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Former President Richard Nixon is making a comeback, this time as congressional Democrats mull impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.
Just this week, the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s final report from Nixon’s former White House counsel, John Dean, a key witness in the Watergate scandal.
What’s often forgotten about Nixon is that, while he’s the only U.S. president to resign from office, he was never actually impeached.
The latest public figure to bobble this fact was Jimmy Kimmel, host of ABC’s late-night show, "Jimmy Kimmel Live."
Kimmel’s comment came during the June 6 episode of his show, as part of an extended joke breaking down Trump’s recent feud with actress Bette Midler. The comedian listed several far-fetched connections between Trump, Nixon and Midler’s 1993 film "Hocus Pocus" as evidence for why Trump lashed out at her on Twitter.
"Richard Nixon was the last president to be impeached by a ‘witch hunt,’" he said at one point.
We found Kimmel’s joke funny, but also worth fact-checking. Our finding: Kimmel was wrong in a few ways, and the history is worth a review.
For starters, Nixon was not the latest president to face the prospect of impeachment. That was Bill Clinton. The House of Representatives impeached him in 1998, but the Senate ultimately acquitted him.
More importantly, Nixon was never impeached. Impeachment requires a formal vote, and the House has only voted to impeach two presidents — Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Clinton more than 100 years later. (Johnson was also acquitted.) Nixon’s story was different.
In Nixon’s case, the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment in July 1974 and reported them to the full House for consideration. But after the Supreme Court forced him to release incriminating White House tapes, Nixon resigned in August 1974, leaving office before the House could vote on impeachment.
Still, it was widely believed at the time that Nixon would have been ousted if he’d stayed around. "Nixon would definitely have been impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate if he had not resigned first," said Ken Hughes, a historian at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and an expert on Nixon’s secret recordings.
Timothy Naftali, professor of public service at New York University and the former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, added that impeachment "by an overwhelming bipartisan majority was beyond question" and "as close to inevitable as can be."
A spokesperson for "Jimmy Kimmel Live" did not respond to requests for comment.
Kimmel said, "Richard Nixon was the last president to be impeached by a 'witch hunt.'"
Nixon probably would have been kicked out if he hadn’t resigned first, and the impeachment process against him had begun.
But only two presidents have actually been impeached, and Nixon was not one of them. He resigned before the House had the chance to vote on the articles of impeachment.
We rate this statement False.
Jimmy Kimmel Live on YouTube, June 6, 2019
The Washington Post, "History Lesson: Richard Nixon was not impeached," May 29, 2017
The Washington Post, "Nixon Resigns," August 9, 1974
Watergate.info, "Articles of Impeachment," accessed June 12, 2019
Email interview with Brenda Wineapple, author of "The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a New Nation," June 12, 2019
Email interview with Ken Hughes, research specialist at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center and an expert on secret presidential recordings, Watergate and Nixon, June 12, 2019
Email interview with Timothy Naftali, professor of public service at New York University and the former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, June 13, 2019
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