1. Opinion

Three U.S. presidents have faced impeachment. Here’s what the Times said about two of them.

Here’s what the Times editorial board said when Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton were engaged in the impeachment process. Only one was impeached.
President Andrew Johnson, National Park Service; President Richard Nixon, Associated Press; President Bill Clinton, JOYCE NALTCHAYAN/AFP/Getty Images) [Tampa Bay Times]
President Andrew Johnson, National Park Service; President Richard Nixon, Associated Press; President Bill Clinton, JOYCE NALTCHAYAN/AFP/Getty Images) [Tampa Bay Times]
Published Sep. 25, 2019
Updated Sep. 25, 2019

Only two U.S. presidents have been impeached in U.S. history, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Both Johnson and Clinton remained in office after they were impeached and were acquitted by a Senate trial following the House’s vote to impeach.

Others have come close, most notably former president Richard Nixon, who resigned from office shortly after the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment against him.

Now, President Donald Trump has joined the ranks of presidents—only four—who have formally entered into the impeachment process. On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the House would open an impeachment inquiry into Trump following a request he made to officials from Ukraine to get information on potential Democratic presidential opponent Joe Biden’s son.

Here’s a look back to the editorials the Times wrote around the time of Nixon and Clinton’s impeachment proceedings. Johnson was impeached in 1868, a little less than twenty years before the Times first started publishing.

On July 24, 1974, the Supreme Court decided unanimously that President Richard Nixon must turn over the Watergate tapes.

July 25, 1974 editorial page of the St. Petersburg Times []

Our headline: “Get on with it”

“Nobody was much surprised at the Supreme Court’s 8-0 decision Wednesday that President Nixon must surrender Watergate tapes subpoenaed in the criminal trial of six of his former aides,” the editorial board wrote.

The editorial board’s frustration with Nixon’s actions is evident from the end of this piece.

“Since the Watergate break-in was discovered more than a year and a half ago, the whole sorry record is of a White House campaign to bottle up the story and where that wasn’t working, delay, delay, delay, in the hopes the public would weary of hearing about it. The strategy has worked and is working.”

On August 8, 1974, Nixon announced his resignation from the presidency before the House could vote to impeach him. We ran a three-quarter page editorial entitled: “A time to restore confidence in America.”

Aug. 9, 1974 editorial page of the St. Petersburg Times []

Nixon’s resignation clearly hit the country hard. Our editorial analyzed Nixon’s performance, his departure style, Gerald Ford’s potential as president, and what the future could look like.

The board noted that Nixon’s resignation announcement was “magnanimous” in comparison with some of his earlier responses.

“As good as his word, he directed no barbs at those who pressed the inquiry that led to his downfall,” the board wrote.

The board took a measured stance on Nixon’s entire administration, praising its highs and lows.

“Its moments of distinction were most evident in foreign matters. United States’ diplomacy broke the impasse in the Middle East. Mr. Nixon cracked the isolation of China. The President struggled for detente with the Soviet Union. He extracted U.S. troops from Vietnam. Yet, it is fair to note that those achievements all were belated.”

The editorial notes his reticence in domestic matters, including his “inability to cope with worsening inflation." The stock market actually went up when rumors arose that Nixon might resign.

The board had this succinct statement on Ford’s impending presidency: “Jerry Ford likely won’t prove our greatest president. But on the record of performance, he should be a competent president. And by all the evidence, he brings to the White House honesty, candor, warmth and an open approach for which this job in recent years has cried out.”

One section ends with noting that the full impeachment process and trial would have “served America better.”

“But justice—a quicker version—has been done. From it, most Americans may feel a sense of sorrow but also a vast relief. The scandal is done. More than two years of Watergate have been enough.”

On October 8, 1998, the House of Representatives voted in favor of an impeachment inquiry into President Bill Clinton.

Oct. 9, 1998 editorial page of the St. Petersburg Times []

The Times editorial painted the House’s vote to open an impeachment inquiry into President Bill Clinton as merely political warfare.

“The American people have sent a strong signal that they are literally sick and tired of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal and want it brought to a resolution as quickly as possible,” the editorial board wrote.

At the same time, they said, the economy was deteriorating and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was decrying Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s actions in Kosovo.

“No one in the House attempted to defend the president’s reckless and dishonest behavior. No one suggested that the president’s misdeeds should go unpunished,” the editorial board wrote. “However, some members did attempt to set a course that would bring this debilitating standoff to a foreseeable end.”

On Dec. 19, 1998, Clinton is impeached on the articles of perjury, or providing false testimony under oath, and obstruction of justice.

Dec. 21, 1998, editorial page of the St. Petersburg Times []

It’s fairly clear to see how the Times editorial board felt about Clinton’s impeachment from their choice of a headline: ‘Destroying imperfect people.’

That quote comes from the then-House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt, who said Washington had a problem of “destroying imperfect people at the altar of an unattainable morality.”

“The impeachment proceedings were so partisan, so hypocritical, so venomous, so devoid of statesmanship that they left the House’s credibility damaged just as thoroughly as the president’s,” the editorial board wrote.

The editorial tasked the Senate with restoring the “shattered trust” of the nation. The Senate would later acquit Clinton and he would stay in office for his entire term.


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