1998: Matthews proposed censure of Clinton, demanded historical footnote; 2006: Matthews questions if censure of Bush is "even legal or not"

››› ››› ROB MORLINO

Chris Matthews claimed that "there's a big question about whether it's even legal or not in the Senate" to censure President Bush, as Sen. Russ Feingold recently proposed, over Bush's authorization of warrantless domestic surveillance. But Matthews said something very different about the issue of censure in the context of former President Bill Clinton, at that time taking credit for first promoting the idea of censuring Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky controversy: "I'm not bragging, but I believe I was the first person to talk about the notion of censure because nobody else talked about it."

During the March 15 broadcast of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews claimed during an interview with Democratic adviser Howard Wolfson that "there's a big question about whether it's even legal or not in the Senate" to censure President Bush, as Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) recently proposed, over Bush's authorization of warrantless domestic surveillance, in apparent violation of the 1978 Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act (FISA). But Matthews said something very different about the issue of censure in the context of former President Bill Clinton, at that time taking credit for first promoting the idea of censuring Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky controversy. On the December 30, 1998, year-end review edition of Hardball, then broadcast on CNBC, Matthews said: "I'm not bragging, but I believe I was the first person to talk about the notion of censure because nobody else talked about it."

In fact, as Matthews reminded viewers during the 1998 wrap-up, he proposed the notion of censuring Clinton during an interview with then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) that aired in March of that year. Matthews asked Lott, "Why don't you just pass ... a vote to censure [Clinton] if he does something wrong instead of impeach him? Isn't there a middle ground?" Lott responded: "Well, that -- that is -- yeah. Yeah. Sure." Matthews also asked, "Is that legal?" Lott responded: "That is an option, yes." After playing a clip of his interview with Lott, Matthews asked American University history professor Allan Lichtman, who is currently a Democratic candidate for a U.S. Senate seat for Maryland, "Do I get a page in the history books for that or a footnote maybe?" Lichtman assured Matthews that there was precedent -- President Andrew Johnson was censured by the Senate before being impeached by the House in 1868. Lichtman then lauded Matthews's political acumen: "Chris, you know your history, and you're a prophet all at the same time." Matthews replied, "Thank you very much."

From the March 15 broadcast of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

MATTHEWS: Russ Feingold, the United States senator from Wisconsin, has called for the censure -- that means something short of impeachment, there's a big question whether it's even legal or not in the Senate -- of President Bush over the issue of his use of the National Security Agency to intercept electronic communications between here and other countries but involving Americans. Is that a big enough issue or misbehavior or misconduct to warrant a formal censure by the Senate?

From the December 30, 1998, broadcast of CNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

MATTHEWS: Let's talk about censure because it seems to be so much in the air as we go to -- through the holidays this year and on to the new year. I believe -- I'm not bragging, but I believe I was the first person to talk about the notion of censure because nobody else had talked about it. I did it in an interview here on Hardball with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott way back in March.

[begin video clip]

LOTT: I do think he needs to go -- get this thing behind him somehow or other, and the best way to do it is, tell the truth. Now, if there is no problem there, then it'll be over. If there are some problems there, then he and we will have to decide how to deal with it. When I say "we," I mean the American people.

MATTHEWS: Why don't you just pass a -- a vote to censure him if he does something wrong instead of impeach him? Isn't there a middle ground?

LOTT: Well, that -- that is -- yeah. Yeah. Sure.

MATTHEWS: Can't you pass a resolution that says, "We don't like the way he behaved with this woman?"

LOTT: Sure.

MATTHEWS: We're certainly not gonna kick him out of office for it, but we want to express our view.

LOTT: Yeah.

MATTHEWS: Is that legal?

LOTT: That is an option, yes.

[end video clip]

MATTHEWS: Allan Lichtman of American University: Do I get a page in the history books for that or a footnote maybe?

LICHTMAN: You -- you -- you sure do. It'll -- it'll only be a footnote, Chris, but --

MATTHEWS: I'll take it.

LICHTMAN: -- the senator was absolutely right. There's plenty of precedent for censuring a president. No one has talked about this, but Andrew Johnson, the guy who was impeached, was actually also censured. He was censured by the Senate before he was impeached by the House, and the Senate quite explicitly said, "He broke the law and he -- and he violated the Constitution," so the precedent is there. And that was never expunged the way the censure of Andy Jackson back in 1834 was expunged. Chris, you know your history, and you're a prophet all at the same time.

MATTHEWS: Thank you very much.

Posted In
Government, The Senate, Justice & Civil Liberties, Domestic Spying
Network/Outlet
MSNBC
Person
Chris Matthews
Show/Publication
Hardball
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