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Linda Tripp
AP Photo/Khue Bui
Linda Tripp was not a firsthand witness.
AS RECORDED

A reminder for Lindsey Graham: Hearsay was key to the last presidential impeachment

Annalisa Merelli
By Annalisa Merelli

Geopolitics reporter

Commenting on the House’s launch of an official inquiry into impeaching Donald Trump, South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham attacked the evidence against the US president. It was, he said yesterday, “hearsay,” as the investigation into Trump’s call with his Ukrainian counterpart Vlodymyr Zelensky was sparked by a whistleblower.

Second-hand information, Graham said, shouldn’t be grounds to impeach a sitting president.

To call the evidence “hearsay” seems a little reductive—after all, the president himself admitted to the conversation, and the White House released a record (though not a transcript) of the call. But even then, Graham seems to forget—or is ignoring the fact—that the last presidential impeachment, against Bill Clinton in 1998, was in fact significantly advanced by hearsay.

Leading up to the impeachment, a key role was that of Linda Tripp, a civil servant who, starting in 1997, began bringing forward rumors about Clinton (for instance, implying a relationship between the president and White House staffer Kathleen Willey), then shared the recording of her calls with Monica Lewinsky, for whom she was a confidante. Since she was not present at the moment of the encounters between Lewinsky and Clinton, Tripp’s information was quintessentially hearsay—though she had recordings, it was still not based on direct evidence.

Still, this didn’t stop the Republican House from impeaching Clinton. Graham, too, who was a member of the House Judiciary Committee at the time of that impeachment, voted in favor of it.

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