this is clearly written,” he told the Beloit Daily News. “I would say yes, high crime or misdemeanor, I believe she is in violation of both laws.”
Both McCaul and Johnson have political imperatives for taking a hard line on Clinton: Johnson is locked in a close race to keep his Senate seat and has moved recently to shore up his support among his Republican base. McCaul is said to be considering a possible Senate run against fellow Republican Ted Cruz in 2018.
Former GOP congressman Tom Davis, who served on the House Oversight Committee during the first Clinton administration, warned lawmakers against overreach.
“The news reports don’t look good, but we’re a long way” from impeachment, he said. “There may absolutely be a place for this, I don’t know, but when you jump the gun way ahead, you lose the credibility of your mission before you start. And that’s my caution to both sides.”
Other prominent Republicans stopped short this week of suggesting that impeachment should be in the offing.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, called the talk “premature” during an interview on a Texas radio station Tuesday. “She hasn’t been elected or sworn into office,” he said, according to a CNN report on the interview. “And unless there is some additional evidence that the FBI director and the Justice Department would take to a grand jury, then she is not likely to be convicted of a crime.”
Rep. James Sensenbrenner , R-Wis., a former Judiciary Committee chairman who played a leading role in the 1998 impeachment of President Bill Clinton, called talk of a Hillary Clinton impeachment “speculative” in a Wisconsin radio interview Tuesday.
But he said there would be a “constitutional crisis” should she be indicted as president. “We don’t need to go through another Watergate,” he said.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Mike DeBonis