Photo by Flickr
Photo by Flickr

Our History of Impeachment: Bill Clinton

March 4, 2020

When Richard Nixon resigned from his position as President of the United States, it marked the end of a saga which left the American people to question the integrity and the trustworthiness of their own government officials. Richard Nixon’s involvement in ‘Watergate’ as well as political espionage and other criminal behavior was unlike anything that had ever touched a position of such authority and power in our nation’s history.  

It seemed to take the lid off of an entire world of speculation and conspiracy, but it also made the American people hold their political leaders and voices of power to an overall higher standard.  In the eyes of many, this is what has caused a more frequent use of impeachment within our own government and particularly in regard to the position of the president. Bill Clinton’s story of impeachment is one which differs greatly from that of ‘Watergate’ and Richard Nixon. While Nixon’s actions were criminal, Clinton’s actions were more of an issue of morality.  

Clinton’s judgments of morality seemed like an issue which wasn’t unique to the President of the United States but rather a mistake that anybody could seemingly make. This, however could differ depending on which part of the overly complex story of Bill Clinton’s administration and the never-ending scandals it faced that you choose to believe. Different aspects of Bill Clinton’s journey to impeachment are pointed to as pivotal points in our nation’s history which have largely helped shape our country and its politics today.

Generally, when people think of Bill Clinton and his impeachment, they think of Monica Lewinsky. She was indeed the focal point of the entire Bill Clinton impeachment process. But in order to have a full understanding of the situation and the magnitude it carried; we must consider the different scandals which plagued Bill Clinton’s political career long before he stepped into the Oval Office.  

Bill Clinton had already considered running for office in 1988 but his campaign was derailed before it ever started when Clinton’s reputation as a womanizer became publicly known.  

Bill recently married Hillary Rodham and was unsure how to combat the allegations. In 1992, knowing he’d likely face similar accusations, Clinton ran for President. During the primaries of the election race, a woman named Jennifer Flowers accused Clinton of carrying out an affair with her for a span of 12 years. 

Clinton also came under fire during the election for suspicion that he had made efforts to avoid being enlisted in the Vietnam war and other accusations that he had used marijuana in the past.  Thanks in part to a compelling press conference which featured a powerful speech from Hillary Clinton asking the American people to forgive Bill Clinton as she has, Bill Clinton was elected as president of the United States.  

Clinton was the first democrat to occupy the office in 12 years and represented an exciting, young, and creative prospect of what America had the potential to be. Clinton was a popular president among the American people and he even had Michael Jackson perform at his inaugural celebration.  

The infatuation with the new president didn’t last long, however, as Clinton and members of his administration quickly came under fire with scandal after scandal.  This happened right off the bat when both of Clinton’s original nominees for Attorney General were forced to bow out of the position after it was revealed they both employed undocumented immigrant as house nannies.  

Eventually Janet Wood Reno was given the position of Attorney General.  On top of this, soon into Clinton’s presidency he was accused of delaying air traffic at LAX airport by holding Air Force 1 on the tarmac so he could get an expensive haircut from a Beverly Hills stylist.  

When Clinton was elected to office, he brought with him a platoon of his close friends and his own council from his time as governor of Arkansas. Clinton and his regime were a shock to the system in Washington, as the White House was coming straight out of the George H.W. Bush administration which was held to a high standard of professionalism.  

One of the members of Bush’s White House staff, Linda Tripp, was particularly disgruntled with the change of pace the Clinton’s were presenting to Washington. This didn’t go unnoticed as she was moved from her position at the White House to a position at the Pentagon shortly after the beginning of Clinton’s presidency.  

When the young and liberal Clinton and his “FOB’s”, or Friend of Bills as many would call them, came into the office, it rattled a lot of feathers and quickly began to cause separation between the Republican and Democratic parties which hadn’t been as bitter as we are so used to it being now.  

When Ken Starr took over the role as lead prosecutor of the special council in charge of investigating Mr. and Mrs. Clinton from Robert Fisk in 1994, it had nothing to do with Monica Lewinsky. Instead, it revolved around a pair of scandals which eventually became known as “Travelgate” and “Whitewater.”  

“Travelgate” centered around a man named Vince Foster and his involvement in a decision to fire 7 of the White House Travel Office staffers who had been in those positions for multiple administrations. Outside of Monica Lewinsky, Vince Foster may just be one of, if not, the most important characters in the grand scheme of scandals which led to Clinton’s eventual impeachment.  

Foster, one of Clinton’s ‘FOB’s’, was the Deputy of White House counsel for the administration and claimed that he decided to fire the seven individuals based on intelligence that the office was dysfunctional and corrupt. 

Come to find out this intelligence came from a relative of Bill Clinton’s who assumed the role as head of the Travel Office after the firings.  

For Republicans, and for some of the American public, this was seen as suspicious and as an abusive use of power and there were even calls for Senate Hearings on this issue alone. This was a terrible mark on the presidency out of the gates and Vince Foster felt guilty for it in a lot of ways.  

On top of this, a scandal coined “Whitewater” became somewhat of a mini sensation itself. It revolved around a 1978 land deal helmed by a man named Jim McDougal, who was a friend of the Clintons. Bill and Hillary Clinton had invested in this deal which subsequently failed to succeed. In 1986, a $300,000 loan was received by McDougal’s wife which was backed by a government investment firm in Little Rock, Arkansas, where Clinton was governor at the time. 

According to the man who ran the bank, he received a call from Bill Clinton himself to approve this exact loan.  It was later interpreted that this loan was basically a lifeline to the McDougal’s and other investors who lost big on the failed Whitewater land deal.  Lastly, and most controversially, it was uncovered that Hillary Clinton had done legal work for McDougal when she was a partner at Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, Arkansas.  

This work was in regard to McDougal’s savings and loan bank which, like Whitewater, had failed and in doing so cost the government a total of $73 million.  When Ken Starr and his special prosecution team came to the Clinton’s about any documentation regarding Hillary’s work on this particular case, they claimed the billing records had gone missing.

Vince Foster played a role in Whitewater as well as in Travelgate and when he surprisingly was found dead of an apparent suicide on July 20, 1993, it only gave way to more chaos and suspicion around the entire ordeal as well as the entire Clinton administration and led to the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the president.  

For all of the speculation, Clinton and his administration had endured to begin his presidency, they had managed to stay away from the discussion of Clinton’s womanizing antics for a while.  But this all changed in 1994 when Paula Jones read a story released to the public that detailed stories of several Arkansas state troopers who claimed to have aided Bill Clinton in setting up rendezvous with different young females during their time with the then governor.  

Jones read one story which she unmistakably believed was about her encounter with Clinton which included what she claims were actions of sexual harassment. 

Jones claims that Governor Clinton attempted to make sexual advances on her but did not fight her or attempt to hold her back when she decided to remove herself from the situation. After reading this and the other stories of Clinton’s behavior, Paula Jones sued President Clinton accusing him of sexual harassment on May 6, 1994. 

The White House immediately reacted by denying Jones’ accusations and discrediting her in every way they could. Meanwhile, Jones’ legal team was working to gather as much evidence and as many different women who had stories like Jones’ that they could use in this case. But for a long time, the case went dry.

It wasn’t until the highly bi-partisan and rather intentional government shutdown of 1995 that Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky met. The only reason this was possible was because Lewinsky was assigned to work in the office of Clinton’s Chief of Staff, Leon Panetta during the shutdown. The two quickly caught each other’s eye and soon simple conversation escalated to flirting.  

On the same day that they met, Lewinsky and Clinton exchanged a kiss and Lewinsky left her number for Clinton. Still on the same night, Clinton called Lewinsky and the two met for the first time. In this meeting, Lewinsky claims to have performed oral sex on the President. The government shutdown and a traveling Hillary Clinton made sneaking around the White House for an affair much easier than it normally would have been.  

Although the government shutdown did not last, Lewinsky’s sexual relationship with Clinton did for another three months. For three months, the President and Lewinsky snuck around and carried out their affair and maintained the relationship through phone calls from that point on.  According to Lewinsky, she was truly infatuated with President Clinton and nothing that ever happened between them was unwanted or forced.  

In fact, Lewinsky later went as far to say that at the time, she wanted to spend the rest of her life with President Clinton.  

When Lewinsky’s presence around the White House started to get noticed and with the 1996 reelection campaign looming over his head, Clinton was forced to get Lewinsky out of the White House. He did this by giving her a job at the Pentagon, where she met and became close friends with Linda Tripp. 

If you recall, Tripp was a former employee of the White House as well and not only this, but she was close friends with Vince Foster, the former Deputy of Clinton’s White House Counsel who mysteriously committed suicide amongst the heat of ‘Travelgate’ and ‘Whitewater.’  Tripp already had her own personal distaste for President Clinton, and when Monica Lewinsky opened up about her relationship with the President to Tripp following Clinton’s reelection in 1996, she saw it as an opportunity.  

After gaining the trust of Lewinsky, Tripp began to record her phone calls with Monica and by the end of it had 3 months’ worth of evidence revealing the truth about President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky.  

The most incriminating piece of information Tripp learned was of a blue dress which Monica wore to meet with the President in February of 1997.  The dress had on it a stain which the President was responsible for following their sexual encounter. Lewinsky hadn’t washed the dress yet and Tripp did everything she could to stop her from doing so.  

But before anything about Monica Lewinsky came to full fruition, President Clinton still had his hands full with Paula Jones’ sexual harassment charge which was now being moved to the supreme court, and Ken Starr’s investigation of ‘Travelgate’ and Whitewater.’ 

While these cases seemed dead in the water, everything heated up when Tripp met up with the lawyer team of Paula Jones with one intention in mind: expose the President. On January 12, 1998 this got taken one step further when Ken Starr learned of Linda Tripp and the information she had about President Clinton’s affair.  

After this, on January 16 of the same year, special prosecutors, FBI agents, and Linda Tripp all carried out “Operation Prom Night.” 

Tripp set up a lunch date with Lewinsky at the Pentagon City Mall for lunch and then ambushed her with the prosecutors and agents who threatened Lewinsky with jail time if she didn’t cooperate. Despite being held for upwards of 10 hours, Lewisnky held her ground and didn’t say anything. 

The very next day, Bill Clinton had a deposition in front of a Grand Jury regarding his sexual harassment case involving Paula Jones. In this hearing, Clinton was asked about Lewinsky and, under oath, denied having a relationship with her.  

When the Monica Lewinsky story was released to the public in full, it was a tool of divisiveness in congress, but not as much to the American people. 

The republican party, particularly the Christian right, was furious and viciously pounced on the story as an opportunity to bring down the President. For a long time, Republicans were willing to go blue in the face arguing against Clinton and Democrats would do the same arguing for Clinton. A blend of all the Clinton administration scandals had all led to this which was now becoming an extremely divisive situation in Washington.  

But in the eyes of the American people, this scandal and its investigation appeared to be more political than anything and Clinton’s approval rating came in at 79% shortly after the scandal surfaced. Criminal investigations quickly took place and in no time witnesses were testifying in front of the Grand Jury and by the summer of 1998, Ken Starr had gathered significant evidence against President Clinton and issued a subpoena to Clinton yet again requiring him to step in front of a Grand Jury.  

Starr’s prosecution had also cut a deal with Monica Lewinsky granting her full immunity for telling the full truth. The dress of Lewinsky’s which Clinton had stained became a critical piece of evidence and the President was forced to give a blood sample to compare results.  

When Ken Starr released his 445-page report chronicling all of his investigative work about the President on September 9, 1998, it was everything that the republican party needed to put together inquiries of impeachment. 

In December of 1998 the House Judiciary Committee voted to formally propose 4 articles of impeachment against President Clinton for 2 counts of perjury, obstruction of justice, and abuse of power.  

On December 19, 1998 the House of Representatives held their impeachment proceedings and officially approved 2 articles of impeachment against President Clinton. He was charged with perjury for lying about Lewinsky in front of a Grand Jury and obstruction of justice for encouraging her to lie as well. 

With this, President Clinton became only the second President in United States history to formally be impeached by the House of Representatives. Despite another accusation, this time of rape, against the President before the Senate hearings, Clinton was unsurprisingly acquitted of impeachment in the Senate.  

Even with all of this, there is still so much about the Clinton administration that is unknown.  One thing is for certain, Bill Clinton’s scandal humanized the presidency position of the United States and helped form the bi-partisan warfare we are so used to seeing now in everyday politics. 

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