During Fred Thompson’s time in the Senate, his voting record was quite similar to that of his friend John McCain. But one area where they diverged was on the verdict in President Clinton’s impeachment trial. After that trial, the Senate voted on two impeachment Articles — perjury and obstruction of justice. John McCain voted “guilty” as to both Articles; Fred Thompson voted “guilty” on obstruction of justice and “not gulity”” on perjury.
I don’t remember the evidence well enough to opine with confidence on the merits of these votes, and as President Nixon once said, perjury is a tough rap to prove. Nonetheless, my thought at the time was that during the trial, the House floor managers who prosecuted the case had made a convincing case on both Articles of impeachment.
For the record, 45 Senators found Clinton guilty of obstruction of justice and 50 Senators found him guilty of obstruction of justice. The Republicans who found Clinton not guilty of perjury were Thompson, Chafee, Collins, Gordon, Jeffords, Shelby, Snowe, Specter, Stevens, and Warner. Of this group Thompson, Gordon, Shelby, Stevens, and Warner found Clinton guilty of obstruction of justice.
UPDATE: Here is Fred Thompson’s contemporaneous explanation for his votes in the impeachment trial. With respect to perjury, Thompson stated:
I conclude that the statements concerning Betty Currie, and the statements concerning what he told his aides do constitute perjury. I also find that the President committed perjury with respect to item one of Article I with respect to his statements that he and Ms. Lewinsky’s relationship began as a friendship, that it started in 1996, and that he had `occasional’ encounters with her. These are the only examples of grand jury perjury that I believe have been proved in the entirety of Article I. The question then is whether these examples of perjury warrant removal of the President for the commission of high crimes and misdemeanors.
Make no mistake, perjury is a felony, and its commission by a President may sometimes constitute high crimes and misdemeanors. But is removal appropriate when the President lied about whether he was refreshing his recollection or coaching a witness about the nature of a sexual relationship? Is removal appropriate when the President lied to the grand jury that he denied to his aides that he had engaged in sex only as he had defined it, when in fact he had denied engaging in oral sex? Is removal warranted because the President stated that his relationship began as a friendship in the wrong year and actually encompassed more telephone encounters than could truthfully be described as `occasional’? To ask the question is to answer it. In my opinion, these statements, while wrong and perhaps indictable after the President leaves office, do not justify removal of the President from office.
In no way does my conclusion ratify the White House lawyers’ view that private conduct never rises to impeachable offenses, or that only acts that will jeopardize the future of the nation warrant removal of the President. It simply recognizes how the principles the Founding Fathers established apply to these facts.
I therefore vote to acquit the President of the charges alleged against him in Article I.
I disagree, though I’m more sympathetic to Thompson’s view now than I was at the time. In any event, Thompson’s position is defensible. Moreover, he clearly thought deeply about the issue and took his solemn duty in this affair quite seriously.
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