House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler on Thursday played a 1999 video of Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham arguing that “high crimes” don’t “even need to be a crime,” a statement that runs counter to a central Republican talking point in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.
“What’s a high crime? How about an important person hurt somebody of low means. That’s not very scholarly, but I think it’s the truth,” Graham says in the video clip from President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial played on Thursday. “I think that’s what they meant by ‘high crimes.’ Doesn’t even have to be a crime. It’s just when you start using your office and you’re acting in a way that hurts people, you have committed a high crime.”
Nadler, an impeachment manager, played the video as part of the Democrat’s strategy to highlight the constitutional case for removing Trump from office for abuse of power as they seek to convince skeptical — and often weary — Republican senators that the trial needs witnesses and documents. Much of Trump’s defense has relied on the idea that no crime was committed in his conduct regarding Ukraine — an argument Nadler sought to undercut by showing the 1999 video.
“There are many reasons why high crimes and misdemeanors are not and cannot be limited to violations of the criminal code. We address them at length in the briefs we have filed,” Nadler said after the video played.
Graham, a fierce Trump ally, was not on the Senate floor when the video played, but Republican Sen. Ben Sasse could be seen whispering something to him on his way back in, and Graham smiled.
His previous comments about high crimes and impeachment echo a similar about-face from constitutional lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who is helping Trump’s impeachment defense.
On Sunday, Dershowitz told CNN’s Brianna Keilar on “State of the Union” that in his defense of Trump he would cite former Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Curtis in saying the framers of the Constitution intended for impeachable conduct to mean “criminal-like conduct.”
But in August 1998, during the summer leading up to Cinton’s impeachment, Dershowitz argued that a president does not have to commit a “technical crime” in order for it to constitute impeachable conduct.
“It certainly doesn’t have to be a crime if you have somebody who completely corrupts the office of president and who abuses trust and who poses great danger to our liberty, you don’t need a technical crime,” Dershowitz told “Larry King Live.”