Fourteen years ago yesterday (Nov. 19, 1998), President Bill Clinton became the second U.S. President to be impeached.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, Clinton was not impeached over his sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky. The articles of impeachment charged him with lying under oath to a Federal grand jury and obstructing justice.
Granted, the whole sordid incident centered on Clinton’s sexual proclivities. On May 6, 1994, Paula Jones, a former employee of the State of Arkansas, filed a sexual harassment suit against Clinton and former Arkansas state trooper Danny Ferguson. Jones’ claim was that then-Governor Clinton crudely propositioned her. Ferguson had escorted Jones to Clinton’s hotel room and stood guard. He claimed that Jones said she would not mind being Clinton’s mistress.
Jones’ suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Arkansas. Judge Susan Webber Wright, who had taken a law class under Clinton at the University of Arkansas School of Law, ruled that a sitting President could not be sued and deferred the case until the conclusion of his term. The case was appealed to the 8th Circuit of Appeals which ruled in Jones’ favor, finding that “the President, like all other government officials, is subject to the same laws that apply to all members of our society.” The U.S. Supreme Court later affirmed the Appeals Court decision.
On April 1, 1998, Wright granted summary judgment to Clinton in the case, but that didn’t end the President’s troubles.
In 1996, Lewinsky had begun telling co-worker Linda Tripp about her sexual relationship with Clinton. Tripp began recording those conversations. The following summer, Tripp encountered Kathleen Willey leaving the Oval Office “disheveled. Her face red and her lipstick was off.” Willey later claimed Clinton groped her.
In January 1998, Tripp had contacted Whitewater Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr to talk about Lewinsky and their taped conversations detailing the affair with Clinton and conversations Clinton and Clinton friend Vernon Jordan had with Lewinsky instructing her to lie about the affair. Tripp also gave Starr’s team a document headed “Points to make in an affidavit,” which allegedly came from Lewinsky, that coached Tripp on what to tell Jones’ lawyers about Willey in order to discredit Willey’s testimony.
On Jan. 17, 1998, Clinton was deposed in the Jones lawsuit. In his deposition he denied having a relationship with Lewinsky. It was his lies and actions during the Jones deposition that resulted in Wright’s finding Clinton in contempt of court for his intentionally false testimony. He was fined $90,000, and the case was referred to the Arkansas Supreme Court’s Committee on Professional Conduct. The Arkansas Supreme Court suspended his law license for five years and fined him $25,000. Clinton agreed to the deal in order avoid being disbarred and end the investigation of the Independent Counsel.
That deposition was turned over to the Independent Counsel. It and numerous other depositions and mounds of other evidence were turned over to the House of Representatives on Sept. 9, 1998. On Oct. 5, 1998, the House Judiciary Committee voted 21-6 to begin a full impeachment inquiry. On Oct. 8, 1998, the House voted 258-176 (including 31 Democrats) to begin a wide-ranging impeachment inquiry.
After 13.5 hours of debate over two days, the House approved the two articles of impeachment. Clinton vowed to finish his term and appealed for a bipartisan compromise in the Senate.
The fix was in. The Senate, eager to get the whole dreary saga behind it, agreed to hear and see only enough evidence to appear it was interested. Fifty-five Senators voted to acquit Clinton on perjury. The obstruction charged failed 50-50. Clinton would remain in office.
On Nov. 1, 2001, on the last day he was eligible to contest the disbarment, Clinton resigned from the Arkansas Supreme Court Bar. In doing so, he surrendered his license rather than face penalties related to disbarment.