A Maine Republican who voted to impeach Richard Nixon as a freshman House representative in 1974 said Thursday that trying to obtain damaging information on a political opponent from a foreign government while withholding military aid, as President Donald Trump is accused of doing, would be an impeachable offense.
William Cohen was one of seven Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee who voted to impeach Nixon while serving his first term after the Watergate scandal came before the committee in 1974.
On Thursday, as a whistleblower complaint circulated alleging Trump abused the power of his office to “solicit interference from a foreign country” in next year’s presidential election, Cohen said in an email to the Bangor Daily News that while more evidence is to come, “I believe the effort to obtain damaging information from a foreign government on a potential presidential candidate and contemporaneously withholding needed military equipment would constitute an impeachable offense.
“Obviously, others may disagree and all should have the chance to publicly express their personal views on this serious subject,” he wrote.
The comment comes two days after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Polosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry. The Senate voted unanimously Tuesday for the whistleblower complaint to be released to congressional intelligence committees. A declassified version of the complaint was released Thursday, and Joseph Maguire, the acting director of National Intelligence, was testifying before members of Congress after initially refusing to release the complaint. A memo of Trump’s call to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky was also released Wednesday.
Cohen is one of Maine’s most prominent politicians, having served as a U.S. House representative from 1973 to 1979, then as a U.S. senator from 1979 to 1997, when current Sen. Susan Collins — who used to intern for Cohen — took his place. He then served as the U.S. secretary of defense under former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, from 1997 until 2001. Cohen now runs The Cohen Group, an international consulting and lobbying firm.
Maine politicians have had significant involvement in the three times Congress has started the impeachment process, but the Nixon impeachment effort was an early hurdle in Cohen’s political career. He faced political pressure from his party and from Nixon himself.
He recalled on C-SPAN in 2014 a meeting with Nixon and fellow Republicans before the committee vote in which the president told members of his party that he “may be a son of a bitch, but I’m your son of a bitch.”
Cohen said then that he was “preparing to lose” his seat over the vote based on the amount of hate mail his office received.
This is not the first time Cohen has weighed in on Trump. He told The New York Times earlier this year that he believed Republicans were wrong in backing Trump’s refusal to cooperate with Congress and trying to shut down efforts to investigate whether the president obstructed justice.
“I am surprised there aren’t more defenders of the Constitution,” he told the Times in May. “They are there to be a check on abuse of power. If they are willing to submit that to the executive, then they have no business being in office.”