How the Trump impeachment inquiry compares to Bill Clinton's

A look back at Clinton impeachment

The first public hearings of the impeachment inquiry that begin Wednesday mark the fourth time in history that Congress has considered removing a president from office. The last time was 1998 when the House of Representatives impeached President Bill Clinton.

Clinton lied under oath about his affair with a White House intern, triggering an impeachment inquiry in the Republican-led House.

"I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky," Clinton said on Jan. 26, 1998.

Then, like now, the parties were split over whether the president's actions represented what the Constitution refers to as "high crimes and misdemeanors." Just like today, the minority argued the opposing party had been looking for a way to take down the president for years.

"He lied about sex, not an admirable thing, but really not an activity that shook the foundations of the Constitution and the democracy," Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said.

"The president of the United States should be held to the highest standard of anybody in the country," Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said.

Both lawmakers sit on the House Judiciary Committee, which handles impeachment. They were there in 1998 too.

"It was a heck of a lot of work," Sensenbrenner recounted, adding, "The Judiciary Committee got all of Starr's evidence dumped on us with a few days notice."

In this case, there is no special prosecutor like Kenneth Starr to gather all that evidence. So the intelligence committee has been investigating instead with a series of closed-door depositions.

"This is not a joyful experience for anyone engaged in it, but it's an obligation that we have given the facts that have been discovered so far," Lofgren said.

Clinton famously said the process was beyond his control.

"It's not in my hands; it's in the hands of Congress and the people of this country — ultimately, in the hands of God. There is nothing I can do," he said in 1998.

Mr. Trump has mounted a more direct defense. "We had a totally appropriate – I even say perfect – conversation with the president of Ukraine," Mr. Trump said earlier this month. 

In the end, the House voted to bring impeachment charges against Clinton on two charges. But he was acquitted by the Senate less than two months later with some Republicans crossing party lines.

Sensenbrenner predicts the same outcome for Mr. Trump.

"The president is not going to be removed from office, I think everybody realizes that," Sensenbrenner said.

The split we're seeing on impeachment in Congress reflects the divide in the country. The most recent CBS News poll shows 53 percent approve of the inquiry into Mr. Trump and 47 percent disapprove.

In 1998, before the House voted to start the impeachment inquiry of Mr. Clinton, a CBS News poll found that 53 percent of Americans would be satisfied if no action were taken against the president and the entire matter were dropped.