"I am not a crook.” — Richard M. Nixon, Nov. 17, 1973, televised press conference denying involvement in the Watergate cover-up. Impeachment efforts began Feb. 6, 1974; Nixon resigned Aug. 9, 1974.
“Read my lips, no new taxes.” — George H.W. Bush, Aug. 18, 1988, Republican National Convention nomination acceptance speech. Won his 1988 bid against Gov. Michael Dukakis, D-Massachusetts; lost his 1992 re-election to Bill Clinton, who made the pledge a flash point of his campaign.
“I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” — Bill Clinton, Jan. 26, 1998. Impeachment efforts began Oct. 8, 1998, for obstruction of justice and perjury, the latter related to his sworn deposition that he did not have a sexual relationship with White House Intern Monica Lewinsky. Clinton was acquitted on Feb. 12, 1999.
“Saddam Hussein has defied all these efforts and continues to develop weapons of mass destruction.” — George W. Bush, Sept. 12, 2002, speech to the United Nations General Assembly. A CIA analyst who interrogated Hussein following his December 2003 capture quickly determined the Iraqi government neither had nor developed WMDs.
“No obstruction, no collusion.” — Donald Trump, April 18-May 29, Twitter, speeches, outbursts too many to count. The president abruptly changed his repetitive battle cry that he was “totally exonerated” by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, after Mueller in May made it patently obvious that “if we had confidence the president clearly did not commit a crime we would have said so.” No word from Congress.
“If somebody called from a country … [and said] ‘we have information on your opponent’ — I think I’d want to hear it.” Donald Trump, June 12 interview with ABC News. While the Federal Election Commission does not explicitly address foreign governments secretly providing dirt to a political campaign, federal laws do prohibit foreign nationals from "electioneering communication" and from “making any contribution or donation of money or other thing of value, or making an expenditure, independent expenditure or disbursement in connection with any federal, state or local election in the United States." Insider information could be considered an “other thing of value” to an unscrupulous politician.
Do people screw up, like Trump talking about the Continental Army taking over airports in the 1700s? Get their facts wrong? Make mistakes based on incorrect information? Sometimes patently lie in order to save face? Duh.
But when the commander-in-chief does it, and when he does it in such a way that it throws fistfuls of doubt on his integrity — or even his grasp of historical fact — it becomes a problem. When his own party and Congress refuse to hold him accountable, it becomes a crisis.
In the cases of Nixon and Clinton, Congress took action against the flat-out lies and potentially criminal behaviors. For Bush 1.0, a savvy counter-campaign inflamed voters over the broken vow and he lost re-election. Bush 2.0 escaped with a slap on the wrist, but his legacy is … unsettled.
And yet when it comes to Donald “No collusion [but] if someone called [with dirt on an opponent] from a foreign country … I think I’d want to take it” Trump, we get crickets. Nada. No efforts from his party leadership to hold him accountable — or even to correct the record. The only House Republican to call for Trump’s impeachment, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, left the party last week.
Congressional inaction is shameful. It’s unconstitutional. It’s alarming that someone whose entire presidential resume comprises inheriting a family fortune and running a reality TV show now has a death grip on the two-century-old system of checks and balances that helped define our nation.
So we say step up, Congress. Do your damn jobs already, and hold the president accountable. If you won’t — and it is as patently evident as Trump’s staggeringly poor grasp of reality that you won’t — then it is our fervent hope the voters will.