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Research/Publications


American Political History


The Impeachment of President Clinton


Bill ClintonThe impeachment of President Bill Clinton arose from a series of events following the filing of a lawsuit on May 6, 1994, by Paula Corbin Jones in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. In her complaint initiating the suit, Ms. Jones alleged violations of her federal civil rights in 1991 by President Clinton when he was governor of Arkansas and she was an Arkansas state employee. According to the allegations, Governor Clinton invited Ms. Jones to his hotel room where he made a crude sexual advance that she rejected.

After Ms. Jones filed the lawsuit, the attorneys for President Clinton moved to delay any proceedings, contending that the Constitution required that any legal action be deferred until his term ended, an issue ultimately decided against the President by the Supreme Court of the United States in its decision of Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681 (1997). Following the Supreme Court decision allowing the Jones lawsuit to proceed, pre-trial discovery commenced in which various potential witnesses were subpoenaed for information related to the Jones incident and, over objections of the President's attorneys, Mr. Clinton's alleged sexual approaches to other women. On April 1, 1998, Judge Susan Webber Wright granted summary judgment in favor of President Clinton, dismissing the Jones suit in its entirety, finding that Ms. Jones had not offered any evidence to support a viable claim of sexual harassment or intentional infliction of emotion distress. Ms. Jones appealed Judge Wright's decision to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, but before a decision on the appeal was rendered, Ms. Jones and the President settled the case on November 13, 1998.

Monica LewinskyThe name of Monica Lewinsky, who had worked in the White House in 1995 as an intern, was first included on a list of potential witnesses prepared by the attorneys for Ms. Jones that was submitted to the President's legal team. Image source: CNN.com

Ms. Lewinsky's name had been provided to the attorneys for Ms. Jones by Linda Tripp, a former White House employee who had become a confidante of Ms. Lewinsky and had secretly tape recorded various conversations she had with Lewinsky relating to her contacts with the President. On January 12, 1998, Ms. Tripp also provided the tapes of her conversations with Ms. Lewinsky to Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr, who had been appointed to investigate charges relating to the Whitewater real estate venture in Arkansas of the President and Mrs. Clinton. On the same day, Ms. Lewinsky's sworn affidavit was sent by her lawyers to the Jones attorneys in which she asserted in part:

I have never had a sexual relationship with the President, he did not propose that we have a sexual relationship, he did not offer me employment or other benefits in exchange for a sexual relationship, he did not deny me employment or other benefits for rejecting a sexual relationship.

On January 15, Starr obtained approval from Attorney General Janet Reno, who in turn sought and received an order from the United States Court of Appeals, to expand the scope of the Whitewater probe into the new allegations. On the following day, a meeting between Ms. Lewinsky and Ms. Tripp at a hotel was secretly recorded pursuant to a court order, with federal agents then confronting Ms. Lewinsky at the end of the meeting with charges of her perjury and demanding that she cooperate in providing evidence against the President. Ms. Lewinsky initially declined to cooperate, and told the FBI and other investigators that much of what she had told Ms. Tripp was not true.

On January 17, President Clinton was deposed in the Jones lawsuit. He denied having "sexual relations" with Ms. Lewinsky under a definition provided to him in writing by her lawyers, and also said that he could not recall whether he was ever alone with her. On January 21, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and ABC News reported that Starr had expanded his investigation of the President to include the allegations related to Lewinsky. After repeated media inquiries, on January 26 President Clinton asserted in an appearance before the White House press corps: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky," and denied urging her to lie about an affair.

The President's attorneys failed in efforts to block Starr's expansion of his investigation, which also included whether the President himself had lied under oath in his own deposition taken in the Paula Jones litigation. In July 1998, after being granted sweeping immunity from prosecution by Special Prosecutor Starr, Ms. Lewinsky admitted that she in fact had had a sexual relationship with the President that did not include intercourse, but denied that she had ever been asked to lie about the relationship by the President or by those close to him.

On August 17, the President testified for over four hours before Starr's grand jury on closed-circuit television from the White House. In his testimony, he admitted the Lewinsky relationship, but denied that he perjured himself in the Paula Jones deposition because he did not interpret the conduct with Ms. Lewinsky as constituting sexual relations. On the same evening, he appeared on national television and admitted that he had an "inappropriate relationship" with Lewinsky and had misled the American people about it.

On September 9, Independent Counsel Starr submitted a detailed report to the Congress in which he contended that there was "substantial and credible information that President William Jefferson Clinton committed acts that may constitute grounds for an impeachment" by lying under oath in the Jones litigation and obstructing justice by urging Ms. Lewinsky "... to to file an affidavit that the President knew would be false". On September 11, the House of Representatives approved House Resolution 525 by a vote of 363 to 63 authorizing a review by the Committee on the Judiciary of the report of the Independent Counsel to determine whether sufficient grounds existed to recommend to the House that an impeachment inquiry be commenced and also approved the public release of the Starr report. On September 21, the Judiciary Committee released nearly 3,200 pages of material from the grand jury proceedings and the Starr investigation, including transcripts of the tesimony of President Clinton and Ms. Lewinsky.

Henry HydeOn October 8, House Resolution 581 introduced by Congressman Henry J. Hyde, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, was approved by the House in a 258 to 163 vote to authorize and direct the Judiciary Committee to investigate whether sufficient grounds existed for the impeachment of the President. After its staff interviewed various witnesses in private, the Judiciary Committee's public hearings commenced on November 19 with an opening statement by Congressman Hyde followed by additional hearings in which the Committee reviewed the issues and allegations of the Starr report and additional testimony provided by witnesses to its staff. The Committee also heard contrasting views from constitutional experts on the legal basis for impeachment as applied to the factual allegations pertaining to the Lewinsky matter.

A motion sponsored by Democrats to adopt a censure resolution as an alternative to the proposed impeachment was defeated on December 8. On December 11 and 12, the Committee approved four articles of impeachment for presentation to the full House, and on December 16 released its full Report supporting its recommendation. After debate, the House approved two of the Articles alleging that the President had provided perjurious, false and misleading testimony to the grand jury regarding the Paula Jones case and his relationship with Monica Lewinsky and that he had obstructed justice through an effort to delay, impede, cover up and conceal the existence of evidence related to the Jones case. After the House vote, President Clinton appeared before the media at the White House, saying in part:

I have accepted responsibility for what I did wrong in my personal life. And I have invited members of Congress to work with us to find a reasonable, bipartisan and proportionate response. That approach was rejected today by Republicans in the House. But I hope it will be embraced by the Senate. I hope there will be a constitutional and fair means of resolving this matter in a prompt manner.

The Impeachment Trial in the Senate commenced on January 7, 1999, with the announcement by the Sergeant-at-Arms of the presence of the managers on the part of the House of Representatives to conduct proceedings on behalf of the House concerning the impeachment of the President of the United States. After Congressman Hyde read the Articles of Impeachment approved by the House, the Senate then adjourned, reconvening later that day with Chief Justice Rehnquist present, who was sworn in as presiding officer for the trial and who in turn swore in the 100 senators as jurors for the proceedings. The President's case was outlined in the White House Trial Memorandum submitted on January 13, which was countered by the House Rebuttal to White House Trial Memorandum. In subsequent sessions, the Senate voted to adopt a series of motions to limit evidence primarily to the previously video-taped depositions, affidavits and other documents previously introduced, and also voted to close its final deliberations to the public.

The Senate voted on the Articles of Impeachment on February 12, with a two-thirds majority, or 67 Senators, required to convict. On Article I, that charged that the President "...willfully provided perjurious, false and misleading testimony to the grand jury" and made "...corrupt efforts to influence the testimony of witnesses and to impede the discovery of evidence" in the Paula Jones lawsuit, the President was found not guilty with 45 Senators voting for the President's removal from office and 55 against. Ten Republicans split with their colleagues to vote for acquittal; all 45 Democrats voted to acquit. On Article II, charging that the President "...has prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice"..., the vote was 50-50, with all Democrats and five Republicans voting to acquit.

Following the vote, President Clinton, in televised remarks from the White House, said:

Now that the Senate has fulfilled its constitutional responsibility bringing this process to a conclusion, I want to say again to the American people how profoundly sorry I am for what I said and did to trigger these events and the great burden they have imposed on the Congress and on the American people.

I also am humbled and very grateful for the support and the prayers I have received from millions of Americans over this past year.

Now I ask all Americans, and I hope all Americans here in Washington and throughout our land, will rededicate ourselves to the work of serving our nation and building our future together. This can be and this must be a time of reconciliation and renewal for America.

 
Resources

Research Guide on Impeachment >> Library of Congress

The Impeachment Trial >> PBS.org

Special Report: Clinton Accused >> Washington Post.com

Impeachment of President William Jefferson Clinton, Documents Center >> University of Michigan Library

Guide to Impeachment Materials Online >> JURIST: The Legal Education NetworkT, University of Pittsburgh School of Law

Investigating the President >> CNN.com

The Starr Report >> CNN.com

Impeachment: An Overview of Constitutional Provisions, Procedure, and Practice >> Congressional Research Service.

Report of the Committee on the Judiciary December 16, 1998

Articles of Impeachment >> Library of Congress

Senate Vote on Impeachment Articles February 12, 1999

Statement of Congressman Henry Hyde following February 12, 1999 Senate vote not to impeach

Statement of President Clinton following February 12, 1999 Senate vote not to impeach

Links to Legal Proceedings against Bill Clinton >> Robert B. Standler (Copyright 2004, posted by permission)

Educational Tools

Impeachment: The Process and History >> New York Times

Lesson Plan: The Clinton Crisis >> Nick Jr. News, Nickelodeon

Lesson Plan: Impeachment Trial is no "L.A. Law" >> teachworld.com

Presidential Legacies >> US News Classroom, US News and World Report