WASHINGTON — Former Independent Counsel Ken Starr told PJM that President Donald Trump has not committed an impeachable offense and that House Democrats are “nowhere near” having the “most convincing case” that the president is “unit to serve” in office.
Starr agued that Democrats are using impeachment as a “tool of expressing” their “disapprobation of a controversial president.”
“This is impeachment in search of a rationale. There’s no clear compelling — I’ve called it the John Dean moment — that here’s someone who is in the Oval Office plotting a criminal offense. That was enough to cause people on both sides of the aisle to say Richard Nixon needs to go,” Starr said during an interview at the Federalist Society’s National Lawyers Convention over the weekend. “Now we know, in another constitutional moment, the impeachment of Bill Clinton, that he was guilty of felonies but that was not enough to remove him from office. And by the way one of the grounds that we submitted was abuse of power.”
When asked if he personally thinks Trump committed an impeachable offense with his handling of Ukraine, Starr said, “Absolutely not and that we have, as has been said, we’ve defined impeachment down and I think it is highly destabilizing.”
Starr continued, “We live in a culture of impeachment that was created by Congress in 1978 in the aftermath of the Nixon impeachment and that culture was embodied in a statute under which I was appointed. The independent counsel was essentially a tool for Congress to impeach the president of the United States. William Jefferson Clinton happened to be the victim. Ronald Reagan was a victim also but it didn’t go all the way to impeachment. The statute was challenged, here we are at the Federalist Society, by Antonin Scalia in his wonderful dissent challenging the constitutionality on separation of powers grounds.”
Starr said House Democrats are using impeachment as a “political weapon” and suggested that the 2020 election should decide if Trump is going to remain in office.
“Now we live in a world where impeachment is simply the tool of expressing our disapprobation of a controversial president. So it has become a political weapon against an unpopular president and a controversial president, as opposed to allowing the electoral process to take its case,” Starr said. “To impeach a president means to me you need to have the most convincing case that convinces any fair-minded person who’s not totally partisan that this president is unfit to serve our great country and needs to be removed now. We’re nowhere near that as I see it.”
Starr compared the current impeachment situation to Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist 65.
“We are living in the hell that Alexander Hamilton warned about in Federalist 65, which is that impeachment will just bring out these partisan passions,” he said. “Maybe we should just have an election.”
Some Democratic senators have said Trump violated federal election law during his conversation with the president of Ukraine. Starr was asked if he agreed with that assessment.
“Technically, I have not seen the evidence that would suggest that but even if there is such a case, do you remove the president of the United States and overturn an election because of that? It just seems to me a bazooka when a pop gun is called for,” Starr said.