Impeachment of Bill Clinton
Impeachment of Bill Clinton
The impeachment of Bill Clinton was initiated on October 8, 1998, when the United States House of Representatives voted to commence impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton, 42nd president of the United States, for "high crimes and misdemeanors", which were subsequently detailed in two articles of impeachment. The specific charges against the president were lying under oath and obstruction of justice, charges that stemmed from a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against Clinton by Paula Jones. The catalyst for the president's impeachment was the Starr Report, a September 1998 report prepared by Independent Counsel Ken Starr for the House Judiciary Committee.
Clinton became only the second American president to be impeached (the other being Andrew Johnson who was impeached in 1868) on December 19, 1998, when the House formally adopted the articles of impeachment and forwarded them to the United States Senate for adjudication. The trial in the Senate began in January 1999, with Chief Justice William Rehnquist presiding. On February 12, Clinton was acquitted of the charges against him, when the Senate failed to convict him on either of them by the necessary two-thirds majority vote.
In 1994, Paula Jones filed a lawsuit accusing Clinton of sexual harassment when he was governor of Arkansas. Clinton attempted to delay a trial until after he left office, but in May 1997 the Supreme Court unanimously ordered the case to proceed and shortly thereafter the pre-trial discovery process commenced. Jones' attorneys wanted to prove that Clinton had engaged in a pattern of behavior with women that lent support to her claims. In late 1997, Linda Tripp began secretly recording conversations with her friend Monica Lewinsky, a former intern and Department of Defense employee, in which Lewinsky divulged that she had had a sexual relationship with the President. Tripp shared this information with Paula Jones' lawyers, who put Lewinsky on their witness list in December 1997. According to the Starr Report, after Lewinsky appeared on the witness list Clinton began taking steps to conceal their relationship, including suggesting she file a false affidavit, suggesting she use cover stories, concealing gifts he had given her, and helping her obtain a job to her liking.
Clinton gave a sworn deposition on January 17, 1998, where he denied having a "sexual relationship", "sexual affair" or "sexual relations" with Lewinsky. He also denied that he was ever alone with her. His lawyer, Robert S. Bennett, stated with Clinton present that Lewinsky's affidavit showed that there was no sex in any manner, shape or form between Clinton and Lewinsky. The Starr Report states that the following day, Clinton "coached" his secretary Betty Currie into repeating his denials should she be called to testify.
After rumors of the scandal reached the news, Clinton publicly stated, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." Months later, Clinton admitted that his relationship with Lewinsky was "wrong" and "not appropriate". Lewinsky engaged in oral sex with Clinton several times.
The judge in the Jones case later ruled the Lewinsky matter immaterial, and threw out the case in April 1998 on the grounds that Jones had failed to show any damages. After Jones appealed, Clinton agreed in November 1998 to settle the case for $850,000 while still admitting no wrongdoing.
Independent counsel investigation
The charges arose from an investigation by Ken Starr, an Independent Counsel. Originally dealing with the Whitewater controversy, Starr, with the approval of United States Attorney General Janet Reno, conducted a wide-ranging investigation of alleged abuses, including the Whitewater controversy, the firing of White House travel agents, and the alleged misuse of FBI files. On January 12, 1998, Linda Tripp, who had been working with Jones' lawyers, informed Starr that Lewinsky was preparing to commit perjury in the Jones case and had asked Tripp to do the same. She also said Clinton's friend Vernon Jordan was assisting Lewinsky. Based on the connection to Jordan, who was under scrutiny in the Whitewater probe, Starr obtained approval from Reno to expand his investigation into whether Lewinsky and others were breaking the law.
A much-quoted statement from Clinton's grand jury testimony showed him questioning the precise use of the word "is". Contending that his statement that "there's nothing going on between us" had been truthful because he had no ongoing relationship with Lewinsky at the time he was questioned, Clinton said, "It depends upon what the meaning of the word 'is' is. If the—if he—if 'is' means is and never has been, that is not—that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement". Starr obtained further evidence of inappropriate behavior by seizing the computer hard drive and email records of Monica Lewinsky. Based on the president's conflicting testimony, Starr concluded that Clinton had committed perjury. Starr submitted his findings to Congress in a lengthy document, the Starr Report, which was released to the public via the internet a few days later, and included descriptions of encounters between Clinton and Lewinsky, on the Internet. Starr was criticized by Democrats for spending $70 million on an investigation that substantiated only perjury and obstruction of justice. Critics of Starr also contend that his investigation was highly politicized because it regularly leaked tidbits of information to the press in violation of legal ethics, and because his report included lengthy descriptions which were humiliating yet irrelevant to the legal case.
Impeachment by House of Representatives
Since Ken Starr had already completed an extensive investigation, the House Judiciary Committee conducted no investigations of its own into Clinton's alleged wrongdoing, and it held no serious impeachment-related hearings before the 1998 midterm elections. Nevertheless, impeachment was one of the major issues in the election.
In November 1998, the Democrats picked up five seats in the House although the Republicans still maintained majority control. The results were a particular embarrassment for House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who, before the election, had been reassured by private polling that Clinton's scandal would result in Republican gains of up to thirty House seats. Shortly after the elections, Gingrich, who had been one of the leading advocates for impeachment, announced he would resign from Congress as soon as he was able to find somebody to fill his vacant seat; Gingrich fulfilled this pledge, and officially resigned from Congress on January 3, 1999.
Impeachment proceedings were initiated during the post-election, "lame duck" session of the outgoing 105th United States Congress. Unlike the case of the 1974 impeachment process against Richard Nixon, the committee hearings were perfunctory but the floor debate in the whole House was spirited on both sides. The Speaker-designate, Representative Bob Livingston, chosen by the Republican Party Conference to replace Gingrich as House Speaker, announced the end of his candidacy for Speaker and his resignation from Congress from the floor of the House after his own marital infidelity came to light. In the same speech, Livingston also encouraged Clinton to resign. Clinton chose to remain in office and urged Livingston to reconsider his resignation. Many other prominent Republican members of Congress (including Dan Burton, Helen Chenoweth, and Henry Hyde, the chief House manager of Clinton's trial in the Senate) had infidelities exposed about this time, all of whom voted for impeachment. Publisher Larry Flynt offered a reward for such information, and many supporters of Clinton accused Republicans of hypocrisy.
Although proceedings were delayed due to the bombing of Iraq, on the passage of H. Res. 611  , Clinton was impeached on December 19, 1998, by the House of Representatives on grounds of perjury to a grand jury (by a 228–206 vote) and obstruction of justice (by a 221–212 vote). Two other articles of impeachment failed – a second count of perjury in the Jones case (by a 205–229 vote) and one accusing Clinton of abuse of power (by a 148–285 vote). Clinton thus became the second U.S. president to be impeached, following Andrew Johnson in 1868, and the third against whom articles of impeachment have been brought before the full House, that being Richard Nixon in 1974.
Five Democrats (Virgil Goode, Ralph Hall, Paul McHale, Charles Stenholm and Gene Taylor) voted in favor of three of the four articles of impeachment, but only Taylor voted for the abuse of power charge. Five Republicans (Amo Houghton, Peter King, Connie Morella, Chris Shays and Mark Souder) voted against the first perjury charge. Eight more Republicans (Sherwood Boehlert, Michael Castle, Phil English, Nancy Johnson, Jay Kim, Jim Leach, John McHugh and Ralph Regula), but not Souder, voted against the obstruction charge. Twenty-eight Republicans voted against the second perjury charge, sending it to defeat, and eighty-one voted against the abuse of power charge.
the nature and details of his relationship with Lewinsky
prior false statements he made in the Jones deposition
prior false statements he allowed his lawyer to make characterizing Lewinsky's affidavit
his attempts to tamper with witnesses
encouraging Lewinsky to file a false affidavit
encouraging Lewinsky to give false testimony if and when she was called to testify
concealing gifts he had given to Lewinsky that had been subpoenaed
attempting to secure a job for Lewinsky to influence her testimony
permitting his lawyer to make false statements characterizing Lewinsky's affidavit
attempting to tamper with the possible testimony of his secretary Betty Currie
making false and misleading statements to potential grand jury witnesses
The Senate trial began on January 7, 1999, with Chief Justice of the United States William Rehnquist presiding. The first day consisted of formal presentation of the charges against Clinton, and of Rehnquist swearing in all arguants in the trial.
Thirteen House Republicans from the Judiciary Committee served as "managers", the equivalent of prosecutors: Henry Hyde (chairman), Jim Sensenbrenner, Bill McCollum, George Gekas, Charles Canady, Steve Buyer, Ed Bryant, Steve Chabot, Bob Barr, Asa Hutchinson, Chris Cannon, James E. Rogan and Lindsey Graham.
A resolution on rules and procedure for the trial was adopted unanimously on the following day; however, senators tabled the question of whether to call witnesses in the trial. The trial remained in recess while briefs were filed by the House (January 11) and Clinton (January 13).
The managers presented their case over three days, from January 14 to 16, with discussion of the facts and background of the case; detailed cases for both articles of impeachment (including excerpts from videotaped grand jury testimony that Clinton had made the previous August); matters of interpretation and application of the laws governing perjury and obstruction of justice; and argument that the evidence and precedents justified removal of the President from office by virtue of "willful, premeditated, deliberate corruption of the nation's system of justice through perjury and obstruction of justice." The defense presentation took place from January 19–21. Clinton's defense counsel argued that Clinton's grand jury testimony had too many inconsistencies to be a clear case of perjury, that the investigation and impeachment had been tainted by partisan political bias, that the President's approval rating of more than 70 percent indicated that his ability to govern had not been impaired by the scandal, and that the managers had ultimately presented "an unsubstantiated, circumstantial case that does not meet the constitutional standard to remove the President from office". January 22 and 23 were devoted to questions from members of the Senate to the House managers and Clinton's defense counsel. Under the rules, all questions (over 150) were to be written down and given to Rehnquist to read to the party being questioned.
On January 25, Senator Robert Byrd moved for dismissals of both articles of impeachment for lack of merit. On the following day, Rep. Bryant moved to call witnesses to the trial, a question that the Senate had scrupulously avoided to that point. In both cases, the Senate voted to deliberate on the question in private session, rather than public, televised procedure. On January 27, the Senate voted on both motions in public session; the motion to dismiss failed on a nearly party line vote of 56–44, while the motion to depose witnesses passed by the same margin. A day later, the Senate voted down motions to move directly to a vote on the articles of impeachment and to suppress videotaped depositions of the witnesses from public release, Feingold again voting with the Republicans.
Over three days, February 1–3, House managers took videotaped closed-door depositions from Monica Lewinsky, Clinton's friend Vernon Jordan, and White House aide Sidney Blumenthal. On February 4, however, the Senate voted 70–30 that excerpting these videotapes would suffice as testimony, rather than calling live witnesses to appear at trial. The videos were played in the Senate on February 6, featuring 30 excerpts of Lewinsky discussing her affidavit in the Paula Jones case, the hiding of small gifts Clinton had given her, and his involvement in procurement of a job for Lewinsky.
On February 8, closing arguments were presented with each side allotted a three-hour time slot. On the President's behalf, White House Counsel Charles Ruff declared:
There is only one question before you, albeit a difficult one, one that is a question of fact and law and constitutional theory. Would it put at risk the liberties of the people to retain the President in office? Putting aside partisan animus, if you can honestly say that it would not, that those liberties are safe in his hands, then you must vote to acquit.
Chief Prosecutor Henry Hyde countered:
A failure to convict will make the statement that lying under oath, while unpleasant and to be avoided, is not all that serious ... We have reduced lying under oath to a breach of etiquette, but only if you are the President ... And now let us all take our place in history on the side of honor, and, oh, yes, let right be done.
On February 9, after voting against a public deliberation on the verdict, the Senate began closed-door deliberations instead. On February 12, the Senate emerged from its closed deliberations and voted on the articles of impeachment. A two-thirds vote, 67 votes, would have been necessary to convict and remove the President from office. The perjury charge was defeated with 45 votes for conviction and 55 against, and the obstruction of justice charge was defeated with 50 for conviction and 50 against. Senator Arlen Specter voted "not proved" for both charges, which was considered by Chief Justice Rehnquist to constitute a vote of "not guilty". All 45 Democrats in the Senate voted "not guilty" on both charges, as did five Republicans; they were joined by five additional Republicans in voting "not guilty" on the perjury charge.
|Articles of Impeachment, U.S. Senate judgement|
(67 "guilty" votes necessary for a conviction)
|February 12, 1999|
Articles One and Two
|Guilty||00 00||45 50||45 50|
Contempt of court citation
In April 1999, about two months after being acquitted by the Senate, Clinton was cited by Federal District Judge Susan Webber Wright for civil contempt of court for his "willful failure" to obey her repeated orders to testify truthfully in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit. For this citation, Clinton was assessed a $90,000 fine, and the matter was referred to the Arkansas Supreme Court to see if disciplinary action would be appropriate.
Regarding Clinton's January 17, 1998, deposition where he was placed under oath, the judge wrote:
Simply put, the president's deposition testimony regarding whether he had ever been alone with Ms. (Monica) Lewinsky was intentionally false, and his statements regarding whether he had ever engaged in sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky likewise were intentionally false ...
On the day before leaving office in January 2001, Clinton, in what amounted to a plea bargain, agreed to a five-year suspension of his Arkansas law license and to pay a $25,000 fine as part of an agreement with the independent counsel Robert Ray to end his investigation without filing any criminal charges for perjury or obstruction of justice. Clinton was automatically suspended from the United States Supreme Court bar as a result of his law license suspension. However, as is customary, he was allowed 40 days to appeal an otherwise-automatic disbarment. Clinton resigned from the Supreme Court bar during the 40-day appeals period.
Civil settlement with Paula Jones
Polls conducted during 1998 and early 1999 showed that only about one-third of Americans supported Clinton's impeachment or conviction. However, one year later, when it was clear that House impeachment would not lead to the ousting of the President, half of Americans said in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll that they supported impeachment but 57% approved of the Senate's decision to keep him in office and two thirds of those polled said the impeachment was harmful to the country.
While Clinton's job approval rating rose during the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal and subsequent impeachment, his poll numbers with regard to questions of honesty, integrity and moral character declined. As a result, "moral character" and "honesty" weighed heavily in the next presidential election. According to The Daily Princetonian, after the 2000 presidential election, "post-election polls found that, in the wake of Clinton-era scandals, the single most significant reason people voted for Bush was for his moral character." According to an analysis of the election by Stanford University:
A more political explanation is the belief in Gore campaign circles that disapproval of President Clinton's personal behavior was a serious threat to the vice president's prospects. Going into the election the one negative element in the public's perception of the state of the nation was the belief that the country was morally on the wrong track, whatever the state of the economy or world affairs. According to some insiders, anything done to raise the association between Gore and Clinton would have produced a net loss of support—the impact of Clinton's personal negatives would outweigh the positive impact of his job performance on support for Gore. Thus, hypothesis four suggests that a previously unexamined variable played a major role in 2000—the retiring president's personal approval.
The Stanford analysis, however, presented different theories and mainly argued that Gore had lost because he decided to distance himself from Clinton during the campaign. The writers of it concluded:
We find that Gore's oft-criticized personality was not a cause of his under-performance. Rather, the major cause was his failure to receive a historically normal amount of credit for the performance of the Clinton administration ... [and] failure to get normal credit reflected Gore's peculiar campaign which in turn reflected fear of association with Clinton's behavior.
According to the America's Future Foundation:
In the wake of the Clinton scandals, independents warmed to Bush's promise to 'restore honor and dignity to the White House'. According to Voter News Service, the personal quality that mattered most to voters was 'honesty'. Voters who chose 'honesty' preferred Bush over Gore by over a margin of five to one. Forty Four percent of Americans said the Clinton scandals were important to their vote. Of these, Bush reeled in three out of every four.
Political commentators have argued that Gore's refusal to have Clinton campaign with him was a bigger liability to Gore than Clinton's scandals. The 2000 US Congressional election also saw the Democrats gain more seats in Congress. As a result of this gain, control of the US Senate was split 50–50 between both parties, and Democrats would gain control over the US Senate after Republican Senator Jim Jeffords defected from his party in the spring of 2001 and agreed to caucus with the Democrats.
Al Gore reportedly confronted Clinton after the election, and "tried to explain that keeping Clinton under wraps [during the campaign] was a rational response to polls showing swing voters were still mad as hell over the Year of Monica". According to the AP, "during the one-on-one meeting at the White House, which lasted more than an hour, Gore used uncommonly blunt language to tell Clinton that his sex scandal and low personal approval ratings were a hurdle he could not surmount in his campaign ... [with] the core of the dispute was Clinton's lies to Gore and the nation about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky." Clinton, however, was unconvinced by Gore's argument and insisted to Gore that he would have won the election if he had embraced the administration and its good economic record.
Ensuing events for 13 House managers
Of the 13 members of the House who managed Clinton's trial in the Senate, one lost to a Democrat in his 2000 bid for re-election (James E. Rogan, to Adam Schiff). Charles Canady retired from Congress in 2000, following through on a previous term limits pledge to voters, and Bill McCollum ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate. Asa Hutchinson, after being re-elected in 2000, left Congress after being appointed head of the Drug Enforcement Administration by President George W. Bush. In 2014, Hutchinson was elected governor of Arkansas. In 2002, two former House managers lost their seats after redistricting placed them in the same district as another incumbent (Bob Barr lost to John Linder in a Republican primary, and George Gekas lost to Democrat Tim Holden), while two more ran for the U.S. Senate (Lindsey Graham successfully, Ed Bryant unsuccessfully). The other five remained in the House well into the 2000s (decade), and two (Jim Sensenbrenner and Steve Chabot) are still members (although Chabot lost his seat to Steve Driehaus in the 2008 elections; Chabot defeated Driehaus in a 2010 rematch). In 2009, Sensenbrenner served again as a manager for the impeachment of Judge Samuel B. Kent of Texas as well as serving in 2010 as Republican lead manager in the impeachment of Judge Thomas Porteous of Louisiana.
Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
Impeachment process against Richard Nixon
Impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump
List of federal political scandals in the United States
List of federal political sex scandals in the United States
Sexual misconduct allegations against Bill Clinton