Fifteen years ago today, the House of Representatives approved two articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, Clinton was not impeached over an extramarital affair — though that is what the Clinton spin machine wanted people to believe at the time. Clinton was impeached for lying under oath to a Federal grand jury and obstructing justice.
As part of his wide-ranging investigation into the Whitewater land deal, the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit and other Clinton misconduct, Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr obtained secretly taped telephone conversations between Linda Tripp and Monica Lewinsky in which Lewinsky discussed having oral sex with Clinton at the White House.
It was during a subsequent grand jury deposition in which Clinton was asked about other workplace relationships that Clinton gave conflicting testimony and we learned that “is” has several meanings. Based on his conflicting testimony, Starr concluded Clinton had committed perjury.
Starr turned his evidence over to the House of Representatives which then used that evidence as the grounds for impeaching the President for perjury and obstruction of justice.
House members then presented their case before the Senate, which failed to convict Clinton. The Senate voted 55-45 against convicting Clinton of perjury, and 50-50 on the obstruction charge. It would have taken 67 votes against Clinton for him to have been convicted and removed from office.
The acquittal by the Senate in no way exonerated Clinton. On April 12, 1999, Judge Susan Webber Wright — a former Clinton law student — found Clinton in contempt of court for his “intentionally false” testimony in Jones v. Clinton and fined him $90,000. The Arkansas Supreme Court suspended Clinton’s law license over the conviction. He later accepted a five-year suspension of his license in order to avoid being disbarred.
On Oct. 1, 2001, Clinton’s U.S. Supreme Court law license was suspended and he was given 40 days to contest his disbarment. On Nov. 9, he resigned from the Supreme Court bar rather than face penalties related to his disbarment.
For his part, the independent counsel concluded that Clinton testified falsely on three counts under oath during the Jones lawsuit.