More than a century passed between the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson in 1868 and the impeachment of President Richard Nixon in 1974. While Johnson survived the challenge to his Presidency, Nixon did not. Richard Milhous Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974, only days before being impeached by the House, thereby avoiding both impeachment while in office and a looming trial in the Senate.
Most Americans associate just one word with the Nixon impeachment — Watergate. The Watergate affair began during Nixon’s first term, with the June 17, 1972 break-in of the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate Office Building in Washington. The Watergate scandal worsened as agencies of government were mobilized to cover up the crime.
However, on Election Day 1972, the Watergate scandal had not yet hit the public’s consciousness, and President Nixon was re-elected with 61 percent of the popular vote, defeating George McGovern in the Electoral College by a vote of 520 to 17. Nixon won every state except Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. From that high water mark, his Presidency continued to unravel. From the date that President Nixon was sworn in for his second term on January 20, 1973, it took exactly 19 months for him to be driven from office.
The public’s attention became riveted on the Watergate scandal when the Senate created a special committee chaired by Senator Sam Ervin (D-NC), which held hearings that were broadcast live on the nation’s major television networks. Although the hearings were not technically about impeachment, it is a historical curiosity that it was the Senate that developed much of the evidence used by the House Judiciary Committee’s adoption of three articles of impeachment. Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974, just eleven days before the House of Representatives impeached him, with only three dissenting votes.
The facts surrounding the unwinding of the Nixon Presidency were complex, but the grounds on which the impeachment was based went well beyond Watergate, establishing a precedent that could be used in the Biden impeachment inquiry.
The second article of impeachment approved by the House Judiciary Committee accused Nixon of violating the Constitution’s “take care” clause by using executive branch agencies against the People.
He misused the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Secret Service, and other executive personnel, in violation or disregard of the constitutional rights of citizens, by directing or authorizing such agencies or personnel to conduct or continue electronic surveillance or other investigations for purposes unrelated to national security, the enforcement of laws, or any other lawful function of his office….[Nixon Impeachment final report of the House Committee on the Judiciary, at 5 (emphasis added).]
Rep. Jerome Waldie (D-CA), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, expanded on that charge:
Richard Nixon … has abused the powers of this office by authorizing illegal acts and dangerous intrusion into personal privacy to further political objectives. Wiretapping to obtain information that was used to counter political opponents; illegal entry to obtain information to counter political opponents; secret police not accountable to any authority but the President and whose primary function appears to have been to further political objectives of the President; the use of agencies of our Government such as the IRS to persecute political enemies and reward political friends; the pattern of excessive accumulation of power and of dangerous abuse of power is undeniable. [Nixon Impeachment final report of the House Committee on the Judiciary, at 410-411 (emphasis added).]
Nixon’s misuse of federal agencies to attack his political opponents is eerily similar to the actions of President Biden today. Like Nixon, Biden has used government agencies to punish enemies and reward friends. It could be said that Biden has declared war on his political opponents. For example, in the aftermath of the January 6, 2021 election protests at the Capitol, more than a thousand persons have been unmercifully prosecuted by the Biden Justice Department, including those who were waved into the building by Capitol Police. In January 2022, the Justice Department created a new unit to counter domestic terrorism, claiming an imaginary “growing threat from white supremacists and anti-government activists … on par with that posed by foreign militant groups such as the Islamic State.”
In an action unprecedented in American history, Biden’s FBI raided the home of former President and current candidate Donald Trump, using the FBI’s overwhelming force to attempt to obtain documents to use in criminal prosecutions of Trump. Biden repeatedly denied that the White House had any advance knowledge of the raid, but it has now been shown that the White House specifically requested it. “This government, it seems, acknowledges no limits on its power to harass, intimidate, and silence its political opponents,” said the lawyer who filed suit to force release of documents tying the White House demands to the FBI raid. And, matters are getting worse. Just last week, Newsweek reported that the Biden Administration is ramping up its assault on his opponents in preparation for next year’s election:
[t]he federal government believes that the threat of violence and major civil disturbances around the 2024 U.S. presidential election is so great that it has quietly created a new category of extremists that it seeks to track and counter: Donald Trump’s army of MAGA followers. [Emphasis added.]
If more illustrations of executive branch abuses were needed, the Fifth Circuit recently ruled that “the White House, acting in concert with the Surgeon General’s office, likely (1) coerced the [Big Tech social media] platforms to make their moderation decisions by way of intimidating messages and threats of adverse consequences, and (2) significantly encouraged the platforms’ decisions by commandeering their decision-making processes, both in violation of the First Amendment.” Missouri v. Biden, 2023 U.S. App. LEXIS 26191, at 61 (5th Cir. 2023). In 2021, the Supreme Court struck down Biden’s attempt to impose a nationwide moratorium on evictions through a Centers for Disease Control mandate, stating, “our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends.” Ala. Ass’n of Realtors v. HHS, 141 S. Ct. 2485, 2490 (2021). The High Court also struck down Biden’s mandate for employers to force employees to receive the COVID “vaccine” or be fired, stating: “the mandate extends beyond the agency’s legitimate reach.” Nat’l Fed’n of Indep. Bus. v. DOL, OSHA, 142 S. Ct. 661, 666 (2022).
In the Nixon impeachment, Congressman Waldie explained: “Impeachment for such activities is clearly warranted that we might redefine executive power and thereby limit it that future Presidents will not so abuse their powers.” [Nixon Impeachment final report of the House Committee on the Judiciary, at 411.] The abuses of the Biden Administration demonstrate that the lesson Mr. Waldie hoped Presidents would learn has been lost after the passage of a half-century.
Editor’s Note: To read the articles in this series, please click here.