President Bill Clinton Denies Sexual Affair with a White House Intern Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Allegations of having lied under oath about an inappropriate sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky led to the impeachment of U.S. president Bill Clinton by the House of Representatives but his exoneration by the Senate.

Summary of Event

Even before Bill Clinton was elected U.S. president in November, 1992, his Presidential campaigns, U.S.;1992 Presidential campaigns, U.S.;Bill Clinton[Clinton01] campaign was troubled by rumors of improprieties. Opponents questioned his role in the failure of the Whitewater Whitewater investigation Development Corporation, a real estate firm, while he was governor of Arkansas, and he was accused of at least one extramarital affair, all claims that brought his character into question. First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, later U.S. senator from New York and a Democratic presidential candidate, made it clear that she had forgiven her husband for the affair and considered the matter closed. [kw]Clinton Denies Sexual Affair with a White House Intern, President Bill (Jan. 17, 1998) [kw]Sexual Affair with a White House Intern, President Bill Clinton Denies (Jan. 17, 1998) Clinton, Bill [p]Clinton, Bill;and Monica Lewinsky[Lewinsky] Lewinsky, Monica [p]Lewinsky, Monica;and Bill Clinton[Clinton] "Zippergate"[Zippergate] "Monicagate"[Monicagate] Starr, Kenneth Tripp, Linda Impeachment;of Bill Clinton[Clinton] Congress, U.S.;and Bill Clinton[Clinton] Clinton, Bill [p]Clinton, Bill;impeachment Clinton, Bill [p]Clinton, Bill;and Monica Lewinsky[Lewinsky] Lewinsky, Monica [p]Lewinsky, Monica;and Bill Clinton[Clinton] "Zippergate"[Zippergate] "Monicagate"[Monicagate] Starr, Kenneth Tripp, Linda Impeachment;of Bill Clinton[Clinton] Congress, U.S.;and Bill Clinton[Clinton] Clinton, Bill [p]Clinton, Bill;impeachment [g]United States;Jan. 17, 1998: President Bill Clinton Denies Sexual Affair with a White House Intern[02870] [c]Sex;Jan. 17, 1998: President Bill Clinton Denies Sexual Affair with a White House Intern[02870] [c]Government;Jan. 17, 1998: President Bill Clinton Denies Sexual Affair with a White House Intern[02870] [c]Politics;Jan. 17, 1998: President Bill Clinton Denies Sexual Affair with a White House Intern[02870] [c]Publishing and journalism;Jan. 17, 1998: President Bill Clinton Denies Sexual Affair with a White HouseIntern[02870] Clinton, Hillary Rodham

Clinton’s administration progressed, but rumors continued to emerge, claiming repeated infidelities by the president. Arkansas state police officers reportedly had procured women for Clinton while he was governor and allegedly were fired if considered a political liability. Such rumors gained a certain believability in 1993 when news of the firing of several employees at the White House Travel Office was leaked to the press. Questions of financial improprieties also arose during this time, but White House independent counsel Kenneth Starr could not find evidence of wrongdoing by the president or First Lady.

However, the image of an administration riddled with scandal persisted, and it became an issue in the 1996 presidential Presidential campaigns, U.S.;1996 election. Campaign Campaign contributions;foreign contributions from persons connected with the People’s Republic of China raised serious questions about foreign influence upon elections in the United States and led to reconsideration of the laws governing campaign contributions. Still, Clinton was reelected for a second term as president.

During Clinton’s second term, questions of sexual misconduct came to the fore. Two women alleged that Clinton had made inappropriate sexual advances toward them while he was governor of Arkansas. However, neither allegation had been proven in court, and in the case of one woman, the statute of limitations had long since expired, making it impossible to bring the case to trial. All the same, Starr would come to consider the allegations reason to look more deeply into Clinton’s sexual conduct.

Starr’s investigations led him to Jones, Paula Paula Jones, a former Arkansas state employee who had sued Clinton for Sexual harassment;and Bill Clinton[Clinton] sexual harassment in connection with an encounter in a hotel room in Little Rock, Arkansas. Her story was a textbook case of sexual harassment: She had been summoned to the room on the pretext that she needed to take care of some job-related business. However, when she arrived, Clinton (then governor) allegedly propositioned her and suggested that things could go badly for her if she did not acquiesce. She subsequently claimed that she was as surprised by the crudity of his advance as by the act itself and had expected a man as handsome and intelligent as Clinton to have better pick-up lines. Jones’s suit was ultimately dismissed because she was unable to prove damages for refusing Clinton’s request for sexual favors.

Linda Tripp, a staff member in the Pentagon’s public affairs office and a former White House administrative assistant, was the next person to enter the developing scandal. In September, 1997, Tripp began to secretly record telephone conversations she had with Pentagon coworker Monica Lewinsky, a former White House intern. According to Tripp, Lewinsky (before being taped) told her about having had sex with the president. In the secretly recorded conversations, in which Lewinsky elaborates on her relations with the president, Lewinsky tells Tripp that she kept as a memento a blue dress with evidence (semen stains) that the relationship with Clinton had been a physical one. On January 7, 1998, Lewinsky declared in a signed affidavit for the Jones case that she had never had sex with the president. Tripp learned of the affidavit and, believing Lewinsky lied, gave the tapes to Starr on January 12.

Monica Lewinsky.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

On January 17, Clinton was deposed in the Jones case and swore that he never had “sexual relations” with Lewinsky. Four days later, the Los Angeles Times Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and ABC News reported that Starr was investigating the president’s sexual ties to Lewinsky. In interviews with the press later that day, Clinton further denied extramarital relations. Months later, when confronted with evidence from the Federal Bureau of Investigation that his DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) matched the sample taken from Lewinsky’s dress, Clinton admitted to having had “inappropriate intimate contact” with Lewinsky but also equivocated about the precise meaning of the term “sexual relations.” Although technically his attempt to restrict the term to vaginal intercourse had some grounds, it did not match with the intuitive definition held by many people. He insisted as well that he did not lie in his January deposition.

Some considered the media’s continual focus on the precise nature of Clinton’s extramarital activities, rather than upon whether his denial of them in a sworn deposition constituted Perjury;Bill Clinton[Clinton] perjury and obstruction of justice, to be far more inappropriate than the acts themselves. By focusing so intensely upon sexual details, critics argued, the media was appealing to the prurient interest of its readership rather than to the very serious questions about rule of law.

On September 10, Starr delivered his report to the House of Representatives. The report was released to the public the following day. By December 19, the House passed articles of impeachment against President Clinton, making him only the second U.S. president to be impeached (Andrew Johnson was impeached over his conduct of Reconstruction; Richard Nixon resigned before articles of impeachment could be passed against him for his role in Watergate). Because this act followed a congressional election that had significantly shifted the composition of the House in favor of the Democrats, some commentators felt that it was a last-ditch effort by outgoing Republicans to attack a president they despised. Thus, it was in a heavily partisan atmosphere that the U.S. Senate’s impeachment trial began on January 7, 1999.

As provided by the U.S. Constitution, the trial was presided over by U.S. Supreme Court, U.S.;Clinton impeachment Supreme Court chief justice William H. Rehnquist. Thirteen members of Congress served as managers of the trial, the functional equivalent of prosecutors. They were led by Senator Henry Hyde of Illinois, who was notable for his insistence that the focus must be kept upon the questions of perjury and obstruction of justice and not on Clinton’s extramarital affairs per se, which were better left a private matter between the president and First Lady. After nearly a month of testimony, on February 12, the Senate returned verdicts of not guilty on both counts.

Impact

Although Clinton was formally acquitted of the charges against him by the Senate and, thus, continued in office until the end of his term on January 20, 2001, he was subsequently cited for contempt of court by a federal district judge for his refusal to fully cooperate in the Paula Jones case. As a result of his citation and fine, he was disbarred (stripped of his license to practice law) by the Arkansas Supreme Court, which led to his suspension from the bar of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bill Clinton speaks after his impeachment by the House of Representatives on December 19, 1998. From left is Representative Richard Gephardt, Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

Although many people believe the media had discredited itself by its excessive focus on the president’s sexual conduct, even comparing reputable news outlets to supermarket tabloids, the question of honesty and moral character weighed heavily in the 2000 presidential Presidential campaigns, U.S.;2000 election. Vice President Al Gore’s personal connection to Clinton was a strike against him, while Texas governor George W. Bush’s squeaky-clean image of prosaic devotion to his wife, Laura Bush, promised an administration that would not be riddled with sexual scandals.

Years later, as Hillary Clinton began her campaign for the 2008 presidential election, the shadow of the Lewinsky scandal hung over her candidacy. More than a few people feared that having Hillary Clinton in the White House would mean four years of a womanizing Bill Clinton in the White House as well. Clinton, Bill [p]Clinton, Bill;and Monica Lewinsky[Lewinsky] Lewinsky, Monica [p]Lewinsky, Monica;and Bill Clinton[Clinton] "Zippergate"[Zippergate] "Monicagate"[Monicagate] Starr, Kenneth Tripp, Linda Impeachment;of Bill Clinton[Clinton] Congress, U.S.;and Bill Clinton[Clinton] Clinton, Bill [p]Clinton, Bill;impeachment

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Apostolidis, Paul, and Juliet A. Williams, eds. Public Affairs: Politics in the Age of Sex Scandals. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2004. A study of politics and political culture in the context of sex scandals. Includes three chapters on Clinton and the Lewinsky affair and scandal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bennett, William J. The Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals. Thorndike, Maine: G. K. Hall, 1998. Bennett, a conservative, considers the lack of moral outrage about Clinton’s behavior.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Berlant, Lauren, and Lisa Duggan, eds. Our Monica, Ourselves: The Clinton Affair and the National Interest. New York: New York University Press, 2001. Collection of articles by mostly liberal academics and intellectuals examining the sociopolitical assumptions, implications, and consequences of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair.
  • 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">Dershowitz, Alan M. Sexual McCarthyism: Clinton, Starr, and the Emerging Constitutional Crisis. New York: Basic Books, 1998. Famed Harvard law professor Dershowitz discusses the issues at the height of the scandal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kalb, Marvin. One Scandalous Story: Clinton, Lewinsky, and Thirteen Days That Tarnished American Journalism. New York: Free Press, 2001. Focuses on the role of the media in the scandal, particularly its focus on sex rather than law.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Morton, Andrew. Monica’s Story. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. Authorized biography that explores not only Lewinsky’s time in the White House but also how the impeachment trial affected her and her family. Based on interviews with Lewinsky.
  • 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">Toobin, Jeffrey. A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President. New York: Random House, 1999. General, popular account of the scandal and the subsequent impeachment of Clinton.

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