Graham praised depositions in 1998 impeachment proceedings

Sen. Lindsey Graham and other congressional Republicans have slammed House Democrats for conducting their impeachment inquiry with depositions behind closed doors, but Republicans also used closed-door depositions during their impeachment inquiry of former President Bill Clinton two decades ago.

Then-Rep. Lindsey Graham, at a November 1998 news conference one day after Special Prosecutor Ken Starr publicly testified before the House Judiciary Committee, praised the Judiciary panel’s plans to hold depositions before conducting public hearings. Graham was a key Republican on the Judiciary Committee and was one of the House impeachment managers during the Senate trial that followed.

Asked by a reporter in 1998 if he thought there would be hearings with “some of the principals,” Graham said: “The depositions, I think, will determine whether or not we go forward with hearings. I think it’s a very smart thing to do, to depose these people and find out what they’ve got to say and not drag this thing out unnecessarily. And it’s going to end by the end of the year.”

Graham’s comments could provide fodder for Democrats seeking to undercut Republican attacks that the impeachment inquiry should not be conducting depositions behind closed doors, but doing everything in public.

The closed-door depositions are just one of several lines of attack Republicans have leveled, as they’re also critical of Democrats for not voting to authorize the impeachment inquiry, the President’s counsel not being allowed to participate and House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff’s handling of the investigation.

Graham introduced a resolution Thursday condemning the House’s impeachment inquiry into the President. At a news conference on the resolution, Graham said the Clinton impeachment inquiry was different because it was authorized.

“In October of 1998, we authorized impeachment as a body,” Graham said Thursday. “Some were behind closed doors, but the inquiry itself became very public. We had the Starr hearing to start it off with. But the President participated in a very meaningful way.”

Asked specifically about Graham’s deposition comments from 1998, Graham spokesman Kevin Bishop noted that the circumstances were different, arguing in part that the House has not voted to authorize the current impeachment inquiry but did so 20 years ago with Clinton.

“On October 8, 1998 the House of Representatives voted to authorize an inquiry of impeachment into President Clinton. The deposition you mention below was a full month after the House of Representatives had been put on record and public votes had been cast. A strong bipartisan majority — including 31 House Democrats — joined Republicans in voting to authorize an inquiry of impeachment of President Clinton,” Bishop said. “Today, the House is breaking and ignoring all the processes and procedures that were used in the 1998 Clinton impeachment.”

There are key differences in the Clinton impeachment inquiry and the current impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump and Ukraine. In 1998, House Judiciary Committee launched the impeachment inquiry after Starr provided his report and mounds of evidence to Congress. The current inquiry began following a whistleblower complaint that has not received extensive investigation, and congressional Democrats are using their depositions in order to probe why security aid to Ukraine was frozen and the role Trump played in holding it up.

In his 1998 press conference, Graham talked about how serious he felt about the impeachment process, acknowledging that impeachment was in effect “overturning an election,” a criticism that Republicans are now using about the Democratic effort that could lead to Trump’s impeachment.

“Impeaching the President will be the hardest thing I’ll ever do because I love the law,” Graham said in 1998. “I never voted for the guy. I wouldn’t vote for him again if he was running. I don’t respect him politically. I disagree with him tremendously. But this is about overturning an election.”

CNN coverage of the 1998 impeachment inquiry shows that the Judiciary Committee had scheduled closed-door depositions with a lawyer for one of Clinton’s accusers, a Democratic activist, and lawyers for Clinton and the White House.

CNN’s Ted Barrett contributed to this report.