Clinton Is Impeached Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The impeachment of President Bill Clinton set off debate concerning the constitutional standard of “high crimes and misdemeanors” as grounds for impeachment and whether Clinton’s actions reached the level of that standard.

Summary of Event

The road to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment by the House of Representatives and trial on impeachment charges in the Senate began with a federal investigation into a real estate investment scheme that became known as the Whitewater controversy. After a zealous special prosecutor’s circuitous investigation of Whitewater Whitewater real estate investment controversy took many unexpected turns, Clinton became the first sitting president to be tried on impeachment charges since Andrew Johnson in the years following the Civil War. Presidency, U.S.;Bill Clinton[Clinton] [kw]Clinton Is Impeached (Dec. 19, 1998) [kw]Impeached, Clinton Is (Dec. 19, 1998) Presidency, U.S.;Bill Clinton[Clinton] [g]North America;Dec. 19, 1998: Clinton Is Impeached[10280] [g]United States;Dec. 19, 1998: Clinton Is Impeached[10280] [c]Government and politics;Dec. 19, 1998: Clinton Is Impeached[10280] [c]Crime and scandal;Dec. 19, 1998: Clinton Is Impeached[10280] Clinton, Bill [p]Clinton, Bill;impeachment Starr, Kenneth Jones, Paula Lewinsky, Monica Hyde, Henry Rehnquist, William H.

Whitewater began when Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Clinton, Hillary Rodham along with fellow Arkansans James and Susan McDougal, McDougal, Susan McDougal, James[Macdougal, James] bought 220 acres of riverfront land in 1978. They then established the Whitewater Development Corporation to oversee a real estate development. James McDougal later acquired Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan, Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan which engaged in lending practices that attracted the suspicion of federal regulators. For example, Madison Guaranty held a fund-raiser in 1985 that was designed to help eliminate then Arkansas governor Bill Clinton’s campaign debt, an event that led federal investigators to charge that some of the funds had been improperly taken from depositors’ accounts. Another link between the Clintons and Madison Guaranty began when McDougal hired the law firm where Hillary Clinton was a partner. By 1989, Madison Guaranty was shut down by the federal government after a series of failed loans left the institution hopelessly in debt. Both Bill and Hillary Clinton were later named by the federal government as “potential beneficiaries” of questionable financial illegal activities at Madison Guaranty.

In 1993, President Clinton’s political foes exerted pressure to bring about an independent investigation into the Whitewater/Madison Guaranty affair. In response, Clinton handed over relevant documents to the U.S. Justice Department and, in early 1994, asked Attorney General Janet Reno to appoint a special counsel to oversee an investigation into the matter. Reno initially selected former U.S. Attorney Robert B. Fiske Fiske, Robert B. of New York, a moderate Republican, to oversee what was by now known simply as “Whitewater.” Fiske’s tenure ended abruptly, however, when conservatives charged that he was not investigating Bill and Hillary Clinton with sufficient vigor. On August 5, 1994, a panel of judges selected Republican Kenneth Starr to replace Fiske. Formerly, Starr had served as a Justice Department official for Ronald Reagan’s presidential administration and as a federal appeals court judge and solicitor general during the presidency of George H. W. Bush. Thus began a four-year-long investigation of the Clintons in which Starr would change focus from the financial issues of Whitewater to President Clinton’s personal conduct.

President Clinton’s impeachment ultimately stemmed not from Whitewater, but instead from allegations made by Paula Jones, a young woman from Arkansas whose testimony went nearly unnoticed initially. In February, 1994, Jones claimed that while Bill Clinton was the governor of Arkansas, he had sexually harassed her. Sexual harassment;lawsuits According to her statement, Clinton’s state police bodyguard had summoned Jones to a hotel room, where Clinton lowered his pants in her presence and asked her to perform a sex act. The president strongly denied her charges, but on May 6, 1994, she brought suit, seeking financial damages and a personal apology from Clinton. The president’s lawyers claimed that Clinton should be immune from this suit until after his term in office was over, but the U.S. Supreme Court held that the case was unlikely to occupy too much of the president’s time and allowed the case to go forward.

In the midst of the Jones controversy, President Clinton began an inappropriate relationship with a twenty-two-year-old White House intern named Monica Lewinsky, a relationship that included sexual encounters in the Oval Office suite. As the Paula Jones case came closer to trial, Jones’s lawyers sought to find evidence of a pattern of sexual misconduct by the president. As evidence of the Lewinsky relationship came out, first reported by a woman named Linda Tripp, Tripp, Linda who had befriended Lewinsky, Starr received permission from the Justice Department to expand his Whitewater probe to the Lewinsky issue.

In preparation for the Jones trial, President Clinton gave a videotaped pretrial deposition in which he denied having sexual relations with Lewinsky, according to the definition provided by Jones’s lawyers. This denial would later become the basis of an article of impeachment.

President Bill Clinton addresses a group of Democrats after the House of Representatives voted to impeach him.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

As word of the denial leaked out and dominated media coverage, the president received a bit of good news. On April 1, 1998, U.S. district court judge Susan Webber Wright Wright, Susan Webber dismissed the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit without a trial, stating that although Clinton’s alleged behavior in the hotel room may have been offensive, it did not meet the standard of sexual harassment under federal law.

With the Jones case in the past, the Lewinsky relationship now became the focus of Starr’s investigation. In exchange for immunity from prosecution, Lewinsky presented to Starr a blue dress that was stained with the president’s semen. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) matched the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) in a blood sample from the president to the DNA in the material on the dress, confirming a sexual encounter. On August 6, 1998, Lewinsky testified about her relationship with Clinton before Starr’s federal grand jury. She testified about her sexual relationship with the president but denied that anyone had ever instructed her to lie about the affair. On August 17, Clinton appeared voluntarily before the grand jury but repeatedly declined to answer specific questions concerning sex. That night, the president gave a televised address to the nation in which he admitted to an inappropriate relationship with Lewinsky and acknowledged that his previous comments had left the nation with false impressions.

On September 9, Starr delivered a report to the U.S. House of Representatives that alleged eleven impeachable offenses by Clinton. Soon thereafter, the House Judiciary Committee released the Starr report, the videotape of Clinton’s testimony, and more than three thousand pages of sexually explicit evidence to the public. The Republican-controlled committee began to pursue impeachment, a first step in the possible removal of Clinton from office. In his testimony before the committee, Starr accused Clinton of repeatedly engaging in impeachable behavior to hide his affair with Lewinsky. Democratic supporters of Clinton asserted that the charges did not rise to the constitutional standard of “high crimes and misdemeanors” as grounds for impeachment. The president’s own lawyers characterized Clinton’s conduct as reprehensible but not impeachable.

In early December, the House Judiciary Committee voted mainly along party lines to approve four articles of impeachment, accusing Clinton of committing perjury before Starr’s federal grand jury, committing perjury in the Jones case, obstruction of justice in the Jones case, and making false statements in his answers to questions posed to him by the committee. On Saturday, December 19, 1998, the full House of Representatives voted on the four articles of impeachment and passed two of them: the articles alleging perjury before the grand jury and obstruction of justice in the Jones case. The passage of these articles constituted the first impeachment of a sitting president since 1868, when Andrew Johnson was impeached.

With two articles having been approved by the House, an impeachment trial began. It was presided over by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist of the U.S. Supreme Court, with the one hundred members of the U.S. Senate acting, in effect, as a jury. A team of thirteen Republican managers (prosecutors) from the House, led by Judiciary Committee chairman Henry Hyde, vied against Clinton’s team of defense lawyers, led by White House Counsel Charles Ruff. Ruff, Charles Clinton’s attorneys argued that the charges of perjury and obstruction of justice were without merit and did not meet the constitutional standard necessary for removal of the president. On February 8, 1999, following closing arguments from the president’s counsel and chief prosecutor Henry Hyde, the Senate began three days of closed-door deliberations on the charges.

On Friday, February 12, the senators cast their votes: Fifty-five voted not guilty on the perjury charge and fifty voted not guilty on the obstruction of justice charge. Because a two-thirds vote was required for conviction, the president was acquitted on both charges. In addition to the support Clinton received from all the Democrats in the Senate, several Republicans voted against the president’s removal.


The impeachment of President Clinton marked a high point in partisan wrangling in recent U.S. history. It also highlighted the fact that the line between the public life and the private life of a public official was no longer clear, and political opponents and the mass media had come to recognize few boundaries in that regard. The person occupying the office of the president of the United States had become subject to scrutiny across all areas of life.

Among Clinton’s supporters, there was a sense that the impeachment and the scandal that preceded it represented lost opportunity by an otherwise very talented president. Among Clinton’s critics, the impeachment confirmed feelings that he was an immoral leader without legitimacy. Public opinion polls suggested that Americans in general still supported President Clinton after the impeachment and that most Americans believed the moral issues in his life should have remained beyond public focus. Presidency, U.S.;Bill Clinton[Clinton]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Clinton, Bill. My Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004. Memoir includes discussion of Clinton’s perspective on the events surrounding his impeachment.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Posner, Richard A. An Affair of State: The Investigation, Impeachment, and Trial of President Clinton. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999. Presents a definitive assessment of the Clinton impeachment process, from its beginning to the acquittal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schmidt, Susan, and Michael Weisskopf. Truth at Any Cost: Kenneth Starr and the Unmaking of Bill Clinton. New York: HarperCollins, 2000. Explores the investigation into Clinton’s alleged wrongdoings and assesses whether Starr went too far in his pursuit of the president.

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Categories: History