During Last Week Tonight Sunday, host John Oliver devoted nearly his entire show to advocating for the impeachment of President Trump while attempting to portray himself as neutral on the matter. Oliver appeared to have a newfound sense of motivation to push for impeachment following President Trump’s interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.
Not surprisingly, Oliver invoked a comparison of the Trump-Russia probe to the Watergate scandal when bringing up the poll numbers regarding President Trump’s impeachment: “Look at Nixon. In hindsight, his resignation seems inevitable but in the early days of the scandal, there was real public resistance to his removal.” Oliver proceeded to play clips of people from the 1970s dismissing the seriousness of the Watergate scandal; obviously attempting to compare those people to the people who agree that the Mueller report found “no collusion” and “no obstruction.”
After resurrecting the conspiracy theory that President Trump will refuse to leave if he was removed from office, Oliver rejected the premise that impeachment will either result in his removal from office, as was the case with Nixon, or his acquittal and electoral success for his party, as happened with Clinton. According to Oliver, “even if Trump is not removed...the (impeachment) process could shine a light on the contents of the Mueller report, potentially lead to new revelations about Trump’s conduct, and force his Republican allies to choose...whether or not to hold him to account.”
Oliver argued that “not opening an inquiry has consequences too because it essentially sends the message that a President can act with impunity.”
Eventually, Oliver turned his attention to President Trump’s interview with Stephanopoulos, where he said “the FBI Director is wrong” when it comes to the protocol to follow when contacted by a foreign power offering dirt on a political opponent. Oliver argued that President Trump was basically saying “laws are a matter of opinion and you can trust your Uncle Don on this one.”
Oliver also accused President Trump of “openly inviting foreign interference in our elections” during his interview with Stephanopoulos. According to Oliver, “moments like that really shake you out of your stupor and make you think...hang on, that guy’s got to be impeached. We’ve got to impeach him.”
The HBO host argued that Democrats could “let House investigations play out a little further before they make a move,” adding “that strategy paid off during Watergate.” Oliver proceeded to issue a very stern warning to Congressional Democrats: “later can’t mean never because the case for inaction here is starting to get pretty weak.”
Oliver closed by saying “look, I can’t guarantee that impeachment will work out the way that you want it to because it probably won’t. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth doing because if nothing else, we’d be standing by the basic fundamental principle that nobody is above the law.”
A transcript of the relevant portion of Sunday’s edition of Last Week Tonight is below. Click “expand” to read more.
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver
JOHN OLIVER: And look, there is a real argument to be made here for concentrating Congress’s investigations and the public’s attention into one impeachment inquiry. So why not do it? Well, Nancy Pelosi might argue that impeachment is not popular with the public. Which is, to be fair, true. Polls consistently show a majority of Americans oppose impeachment proceedings; although it is not quite that simple. Remember, most people don’t even know what is in the Mueller report, and numbers can move as people learn more. Look at Nixon. In hindsight, his resignation seems inevitable, but in the early days of the scandal, there was real public resistance to his removal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Many more things are bothering America than Watergate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think they’re making a big fuss over nothing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing has been proven illegal about anything he’s done, and I think he’s…he’s on the right track.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
OLIVER: Yeah, exactly. For a while, people thought that Watergate, the scandal that we now use as shorthand for every political scandal, didn’t matter, and that’s shocking to watch, although to be fair, in the 1970s, they also thought that shag carpeting was attractive and that Liberace just hadn’t met the right girl yet.
(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)
OLIVER: That, that decade had a lot to learn. But, but a Nixon outcome is not the only model. Many Democrats worry that things could instead end up like the Clinton impeachment, where the public wasn’t really on board with impeachment from the beginning, and they never got on board, and not only did Clinton survive, his party gained seats in that year’s midterms. That is what Democrats are scared about here, that…that impeachment could end up strengthening Trump for 2020. Although for any Democrat whose main concern is that pursuing impeachment could be the reason they lose in 2020, please, relax. It is just one of many ways the Democrats could lose. Maybe Trump is caught on tape saying the n-word but then two weeks later, Elizabeth Warren accidentally calls a “veteran” a “veterinarian” and people get twice as angry about that. There’s so many ways that this could go wrong. So, so for so many people here, the key calculation is, would the benefits of impeachment outweigh the risks? And look, that is just impossible to say. It’s impossible to say how a Trump impeachment would play out. Although him leaving office is extremely unlikely. That would require 20 Republican Senators to vote against him, and even if they did that, there is still no guarantee that Trump would actually leave. He basically told us as much out loud.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: When you look at past impeachments, whether it was President Clinton, or…I guess President Nixon never got there. He left. I don’t leave. There’s a big difference. I don’t leave.
OLIVER: Yeah, of course Trump wouldn’t leave. You think he’d hold a press conference and bashfully say into a camera, “I was wrong?” In what reality that would happen? And then he’d graciously say, “I will now let someone else be the President”? You’re insane. Then what? He’d pack a suitcase and walk…physically walk out of the White House and just not be the President anymore? No! He’d make us drag him out like an uncooperative toddler. You know this! You know that’s true! And, and if you’re thinking, “Well, if he’s unlikely to go, then what’s the point?” It might be helpful to stop thinking of this in purely binary terms. You know, if the President goes, well, that’s a success, if he stays, it’s a failure. Basically, it’s Nixon or it’s Clinton. That’s a false choice. It’s like saying you can only be Hufflepuff or Slytherin. Excuse me, Gryffindor and Ravenclaw are right there, and in my case, “Snarglebargle.” That’s…that’s the fifth Hogwarts house that’s exclusively for cowards because, because when it comes to impeachment, there aren’t just two outcomes. Even if Trump is not removed…which he probably won’t be…the process could shine a light on the contents of the Mueller report, potentially lead to new revelations about Trump’s conduct, and force his Republican allies to choose…publicly and on the record…whether or not to hold him to account. And you might well say, well even so, opening an impeachment inquiry is just too risky. And I do get that. I’ve gone back and forth on this myself for that very reason. And to be honest, the thing that’s tipped the scales for me is remembering that not opening an inquiry comes with consequences too, cause it essentially sends the message that the President can act with impunity, which is a dangerous precedent to set not just for future Presidents but for the current one. Just this week, he was asked about Don Jr’s failure to alert the FBI when Russia offered them Intel during the campaign and his response was appalling.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Shouldn’t he have gone to the FBI when he got that email?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Okay, let’s put yourself in a position. You’re a Congressman, somebody comes up and says, hey, I have information on your opponent. Do you call the FBI? I don’t think…
STEPHANOPOULOS: If it’s coming from Russia, you do.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I’ll tell you what, I’ve seen a lot of things over my life. I don’t think in my whole life I’ve ever called the FBI. In my whole life. I don’t…you don’t call the FBI. This is somebody that said, we have information on your opponent. “Oh, let me call the FBI.” Give me a break. Life doesn’t work that way.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The FBI director says that’s what should happen.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: The FBI director is wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLIVER: Okay, there is so much in there. Let’s break this down into three pieces. First, “I don’t think in my whole life I’ve ever called the FBI” is a truly insane thing to say. No, people usually don’t call the FBI except when they’re in a very specific situation that clearly requires them to do so. That’s kind of how that works. I have never called Emilio Estevez. As a general rule, in one’s everyday life, one does not call Emilio Estevez. But if I found a wallet on the street with Emilio Estevez’s driver’s license and contact information, I’d fucking call Emilio Estevez because that’s what the situation requires. Okay, so second, let’s take his “Give me a break, life doesn’t work that way.” It is genuinely fascinating to watch Trump project his own immoral awfulness onto the rest of humanity. “Oh, so you see a baby stroller about to roll down a hill, and, what, you’re gonna stop it? Give me a break. Life doesn’t work out that way. You stand there, you watch, and you laugh. Everybody knows this, and everybody agrees. Give me a break. Give me a break on that one.” And, and finally, “The FBI director is wrong.” He’s basically saying, “Laws are a matter of opinion, and you can trust your Uncle Don on this one.” But of course that is not true, which is why the head of the Federal Election Commission put out a statement reminding all of us that “it is illegal to accept anything of value from a foreign country in connection with a U.S. Election,” and “when foreign governments seek to influence American politics, it is always to advance their own interests, not America’s.” She tweeted that statement out with a note reading, “I would not have thought that I needed to say this.” And…
(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)
OLIVER: …that kind of sums up where we are in the Trump presidency: All of those things we wouldn’t have thought we needed to say, we need to fucking say them now. And as if that weren’t bad enough, Trump then engaged in a little thought experiment of what he would do if he found himself in the same situation all over again.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Your campaign this time around, if foreigners…if Russia, if China, if someone else offers you information on an opponent, should they accept it, or should they call the FBI?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I think maybe you do both. I think you might want to listen, I don’t…there’s nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country, Norway, “We have information on your opponent.” Oh. I think I’d want to hear it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You want that kind of interference in our elections?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: It’s not an interference. They have information. I think I’d take it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLIVER: Okay, first of all, let’s address that “Norway.” It, it continues to be telling that when Trump tries to search his brain for the best country he can imagine, it goes directly to the whitest country he can imagine. But, but more importantly, that is the President openly inviting foreign interference in our elections again. And I know that we’ve all become numb to Trump by this point, but moments like that really shock you out of your stupor and make you think, “Oh, hang on, that guy’s gotta be impeached. We’ve got to impeach him.” And look, should Democrats let House investigations play out a little further before they make a move? I don’t know, maybe. There’s an argument for that. That strategy certainly paid off during Watergate. But “later” can’t mean “never” because the case for inaction here is starting to get pretty weak. And yes, public opinion is currently against an impeachment inquiry, but if Democrats think opening an inquiry is genuinely the right thing to do, then it’s then incumbent upon them to work to change that opinion. I know it’s easy to be defeatist here, because nothing has seemingly reined Trump in so far. But I will say this, every asshole succeeds until finally they don’t. Again, 18 months before he resigned, Nixon had a sky-high approval rating of 67 percent. Harvey Weinstein was winning Oscars, until one day, he definitely wasn’t. James Holzhauer was stealing all of Alex Trebek’s money until someone finally put a stop to it. Respect the spirit of the game, James, you fucking monster!
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
OLIVER: Look, I…I can’t guarantee that impeachment will work out the way that you want it to because it probably won’t. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth doing. Because if nothing else, we’d be standing by the basic, fundamental principle that nobody is above the law, and in doing so, it would mean that when people tell dying relatives that we’re doing everything we can to hold this President accountable, at least this time, it would actually be true.