Impeachment of the President and the Sixth Congressional District of Virginia

Late last week the political world was rocked when former Trump National Security Advisor General Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Flynn, a former Trump confidant, was known for leading the chants of, “Lock her (Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton) up!” at the Republican National Convention in 2016.

Flynn was a permanent fixture on the campaign trail with President Trump. However, it was shocking for him to quickly turn against the President and agree to testify for Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

As the Mueller investigation continues, it will be interesting to see if Articles of Impeachment will be taken up by the House Judiciary Committee. Articles of Impeachment have already been drafted by Democratic members of Congress.

This situation leads to a political déjà vu of sorts for Virginia, especially for one rural location in the Commonwealth. For the second time in Virginia politics, the idea of impeachment revolves around the Sixth Congressional District.

Rep. Caldwell Butler

To begin, we have to go back to 1972, the year M. Caldwell Butler was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives to represent Virginia’s Sixth District. Mr. Butler enjoyed the coattails of a strong re-election bid of President Richard Nixon, and was appointed to the House Judiciary Committee. The former Minority Leader of the House of Delegates and native of Roanoke was a proud Republican, but his true legacy would be a very fateful vote two years later.

Fast-forward to 1974 when the Judiciary Committee was in the process of impeachment proceedings. Right in the middle of those hearings was Congressman Butler. Butler, along with six Republican and three Democratic colleagues, began to question the Nixon Administration and their actions in the Watergate Scandal. Butler would not only go on to vote for the impeachment of President Nixon, but he would also help draft the articles of impeachment.

The New York Times reported on Butler’s non-partisan and courageous vote:

But by the steamy summer of 1974, mounting evidence — including secretly made tapes of Oval Office conversations acquired by subpoena — prompted seven Republicans and three conservative Southern Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee to waver in their support of Nixon. They self-effacingly called themselves “the unholy alliance.”

From his seat on the committee, Mr. Butler on July 25, 1974, dramatically announced that he would vote for impeachment — a statement that many treated as a bellwether. “For years we Republicans have campaigned against corruption and misconduct,” he said. “But Watergate is our shame.”

Mary McGrory, the syndicated columnist, called Mr. Butler’s words “the single most fiery and liberating sentence spoken” during the Watergate investigations. “He was the first Republican to slash the comforting myth that somebody else, of unknown party origin, was to blame,” she wrote.

On July 27, the Judiciary Committee voted 27 to 11 to impeach the president. Nixon resigned on Aug. 9 before the full House could vote on whether to send the impeachment articles to the Senate for trial.

Mr. Butler dealt with hate mail and bomb threats, but his stiffest opposition came from his mother, who wrote him that his future “will go down the drain if you do not stand with your party at this critical time.”

“Dear Mother,” he wrote. “You are probably right. However, I feel that my loyalty to the Republican Party does not relieve me of the obligation which I have.”

Mr. Butler nonetheless cried after the vote, he said in a 1984 interview with PBS, and called his wife, the former June Nolde, for reassurance.”

NPR reported this on Congressman Butler:

‘But testimony mounted against Nixon during the summer of 1974, often called Watergate Summer: talk of burglars, bribes and bags of cash, dirty tricks and secret tapes.

Butler was part of a group of seven Republican and three conservative Southern Democrats on the committee who began to meet behind closed doors. Butler felt he owed his election to Nixon’s landslide victory in 1972, and admired the opening of relations with China. But he was aghast at the Richard Nixon he heard, scheming and swearing, on the White House tapes.

Under the hot lights of the hearing room, Butler declared, “For years, we Republicans have campaigned against corruption and misconduct … by the other party. But Watergate is our shame.”

Two days later, and 40 years ago this week, members of both parties on the House Judiciary Committee voted 27 to 11 to impeach the president, who resigned a couple of weeks later.”

The Washington Post reported:

Mr. Butler, a lawyer from Roanoke, was elected in 1972 to represent Virginia’s 6th Congressional District. He was a supporter of Nixon throughout the campaign, but he grew disillusioned when he learned of the extent of the Watergate political scandal and coverup.

“For years we Republicans have campaigned against corruption and misconduct in the administration of the government of the United States by the other party,” Mr. Butler said in announcing his stance. “But Watergate is our shame. Those things happened in the Republican administration while we had a Republican in the White House, and every single person convicted to date has one way or the other owed allegiance to the Republican Party.

“We cannot indulge ourselves the luxury of patronizing or excusing the misconduct of our own people.”

As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, he studied the Watergate matter closely and helped draft the articles of impeachment.

Nixon resigned in August 1974 before the full House debated his impeachment.

In a 1998 interview with the Associated Press, Mr. Butler said he was convinced that he did the right thing. “I never had any reservation then or now that it was an appropriate vote,” he said.

He said most of the letters he received were supportive, and he had little trouble getting reelected.

But a letter from his mother, a GOP loyalist, was not so encouraging. His political future “will go down the drain,” she wrote, “if you do not stand with your party at this critical time.”

“Dear Mother,” he wrote back. “You are probably right. However, I feel that my loyalty to the Republican Party does not relieve me of the obligation which I have.” [emphasis added]

During his time in office, Congressman Butler also had a young staffer by the name of Bob Goodlatte. Which leads us to the present.

In 2017, scandal and controversy surround the administration of President Donald Trump. Two of Trump’s former campaign staffers have been indicted and his former National Security Advisor has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Questions relating to the Russian government’s involvement in the Trump campaign grip our daily headlines. There is also a possibility that Trump could fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, possibly sending Washington into chaos.

Which leads us to the former staffer to Congressman Butler, current Sixth District Congressman Bob Goodlatte. Goodlatte is Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, the committee which would be placed in charge of holding an impeachment hearing.

Goodlatte, serving as Judiciary Chairman since 2013, has been a strong leader for conservative principles since being elected to Congress in 1992.

Goodlatte has stated he will not run for re-election, ending his career in Congress when his term as Judiciary Chairman expires in 2018. The only difference between Caldwell and Goodlatte is that Caldwell participated in Nixon’s impeachment hearings as a freshman member of Congress, while Goodlatte has been there 25 years and is chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee.

This brings me to a question.

As controversy surrounds the Trump Administration, will Congressman Goodlatte think about the words of Congressman Butler when he stated, “However, I feel that my loyalty to the Republican Party does not relieve me of the obligation which I have?”

We shall see soon enough….