Sen. Roger Wicker speaks to the audience during the Trump rally at BancorpSouth Arena in Tupelo, Miss., Friday, November 1, 2019.

WASHINGTON — When it was time to decide whether the president of the United States should be impeached, Roger Wicker did not mince words.

“The rule of law means recognizing that felonious criminal conduct by the president of the United States cannot be tolerated,” Wicker said. “The rule of law is more important than the tenure in office of any elected official.”

Wicker, a rising Republican star in just his second term in the U.S. House of Representatives, was speaking ahead of the 1998 House impeachment vote of Democratic President Bill Clinton. The Republican-controlled House affirmed four impeachment articles against Clinton, and Wicker voted yes on all four.

More than two decades later, as the country is embroiled in the impeachment trial of another president — this time from his own party — now-Sen. Wicker’s few public statements stand in contrast to his sentiments of the Clinton impeachment in a then-Republican controlled House.

As of this week, the impeachment trial of Republican President Donald Trump commenced in the U.S. Senate after the Democratic-led House approved articles of impeachment against Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of justice.

Minutes after the December impeachment vote, Wicker released a statement condemning it as a “historic mistake” meant to besmirch Trump’s tenure in office. The statement made no mention of the accusation that Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine until that nation announced an investigation into Joe Biden, the former vice president, and his son. Biden is also a Democratic candidate for president and a potential election opponent for Trump.

“By impeaching President Trump on a partisan basis and with little evidence, (Democrats) have set a dangerous precedent,” Wicker said in a Dec. 18 statement. “The truth is, congressional Democrats have sought this result since the day Donald Trump was elected. Their effort has never been about the facts or accountability. It was always about politics and damaging a president they cannot tolerate.”

This week, Wicker is one of the 100 U.S. senators who will have to decide whether those words apply to the present day. The Senate will hear the House’s case for convicting Republican President Donald Trump on two impeachment articles.

The Senate spent much of Tuesday hammering out the details and rules of the trial.

During the first day of hearings on Tuesday, Wicker, using a number two pencil and a legal pad, diligently scribbled notes as Democrats argued their case. During the entirety of the Senate impeachment trial, senators are not allowed to bring electronics onto the chamber floor, and talking among colleagues is strictly prohibited.

Opening statements begin Wednesday, and are expected to go late into the evening each day. The scene inside the Capitol was frenzied as hundreds of spectators stood in line before the Senate convened, hoping to gain a seat in the public gallery.

One group stood together in black T-shirts, each with a white letter that spelled REMOVE TRUMP when they stood side-by-side. The building was effectively locked down 30 minutes before the trial began, with Capitol police stationed in every corner of the Senate side of the building. Many senators avoided speaking with reporters, who were also present en masse.

In his few interactions with reporters, including in an early January appearance in Jackson, Wicker has been more careful than he was in his initial statement, maintaining he will fulfill his constitutional duty to be an impartial juror.

In December he told Mississippi Today in a statement that he “takes seriously the responsibility of considering articles of impeachment.”

“I will listen, and I also will be transparent,” Wicker said. “Nothing I have seen or heard during the House process comes close to an impeachable offense or warrants removing a duly-elected president from office.”

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Adam Ganucheau

Adam Ganucheau

Adam Ganucheau, as Mississippi Today's editor-in-chief, oversees the newsroom and works with the editorial team to fulfill our mission of producing high-quality journalism in the public interest. Adam has covered politics and state government for Mississippi Today since February 2016. A native of Hazlehurst, Adam has worked as a staff reporter for AL.com, The Birmingham News and The Clarion-Ledger and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Adam earned his bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Mississippi.

Kayleigh Skinner

Kayleigh Skinner

Kayleigh Skinner joined the Mississippi Today team in January 2017 as an education and legislative reporter and advanced to a senior staff member in her three years with the company. Skinner most recently served as deputy managing editor before assuming the role of managing editor. Kayleigh has a bachelor’s in journalism from the School of Journalism and New Media from the University of Mississippi. Before joining Mississippi Today, Kayleigh worked at The Hechinger Report, Chalkbeat Tennessee, and The Commercial Appeal, and has appeared on MSNBC, NPR, and BBC Newsday Radio to discuss her reporting.