WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Kenneth Starr, the lawyer whose investigation led to the impeachment of former U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1998, told the Senate on Monday that the process was happening all too often in what he called an “age of impeachment” as he spoke in defense of his client, President Donald Trump.
Starr told lawmakers that impeachment has become an all-too-common political weapon as he argued that the Senate should not remove Trump, a Republican, from office, but let voters decide in the November 2020 election.
“The Senate is being called to sit as the high court of impeachment all too frequently. Indeed, we are living in what I think can aptly be described as the age of impeachment,” he said.
Democrats accused him of hypocrisy.
“The man who spent all those dollars of taxpayers’ money, to come up with, ‘oh my God, the president has to be impeached because of sex’ ... is probably not the person who should talk” about an “Age of Impeachment,” Senator Patrick Leahy told reporters.
Trump was impeached last month by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on charges that he pressured Ukraine to help him smear a Democratic political rival.
Starr noted that presidential impeachment was invoked only once in the 19th century, against President Andrew Johnson, but has occurred three times in recent decades, against Trump, Clinton, and former President Richard Nixon.
No president has ever been convicted by the Senate on impeachment charges.
The House Judiciary Committee in July 1974 adopted articles of impeachment against Nixon, but the Republican president resigned less than a month later, before the full House had a chance to vote on impeachment. Johnson, who was impeached in 1868, was acquitted by the Senate.
Even Trump’s supporters seemed a little underwhelmed by Starr’s deliberate, lawyerly presentation, which focused on history and the U.S. Constitution.
“This defense needs a little less Atticus Finch and a little more Miss Universe,” Republican Representative Matt Gaetz wrote on Twitter, referring to the fictional lawyer in the Harper Lee novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Most senators remained in their seats for Starr’s speech, and several Republicans were seen chatting with him during a break.
Starr was appointed as a special counsel in the 1990s to investigate Clinton over a real estate investment. His probe widened to include Clinton’s sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and led to Clinton’s impeachment by the House of Representatives. However, the Republican-controlled Senate failed to muster the two-thirds majority needed to remove him from office.
“Like war, impeachment is hell,” Starr said.
Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Leslie Adler