27 senators were in Congress during Clinton's impeachment. What would they do about Trump?

By Jason Silverstein

/ CBS News

An independent counsel investigated the president for years, concluding he lied and may have obstructed justice. Congress had to decide what came next. The House impeached him. But the Senate, which Republicans controlled by a small margin, acquitted him at trial.

That was two decades ago, when Bill Clinton became the second president to face an impeachment trial. After the release last week of the redacted Mueller report, more Democrats are calling for President Trump to become the third. And if the Democrat-controlled House impeached Mr. Trump, a Senate held by the GOP would once again decide whether to remove him from office.

But there's a twist: There are 27 current senators who voted on Clinton's impeachment, either as members of the House or the Senate. Fourteen are Republicans who voted to impeach or convict Clinton, 12 are Democrats who voted in Clinton's favor and one is a Republican who wanted to acquit Clinton on all charges. All of these senators made statements at the time about where they stood on lying, obstruction, witness tampering or unethical behavior from the occupant of the White House. Those statements could be put to the test if they faced the same decision for Mr. Trump.

In an impeachment proceeding, the House votes on whether to impeach the president, and the Senate then votes on whether to convict on those impeachment charges. A two-thirds vote is required in the Senate for conviction and removal.

Clinton was impeached by the House and faced a Senate trial for two charges: perjury and obstruction of justice. With 45 "guilty" votes on perjury and 50 "guilty" votes on obstruction, he was acquitted and remained in office. (President Andrew Johnson was the first president to be impeached, and he was acquitted by a single Senate vote.)

If a Trump impeachment reached the Senate, it would require "guilty" votes from every Democratic and independent senator, as well as at least 20 Republicans, to remove him.

Here's what the senators who are still serving said during Clinton's impeachment. (CBS News reached out to the offices of all 27 senators to ask about their stances then and now, and the responses from those that replied are included below.)

Roy Blunt (R-Missouri)

Blunt was in the House when he voted for Clinton's impeachment. He called impeachment "our most serious constitutional duty."

"No president can be allowed to subvert the judiciary or thwart the investigative responsibility of the legislature," Blunt said at the time.

Blunt said Clinton's perjury and urging of others to obstruct justice were "serious felonious acts that strike at the heart of our judicial system."

"Violating these oaths or causing others to impede the investigation into such acts are serious matters that meet the standard for impeachment," he said.

Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)

Brown was in the House and voted against impeaching Clinton.

Richard Burr (R-North Carolina)

Burr was serving in the House during the Clinton proceedings, and voted for impeachment. In a statement at the time, Burr said, "The United States is a nation of laws, not men. And I do not believe we can ignore the facts or disregard the constitution so that the president can be placed above the law."

Ben Cardin (D-Maryland)

Cardin was in the House and voted against impeachment. "There are some who are so outraged by how the president was treated, the whole process, the Starr investigation," he said. "The other half of our caucus is somewhat in bewilderment that this even elevates to an impeachable offense."

Susan Collins (R-Maine)

Collins is one of the few Republican senators who voted "not guilty" for both charges against Clinton.

She said that while his grand jury testimony was often evasive and dishonest, it did not meet the legal standard of perjury, and the attorneys questioning him deserved blame for failing "to pin him down as he gave nonresponsive, evasive, confusing or simply absurd responses." As for obstruction, she said his actions did not pose "a threat to our governmental institutions," and noted the legal system treats obstruction as a less serious offense in civil cases like the one Clinton had faced.

Collins said Clinton being impeached was enough punishment. "When the history of the Clinton presidency is written, every book will begin with the fact that William Jefferson Clinton was impeached, and that will be not only the ultimate censure but also the final verdict on this sad chapter in our nation's history," she said.

Mike Crapo (R-Idaho)

Crapo was in the House and voted to impeach Clinton.

"Our entire legal system is dependent on our ability to find the truth. That is why perjury and obstruction of justice are crimes," Crapo said then.

"Perjury and obstruction of justice are public crimes that strike at the heart of the rule of law — and therefore our freedom — in America."

Dick Durbin (D-Illinois)

Durbin voted "not guilty" for both of Clinton's charges in the Senate. He said that while Clinton's conduct was "clearly wrong," the process leading to his impeachment trial was "too partisan, too unfair, too suspect."

"What has occurred here is a personal and family tragedy — it is not a national tragedy which should result in the removal of this president from office."

Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming)

The Wyoming senator voted to convict Clinton of perjury and obstruction of justice, the two charges that made it to the Senate. Enzi said he was particularly disturbed by Clinton's efforts to influence the testimony of Betty Currie, the president's personal secretary who allegedly handled gifts for Lewinsky.

Clinton "was intending to influence the testimony of a likely witness in a federal civil rights proceeding," Enzi said. "President Clinton was, in fact, trying to get Betty Currie to join him in his web of deception and obstruction of justice."

Dianne Feinstein (D-California)

Feinstein voted to acquit Clinton on both charges, though she led the effort to censure him — or, in other words, pass a congressional condemnation that would not carry a specific punishment. Feinstein called Clinton's conduct "immoral, deplorable and indefensible," but said she still believed he was a "good president."

"In terms of public policy he's one of the brightest people I've ever seen. He's been very encouraging to us. He's gone beyond the pale to help at times. It's hard to forget all that," she said.

Her censure effort failed to get enough votes.

Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina)

The South Carolina senator was one of the impeachment managers in the House and voted for Clinton's impeachment. During the proceedings, Graham made clear Clinton could be impeached even if he did not explicitly tell others to break the law — or, in fact, if he didn't break the law at all.

"He doesn't have to say, 'Go lie for me,' to be a crime. He doesn't have to say, 'Let's obstruct justice,' for it to be a crime. You judge people on their conduct, not a magic phrase," Graham said in a TV interview.

In a separate address, Graham said, "You don't even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job in this constitutional republic if this body determines your conduct as a public official is clearly out of bounds in your role."

Impeachment, he said, "is not about punishment. Impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office."

“…you don’t even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job…your conduct as a public official is clearly out of bounds in your role….Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office." [email protected] on the standards for Impeachment in 1999 pic.twitter.com/KRPu3TPtYm

— Amee Vanderpool (@girlsreallyrule) April 19, 2019

Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)

The Iowa senator voted to convict Clinton on both charges. Grassley said Clinton's "actions are having a profound impact on our society."

"His misdeeds have caused many to mistrust elected officials. Cynicism is swelling among the grass roots. His breach of trust has eroded the public's faith in the office of the presidency," he said during the Senate's impeachment trial.

Grassley said the "true tragedy" of the case was "the collapse of the president's moral authority" after Clinton lied on national TV about his affair with Lewinsky.

"There was no better reason than that for the resignation by this President," Grassley said.

"[O]nce you lose your moral authority to lead, you're a failure as a leader."

A spokesperson for Grassley told CBS News, "They're completely different situations. No one disputes that President Clinton committed perjury, a felony. In contrast, the Department of Justice cleared President Trump of conspiracy and obstruction, confirming what the president said the whole time: there was no collusion. If Democrats thought impeachment was unwarranted then, it's certainly clear the standard they set hasn't been met here."

James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma)

The Oklahoma senator voted to convict Clinton on both charges. He co-signed a statement during the impeachment proceedings pointing out that federal law "criminalizes anyone who corruptly persuades or engages in misleading conduct with the intent to influence the testimony of any person in an official proceeding."

Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont)

Leahy voted "not guilty" on both Senate charges. In a lengthy closed-door statement, he said removing Clinton from office would be a "symbolic" act that would cause more long-term damage than keeping him. He also said the proceedings against Clinton had been too partisan.

"Partisan impeachment drives are doomed to fail. The Senate must restore sanity to this impeachment process," Leahy said. "We must exercise judgment and do justice. We have to act in the interest of the nation. History will judge us based on whether this case was resolved in a way that serves the good of the country, not the political ends of any party or the fortunes of any person."

David Carle, a spokesman for Leahy, told CBS News the senator believes "the differences between then and now could not be more stark" and that "no serious person can call Robert Mueller a partisan."

"Mueller documented Russia's multifaceted attack on America's elections. His investigation revealed the President's embrace of that attack, and efforts to derail the investigation and conceal his conduct. Senator Leahy believes that Congress has a constitutional obligation to understand what happened. That starts with reviewing the unredacted report and having Robert Mueller testify before the American people," Carle said.

Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts)

Markey was in the House and voted against impeachment. He said Clinton made a "grievous personal error to the detriment of his family," but not to the country or Constitution. Markey also said Republicans were simply out to get the president, and that Clinton's actions shouldn't have been investigated in the first place.

"This matter should never have been pursued by Ken Starr. It should never have been pursued by the Judiciary Committee. And it should never have reached the floor of the House of Representatives," Markey said.

He warned that Congress was at the "threshold of overturning the people's choice for President through a perversion of the independent counsel law, a runaway, partisan investigation."

Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky)

The Kentucky senator, who is now the Senate majority leader, said Clinton's "cold, calculated actions betrayed the trust vested in him by the American people and the high office of the presidency." He voted to convict on both charges.

"I think that the United States Senate has a clear choice today," McConnell said in a closed-door statement. "Do we want to retain President Clinton in office, or do we want to retain our honor, our principle, and our moral authority? For me, and for many members in my impeachment-fatigued party, I choose honor."

McConnell went on, "The president of the United States looked 270 million Americans in the eye, and lied, deliberately and methodically. He took an oath to faithfully execute the laws of this nation, and he violated that oath. He pledged to be the nation's chief law enforcement officer, and he violated that pledge. He took an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and he willfully and repeatedly violated that oath."

Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey)

Menendez was in the House and voted against impeachment, calling the proceedings "a travesty."

"Monica Lewinsky is not Watergate. Let he who has no sin in this chamber cast the first stone," he said.

Jerry Moran (R-Kansas)

The Kansas senator was in the House and voted for Clinton's impeachment. "I choose to be on the side that says no person is above the law; that this is a nation of laws, not men; that telling the truth matters; and that we should expect our public officials to conduct themselves in compliance with the highest ethical standards," he said in a statement.

Patty Murray (D-Washington)

Murray voted to acquit on both charges, despite making clear her disgust with Clinton.

"I have to say, as a citizen, as a woman, and as a parent, I cannot begin to describe how deeply disappointed and angry I am with the President," Murray said.

"I trusted him. I thought I knew him. I refused to believe he would demean the presidency in the way that he has. His behavior was appalling and has hurt us all."

But she said that, as a senator, she did not believe the evidence warranted impeachable offenses.

"This president's behavior was reprehensible, but it does not threaten our nation," she said. "In the past year, despite the scandal that ran on the front page nearly every day, our country has prospered. Our economy is growing. Our waters and air are cleaner. Our communities are safer. Our education system is stronger. America is not poised on the brink of disaster. Our democracy is safe."

Rob Portman (R-Ohio)

The Ohio senator was in the House and vote for impeachment.

"I believe the evidence of serious wrongdoing is simply too compelling to be swept aside," he said on the House floor. "I am particularly troubled by the clear evidence of lying under oath in that it must be the bedrock of our judicial system. I believe the long-term consequence to this country of not acting on these serious charges before us far outweigh the consequences of following what the Constitution provides for and bringing this matter to trial in the United States Senate."

Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Portman, told CBS News, "The Starr report concluded that President Clinton both committed the crime of perjury by lying under oath to a grand jury as well as obstruction of justice to cover it up. The Mueller report concluded that there was no conspiracy or coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, and it reached no conclusion on obstruction. The [attorney general] and [deputy attorney general] have concluded there was no obstruction. That's a big difference."

Smith added that Portman accepts Attorney General William Barr's conclusion that Mr. Trump did not obstruct justice.

Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island)

Reed voted to acquit Clinton on both Senate charges. In an interview with CBS News' Major Garrett on his podcast "The Takeout," which comes out Friday, Reed said senators "haven't seen all the evidence yet" from the Mueller report.

Comparing it to the Clinton case, he added, "What really makes this case different is we're not talking about personal indiscretions that were embarrassing and were attempted to be obscured. We're talking about a sovereign nation who tried to – did, in fact, didn't try – did in fact influence our elections. We're talking about a reaction to the future, to other elections. This is not, literally, an affair that was a year ago, let's move on. And that's a difference we have to look at."

Pat Roberts (R-Kansas)

The Kansas senator voted "guilty" on both charges. In a statement, he said Clinton had taken several steps to impede the investigation and affect its outcome.

"Do these actions rise to the level envisioned by our founding fathers in the Constitution as 'high crimes and misdemeanors' so warranting removal from office?" Roberts asked. "Our Constitution requires that the threshold for that judgment must be set by each senator sitting as a juror. Again, I believe an open-minded individual applying Kansas common sense would reach the conclusion that I reached."

Chuck Schumer (D-New York)

The current Senate minority leader was in the House and voted against impeaching Clinton. He said Clinton's affair was "tawdry" and his actions were potentially illegal, but still did not warrant impeachment. Schumer also said Starr had "seriously overreached" in his investigation and provided "flimsy evidence."

"The world economy is in crisis and cries out for American leadership, without which worldwide turmoil is a grave possibility," Schumer said, adding that the investigation had "run its course" and it was "time to move on."

Richard Shelby (R-Alabama)

Shelby said that after reviewing the evidence, he did not support the perjury charge. But he did believe it was proven "beyond a reasonable doubt" that Clinton obstructed Starr's investigation. So he voted "not guilty" for the perjury charge, but also voted to convict Clinton on obstruction of justice.

Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan)

Stabenow was in the House and voted against impeachment. In a House debate about launching an impeachment inquiry, she criticized the president's "irresponsible behavior and lack of truthfulness" but said impeachment was not "in the best interests of our country."

"We must address this crisis fairly and responsibly and get back to the people's business," she said.

John Thune (R-South Dakota)

Thune voted in the House for impeachment. "In America there is no emperor," he said.

"There is one standard of justice that applies equally to all, and to say or do otherwise will undermine the most sacred of all American ideals. President Clinton has committed federal crimes, and there must be a reckoning, or no American shall ever again be prosecuted for those same crimes."

Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi)

The Mississippi senator was in the House and voted to impeach Clinton. He said the allegations that Clinton urged Lewinsky to lie "would amount to a federal felony, and that would mean serious, serious problems for President Clinton."

Ron Wyden (D-Oregon)

Wyden voted to acquit Clinton on both Senate charges. He said Clinton's lying to his secretary was "very, very disturbing," but did not find the evidence against Clinton strong enough for impeachment and removal. Wyden's impeachment statement said little about Clinton, and instead focused on Wyden's belief that the impeachment proceedings had been too partisan and Republicans didn't try to find "common ground."

"The public is tired of us being at each other's throats. They are tired of beltway politics that places toxic partisanship over the public interest," he said.

First published on April 25, 2019 / 4:43 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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