It’s been more than 20 years since independent counsel Ken Starr’s investigation led to the Clinton impeachment. That effort, of course, didn’t end in a conviction, and Starr doesn’t think the latest attempt at removing a president will, either.
Speaking with Fox News during the first day of open testimony in the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry, Starr said that he saw “no hope” that President Trump would be convicted based on the evidence that was presented.
The first day’s slate of witnesses was perceived to be a strong one, highlighted by William Taylor, America’s top diplomat to Ukraine.
In addition to what we already knew Taylor would allege — that the Trump administration, through irregular diplomatic channels, sought to force Ukraine to open investigations into his political rivals — Taylor also claimed a member of his staff overheard a phone call in which U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland was discussing “the investigations” into Trump’s political rivals.
While that was strong stuff to start with, Starr felt confident that, if the hearings proceeded apace, there wouldn’t be the evidence necessary to convict President Trump.
In his appearance on Fox News, Starr said that members from both sides were solid in their lines of questioning.
“The members were very strong,” Starr said. “I think the members overall acquitted themselves extremely well on both sides of the aisle. The quality of the questioning was extremely high, for the most part.”
That didn’t mean, however, both sides came away looking just as good.
Ken Starr: “no hope for impeachment” and “no crime was proven today” pic.twitter.com/xfVORRGbRJ
— Steve Guest (@SteveGuest) November 13, 2019
“One key thing: The Republicans not only are rock solid — so that means if this trend continues, there is no hope for impeachment, for conviction in the … Senate,” Starr said.
“And here, to me, was something that was very telling: No crime was proven today,” he continued.
“There were a lot of terms used — extortion and bribery — but no crime. This is very unlike Nixon and unlike Clinton.”
Speaking with Fox News before the hearings, Starr also noted the difficulty in trying to obtain a conviction: No one in Trump’s inner circle was corroborating the most condemnatory testimony being offered by witnesses like Taylor — unlike Nixon White House Counsel John Dean, who blew Watergate open when he turned on the president.
“There is no John Dean: ‘This is what the president told me. This is what the president did,’” Starr said.
“We’re far-removed from Nixon and Watergate at this stage.”
He also gave some credence to South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham’s contention that “what’s going on in the House” with the impeachment hearings could be a “danger to the presidency in the future.”
“I think Sen. Graham is onto something broader and that is we’re dealing with the context of the foreign relations of the United States. The give and take of foreign relations,” Starr said, adding that it “doesn’t justify bribery or however it’s going to be characterized.”
Starr believes convincing Americans it’s bribery is a stretch, however.
“To the person on the street, this is going to seem like a stretch,” he said.
To the person on the street, that already seems like a bit of a stretch. According to a Morning Consult poll taken between Nov. 1 and Nov. 3, 47 percent of Americans believe Trump should be impeached. That’s down from 51 percent in October.
If Starr is right and this is what the Democrats have, the road ahead could be hopeless indeed — both in terms of obtaining a conviction and convincing the American people. Given that this is a man who arguably knows the ins and outs of impeachment more than anyone else alive, that should worry the left.
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