Bill Cohen, a Maine Republican who voted to impeach President Richard Nixon as a freshman lawmaker in 1974, said Wednesday that President Donald Trump sounds like a “dictator” who has no regard for the rule of law.
Cohen told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that Trump’s behavior in office undermines the rule of law and norms and institutions that have sustained U.S. democratic institutions.
“He feels that he alone can take action without regard to any other institutions which are there to make sure the rules of law stays intact. And so, that only I can do this, and that has the sound of, you know, a dictator or a dictatorship where only I can solve this problem,” Cohen said.
“Now, if the president can do that in first term, what would we expect if he has a second term and which has no need to go before the electorate again, there’s no need to go to Congress to say, gee, I am sorry. I broke this rule. There will be no rules that would go unbroken,” Cohen said.
His remarks came as House Democrats prepared to hold a vote Thursday to authorize the public phase of the impeachment inquiry against Trump that has so far been conducted behind closed doors as House committees interview Trump administration officials. It also directs the intelligence panel to draft a report making recommendations on impeachment.
That resolution passed Thursday in a party-line vote, with all Republicans and two Democrats opposed.
The inquiry centers around the president’s July 25 phone call during which he pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate his potential 2020 rival Democrat Joe Biden.
Cohen was one of seven Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee who voted to impeach Nixon during the Watergate scandal in 1974. He has been a consistent Republican critic of the president, telling the BDN last month that Trump using his office to “solicit interference from a foreign country” constituted an “impeachable offense.”
In December, Cohen, who spent 18 years in the Senate after serving three terms in the House, joined 43 former senators in signing a bipartisan letter that called on the Senate to uphold the rule of law and ensure that “partisanship or self-interest not replace national interest.”
“I want to see the president as a shining example of what the rule of law is supposed to look like in America, and why we treasure that rule of law, because if you don’t have the rule of law, you have the law of rule, and that’s something the president seems really more akin to. He likes President Putin, he likes Kim Jong Un, he likes President Xi Jinping, he likes President Erdogan. He doesn’t much like our allies in terms of paying the same kind of tribute to them that he does to those who have the kind of one-man rule,” Cohen said Wednesday.
Cohen said that many of his fellow Republicans likewise are worried about where the country is heading, evoking George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984.”
Asked whether he was concerned that impeachment would tear apart the nation, Cohen said that similar arguments were made against impeaching Nixon in 1974. He said his committee received bomb threats and that he even had to get special protection for his family. But he believes that impeaching a president for acting in a manner antithetical to U.S. values “will not result in tearing the country apart.”
“What will tear the country apart is if we watch the slow unraveling of the rule of law in the name of power of the president. And when you confuse the office of the president with the individual president, then his undoing becomes our undoing. … The president is there as temporary occupant but we have our allegiance to — it’s the office of the president and to the Constitution and to the country.”
He said that some Republicans may fear speaking out against Trump because it could cost them their seats in Congress as he is popular on the right. But Cohen said it is more important to sacrifice that position if it means upholding the Constitution.
“If you are unwilling to do that, you shouldn’t be there in the first place,” Cohen said.