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Preview: Rep. John Katko on the Campbell Conversations

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Earlier this week, the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump. The vote was largely along party lines. As the House debated two articles of impeachment against Trump, Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) sat down for an interview with Grant Reeher for this week's edition of the Campbell Conversations. In this preview, Katko explains why he voted against impeachment. 

Reeher: Okay, so my first question is a simple one, was this a hard decision for you?

Katko: Listen, any time you’re weighing whether or not to take on a president, yeah, of course it’s a hard decision, it’s hard because you want to make sure you do your homework. The ultimate conclusion I reached was not a difficult one based on what I reviewed and based on the ultimate charges, the two counts against him, but yeah, it’s hard because you’ve got to take it serious and in that regard, it was very hard.

Reeher: I have a couple questions about the reference you made to the lack of articulating specific crimes. One could argue back, against you there, that instead of listing specific criminal actions the founders were deliberately vague on what specific impeachable offenses would be and that the broader problem, introduced by this president, of the abuse of presidential power and the obstruction of Congress are actually more significant charges because they get to the core of American democracy and the checks and balances between the institutions. So, I’m curious why did you pull out and focus on criminal charges in your statement?

Katko: Well, put it this way, I’m a dyed in the wool, hard core trained, federal prosecutor to organized crime cases so what drives me always is, what is the charge and what is the evidence to support the charge. I took it from a very clinical look that way. It wasn’t dispositive for me that they didn’t have criminal charges, but in the total mix of things it really impacted me greatly. So let’s start with the evidence first. I analyzed the evidence and I didn’t think the evidence, while his comments were problematic, I just don’t think they rise to the level of taking someone out of office and removing him from office, someone that was dually elected. I viewed what I think the founding fathers viewed, impeachment is a very high bar, not some kind of amorphous bar, you’re more likely to ponder the evidence and get him out. I think it’s a very high bar and I think it was done so on purpose. I looked at the evidence in nature and in quality and then I looked at the charging itself, and I am also a student of precedent, and from a precedential stand point, there has never been a president removed on noncriminal conduct and that’s something that really impacted me as well so those two things together are what drove me.

Reeher: Just another question on this point, the House Judiciary Committee report on the articles of impeachment, that report does claim that President Trump committed multiple federal crimes and specifically bribery and wire fraud are listed even though as you pointed out the articles don’t include them. Does that help or matter in that conversation about that?

Katko: I think it makes my case because if they felt those charges were strong enough to stand on their own then they would have charged him. I mean look at what Bill Clinton faced. He faced eleven different recommended charges of impeachment, they whittled it down to four including criminal conduct and he was impeached on his criminal conduct. The same with Andrew Johnson, and that’s exactly what they were going to do with Richard Nixon. I looked from a precedential standpoint and I said you know, the fact that they are putting these in for grounds for abuse of power, and I thought to myself moving forward if abuse of power is what’s going to get someone knocked out. So I thought back to President Obama, whom I supported when I shouldn’t and went against him when I shouldn’t, and when you put literally billions of dollars on a pallet in the dead of night and have them flown over to Iran to help seal the Iran nuclear deal, one could argue that was an abuse of power. If abuse of power was a standard then and now, then my God, what president couldn’t get impeached based on articulated facts and they don’t like what a president is doing so I think it’s a slippery slope we’re going down if we start widening and broadening the breath length of impeachment standards. Maybe I’m a strict constructionist in that regard.