WASHINGTON (AP) — Impeachment is back, and so is Bob Livingston.
The former congressman from Louisiana who abruptly resigned on the same day the House impeached President Bill Clinton made an improbable return Wednesday as a figure in the sequel — the drive to impeach President Donald Trump.
The connection stunned official Washington, home of long memories for scandal, grudges and political payback. There, in the leaked opening statement of the day’s witness was a Foreign Service official’s recollection that a “Robert Livingston” had repeatedly phoned the National Security Council to urge the firing of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, over her links to Democrats. The firing is central to the case for impeachment against Trump, part of the evidence that his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was running a shadow foreign policy to get Ukraine to investigate the Biden family.
But on Wednesday, there was another question at hand: THAT Bob Livingston? The House speaker-to-be who on Dec. 19, 1998, resigned under a cloud of infidelity hours before the House impeached Clinton for lying under oath about his own extra-marital affair?
It was indeed the same person, providing fresh evidence that creatures of the city’s storied lawmaking-and-lobbying circuit sometimes survive and thrive after political deaths.
In Livingston’s case, the former chairman of the Appropriations Committee built his House connections into a lobbying practice over two decades that brought in as much as $11 million in its banner year, 2006, according to OpenSecrets.org. The Livingston Group, roughly five blocks south of the Capitol, also had foreign clients that included two Ukrainian companies.
Foreign Service officer Catherine Croft testified in a statement provided Wednesday to the House Intelligence Committee that during her stint at the National Security Council between mid-2017 and mid-2018, Livingston, now 76, repeatedly suggested that Yovanovitch be fired.
“He characterized Ambassador Yovanovitch as an ‘Obama holdover’ and associated with George Soros. It was not clear to me at the time — or now — at whose direction or at whose expense Mr. Livingston was seeking the removal of Ambassador Yovanovitch,” Croft said in prepared remarks.
Livingston did not return two calls Wednesday seeking comment.
During that period Croft mentioned, Livingston was representing a Ukrainian metal group, Ukrmetalurgprom, as well as a second Ukrainian client, Innovative Technology & Business Consulting LLC, a firm that backs Yulia Tymoshenko, a former Ukraine president who has made several unsuccessful bids to return to office.
It’s unclear whether Livingston’s efforts were tied directly to those by Giuliani or others in Trump’s circle to oust Yovanovitch and investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
But filings to the Justice Department do show that Livingston made repeated efforts to gain traction for his Ukrainian clients among Trump administration officials now testifying on the administration’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
In March, Livingston left voice messages with U.S. Special Representative Kurt Volker, who was the first to testify in the House impeachment inquiry. In December 2018, Livingston attended a meeting with George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs who has also testified in the impeachment probe.
Livingston also disclosed that in October 2018, he emailed President Trump through former chief of staff John Kelly, as well as Vice President Mike Pence and Ivanka Trump. Livingston reported that he also sent emails to former National Security Adviser John Bolton, whose testimony is being sought by the House. Livingston also said he contacted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his counselor, Thomas Ulrich Brechbuhl, who has been subpoenaed by Democrats.
Lawmakers were stunned Wednesday to see Livingston’s name emerge as part of the campaign against Yovanovitch, the ousted U.S. ambassador.
“It’s just gross,” said Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt. “Why is he attacking a longtime, career foreign servant?”
Livingston’s name already was in the U.S. history books even before being connected to two rare presidential impeachment proceedings and one of Washington’s most brutal falls from power.
One of Livingston’s ancestors administered the oath of office to George Washington. Another signed the Declaration of Independence. A third became a Supreme Court Justice, nominated by then-President Thomas Jefferson.
Elected to the House in 1977, Livingston rose to become the Appropriations Committee chairman, with jurisdiction over the tax code. And in 1998, during what then seemed to be over-the-top drama of Clinton’s impeachment proceedings, he was elected by his colleagues to succeed House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who had his own issues with infidelity.
On the morning of the impeachment vote, Livingston astounded the House by announcing from the floor that he would not assume the speakership, which is second in line to the presidency. Instead, he announced, he would resign to keep details of his infidelity from tearing apart his family. His wife had insisted he disclose the affairs after learning that Hustler magazine was preparing an expose.
On the floor, Livingston called on Clinton to resign, which at first sparked calls of “No! You resign.” But lawmakers quieted as Livingston announced he would cut short his own political career.
“I want so very much to pacify and cool our raging tempers and return to an era when differences were confined to the debate, and not of personal attack or assassination of character,” he said.
With that, the lanky chairman strode off the floor into his nearby office and shut the door.
Associated Press researcher Monika Mathur and AP writer Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to show that Livingston was chairman of the Appropriations Committee, not the Ways and Means Committee.