From Clinton to Trump: Scott Pelley reflects on covering two impeachment debates

Will the president be impeached? Pelley looks back at the when the country was asking that question in 1998 and compares it to today

Covering an impeachment debate again

The first time Scott Pelley appeared on "60 Minutes," he was part of a roundtable discussion led by correspondent Mike Wallace. It was September 1998, and the debate was whether or not Congress would impeach the president of the United States.

Twenty-one years later, Pelley has spent the last two Sundays on "60 Minutes" reporting on the same discussion.
 
"I've been down this road once before," Pelley told "60 Minutes Overtime" in the video above.

In 1998, the president was Bill Clinton, and Pelley was the chief White House correspondent for CBS News. Pelley remembers the "highly partisan" atmosphere in Washington, wondering if President Clinton had lied under oath about whether he'd had an affair with a White House intern. 
 
After covering the topic every day, Pelley saw firsthand the administration's strategy of delay. 

"The White House had a strategy in 1998 of drawing this out as long as it possibly could, not responding to subpoenas, not responding to requests for information and testimony," Pelley said. "The White House in those days felt that if they could drag it out long enough, the temperature would go down and the president might not be impeached."

ot-pelleyh.jpg
Scott Pelley was the chief White House correspondent for CBS News from 1997 to 1999.

Pelley said President Clinton had another tactic at this point in the impeachment process: say as little as possible. Pelley remembers one presidential news conference in the East Room of the White House in April 1998. After President Clinton emphasized his administration's various initiatives, Pelley listed all the questions regarding Lewinsky that Clinton hadn't yet answered. President Clinton responded by saying he had no further comment. 

"President Trump [is] obviously a very different situation," Pelley said. 

Pelley noted another key difference in the impeachment debate this time around—the subject matter. In 1998, the discussion was whether President Clinton had violated the law by lying under oath about his private behavior. Today, the deliberation is whether President Trump used the power of the office to pressure a foreign government to help in a campaign. 

"To me," Pelley said, "that is a much different state of affairs."  

To watch Scott Pelley's "60 Minutes" reporting on the impeachment debate about President Trump, click here and here. 

The video above was produced by Brit McCandless Farmer and Sarah Shafer Prediger. Rebecca Chertok Gonsalves was the associate producer. It was edited by Sarah Shafer Prediger.