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Bill Clinton, President of the United States, was impeached by the House of Representatives on December 19, 1998, and acquitted by the Senate on February 12, 1999. The charges, perjury, obstruction of justice, and abuse of power, arose from the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the Paula Jones lawsuit. The trial proceedings were largely partisan, with no Democratic Senators voting for conviction and only five Democratic Representatives voting to impeach. In all, 55 senators voted not guilty, and 45 voted guilty on the perjury charge. The Senate also acquitted on the charge of obstruction, with 50 votes cast as not guilty, and 50 votes as guilty. It was only the second impeachment of a President in American history, following the impeachment of Andrew Johnson in 1868.

The independent counsel investigation

The charges arose from an investigation by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr.Originally dealing with the failed land deal years earlier known as Whitewater, Starr, with the approval of Attorney General of the United States Janet Reno, conducted a wide ranging investigation of alleged abuses including the firing of White House travel agents, the alleged misuse of FBI files, and Clinton's conduct during the sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former Arkansasmarker government employee, Paula Jones. In the course of the investigation, Linda Tripp provided Starr with taped phone conversations in which Monica Lewinsky, a former White House Intern, discussed having oral sex with Clinton. At the deposition, the judge ordered a precise legal definition of the term "sexual relations" that Clinton claims to have construed to mean only vaginal intercourse. A much-quoted statement from Clinton's grand jury testimony showed him questioning the precise use of the word "is." Clinton said, "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is. If the—if he—if 'is' means is and never has been, that is not—that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement". Starr obtained further evidence of Clinton's philandering by seizing the computer hard drive and email records of Monica Lewinsky. Based on his conflicting testimony, Starr concluded that Clinton had committed perjury. Starr published his findings in a lengthy document (the so-called Starr Report), which dealt exclusively with the relationship between Clinton and Lewinsky, replete with lurid details of their encounters. The report and subsequent proceedings provided ample fodder for both political opponents and late-night comedians. Starr, in turn, was criticised for spending $70 million in an investigation that substantiated no wrongdoing other than perjury and obstruction of justice. Critics of Starr also contend that his investigation was highly politicised because it regularly leaked tidbits of information to the press, in violation of legal ethics, and because his report included lengthy pornographic descriptions which were humiliating yet irrelevant to the legal case.

The January 1998 press conference

After rumors of the scandal reached the news, Clinton publicly stated, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." In his Paula Jones deposition, he swore, "I have never had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. I've never had an affair with her." Months later, Clinton admitted that his relationship with Lewinsky was "wrong" and "not appropriate." Lewinsky engaged in oral sex with Clinton on several occasions.

Impeachment by the House of Representatives

The House Judiciary Committee conducted no investigations of its own into Clinton's alleged wrongdoing, and it held no serious impeachment-related hearings before the 1998 mid-term elections. Nevertheless, impeachment was one of the major issues in the election. In November 1998, the Democrats picked up seats in the Congress. (The previous mid-term election, in 1994, had been a major debacle for Clinton's Democratic Party, though the Democrats gained 8 House seats in November 1996.)

Impeachment proceedings were initiated during the post-election, "lame duck" session of the outgoing 105th United States Congress. The committee hearings were perfunctory, but the floor debate in the whole House was spirited on both sides. The Speaker-designate, Representative Bob Livingston, chosen by the Republican Party Conference to replace outgoing Speaker Newt Gingrich, announced the end of his candidacy for Speaker and his resignation from Congress from the floor of the house after his own marital infidelity came to light. In the same speech, Livingston also encouraged Clinton to resign. Clinton chose to remain in office and urged Livingston to reconsider his resignation.Contemporaneously, some media reported on house manager Henry Hyde's marital infidelity of several decades prior.

Upon the passage of H. Res. 611, Clinton was impeached on December 19, 1998, by the House of Representatives on grounds of perjury to a grand jury (by a 228-206 vote) and obstruction of justice (by a 221-212 vote). Two other articles of impeachment failed — a second count of perjury in the Jones case (by a 205-229 vote) and one accusing Clinton of abuse of power (by a 148-285 vote). Four Republicans opposed all four articles, while five Democrats voted for three of them and 1 Democrat for all four. Upon passage of H. Res. 611, Clinton became the first elected U.S. president and the second U.S. president to be impeached, following Andrew Johnson in 1868. (In 1974, Richard Nixon resigned the Presidency before the House impeachment vote.)

Trial before the U.S. Senate

Congressional Record from Feb 12, 1999 showing end of President Clinton's impeachment trial.
The Senate trial lasted from January 7, 1999, until February 12 and was presided over by Chief Justice of the United States William Rehnquist. Clinton was defended by Cheryl Mills. Clinton's counsel staff included: Charles Ruff, David E. Kendall, Dale Bumpers, Bruce Lindsey, Nicole Seligman, Lanny A. Breuer and Gregory B. Craig.

Thirteen House Republicans from the Judiciary Committee served as "managers," the equivalent of prosecutors:

No live witnesses were called during the trial, although four witnesses were interviewed on videotape: President Clinton, Monica Lewinsky, Clinton's friend Vernon Jordan, and White House aide Sidney Blumenthal.

A two-thirds majority, 67 votes, would have been necessary to convict and remove the President from office. The perjury charge was defeated with 45 votes for conviction and 55 against. (Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvaniamarker voted "not proven," which was considered by the Chief Justice Rehnquist as a vote of "not guilty.") The obstruction of justice charge was defeated with 50 for conviction and 50 against.

Senate vote: perjury charge

Voting not guilty (10 Rep, 45 Dem)

Republicans:Chafee (Rhode Island), Collins (Maine), Gorton (Washington), Jeffords (Vermont), Shelby (Alabama), Snowe (Maine), Specter (Pennsylvania), Stevens (Alaska), Thompson (Tennessee), and Warner (VA).

Democrats:Akaka (Hawaii), Baucus (Montana), Bayh (Indiana), Biden (Delaware), Bingaman (New Mexico), Boxer (California), Breaux (Louisiana), Bryan (Nevada), Byrd (West Virginia), Cleland (GA), Conrad (North Dakota), Daschle (South Dakota), Dodd (Connecticut), Dorgan (North Dakota), Durbin (Illinois), Edwards (North Carolina), Feingold (Wisconsin), Feinstein (California), Graham (Florida), Harkin (Iowa), Hollings (South Carolina), Inouye (Hawaii), Johnson (South Dakota), Kennedy (Massachusetts), Kerrey (Nebraska), Kerry (Massachusetts), Kohl (Wisconsin), Landrieu (Louisiana), Lautenberg (New Jersey), Leahy (Vermont), Levin (Michigan), Lieberman (Connecticut), Lincoln (Arkansas), Mikulski (Maryland), Moynihan (New York), Murray (Washington), Reed (Rhode Island), Reid (Nevada), Robb (Virginia), Rockefeller (West Virginia), Sarbanes (Maryland), Schumer (New York), Torricelli (New Jersey), Wellstone (Minnesota), and Wyden (OR).

Voting guilty (45 Rep, 0 Dem)

Republicans: Abraham (Michigan), Allard (Colorado), Ashcroft (Missouri), Bennett (Utah), Bond (Missouri), Brownback (Kansas), Bunning (Kentucky), Burns (Montana), Campbell (Colorado), Cochran (Mississippi), Coverdell (Georgia), Craig (Idaho), Crapo (Idaho), DeWine (Ohio), Domenici (New Mexico), Enzi (Wyoming), Fitzgerald (Illinois), Frist (Tennessee), Gramm (Texas), Grams (Minnesota), Grassley (Iowa), Gregg (New Hampshire), Hagel (Nebraska), Hatch (Utah), Helms (North Carolina), Hutchinson (Arkansas), Hutchison (Texas), Inhofe (Oklahoma), Kyl (Arizona), Lott (Mississippi), Lugar (Indiana), Mack (Florida), McCain (Arizona), McConnell (Kentucky), Murkowski (Alaska), Nickles (Oklahoma), Roberts (Kansas), Roth (Delaware), Santorum (Pennsylvania), Sessions (Alabama), Smith (New Hampshire), Smith (Oregon), Thomas (Wyoming), Thurmond (South Carolina), and Voinovich (Ohio).

Democrats: None.

Senate vote: obstruction of justice charge

Voting not guilty (5 Rep, 45 Dem)

Robe worn by Chief Justice William Rehnquist during the proceedings.
Republicans: Chafee, Collins, Jeffords, Snowe, Specter

Democrats: Akaka, Baucus, Bayh, Biden, Bingaman, Boxer, Breaux, Bryan, Byrd, Cleland, Conrad, Daschle, Dodd, Dorgan, Durbin, Edwards, Feingold, Feinstein, Graham, Harkin, Hollings, Inouye, Johnson, Kennedy, Kerrey (NE), Kerry (MA), Kohl, Landrieu, Lautenberg, Leahy, Levin, Lieberman, Lincoln, Mikulski, Moynihan, Murray, Reed (RI), Reid (NV), Robb, Rockefeller, Sarbanes, Schumer, Torricelli, Wellstone, Wyden

Voting guilty (50 Rep, 0 Dem)

Republicans: Abraham, Allard, Ashcroft, Bennett, Bond, Brownback, Bunning, Burns, Campbell, Cochran, Coverdell, Craig, Crapo, DeWine, Domenici, Enzi, Fitzgerald, Frist, Gorton, Gramm, Grams, Grassley, Gregg, Hagel, Hatch, Helms, Hutchinson (AR), Hutchison (TX), Inhofe, Kyl, Lott, Lugar, Mack, McCain, McConnell, Murkowski, Nickles, Roberts, Roth, Santorum, Sessions, Shelby, Smith (NH), Smith (OR), Stevens, Thomas, Thompson, Thurmond, Voinovich,Warner

Democrats: None

The aftermath

Contempt of court citation

In April 1999, about two months after being acquitted by the Senate, Clinton was cited by Federal District Judge Susan Webber Wright for civil contempt of court for his "willful failure" to obey her repeated orders to testify truthfully in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit. For this citation, Clinton was assessed a $90,000 fine, and the matter was referred to the Arkansas Supreme Courtmarker to see if disciplinary action would be appropriate.

Regarding Clinton's January 17, 1998, deposition where he was placed under oath, the judge wrote:

"Simply put, the president's deposition testimony regarding whether he had ever been alone with Ms. (Monica) Lewinsky was intentionally false, and his statements regarding whether he had ever engaged in sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky likewise were intentionally false...."

In January 2001, on the day before leaving office, Clinton agreed to a five-year suspension of his Arkansasmarker law license as part of an agreement with the independent counsel to end the investigation. Based on this suspension, Clinton was automatically suspended from the United States Supreme Courtmarker bar, from which he then chose to resign.

Civil settlement with Paula Jones

Eventually, the court dismissed the Paula Jones harassment lawsuit, before trial, on the grounds that Jones failed to demonstrate any damages. However, while the dismissal was on appeal, Clinton entered into an out-of-court settlement by agreeing to pay Jones $850,000.

Political ramifications

Polls conducted during 1998 and early 1999 showed that only about one-third of Americans supported Clinton's impeachment or conviction. However, one year later, when it was clear that House impeachment would not lead to ouster of the President, half of Americans said that they supported impeachment and 42% disapproved of the Senate's decision to keep him in office.

While Clinton's job approval rating rose during the Lewinsky scandal and subsequent impeachment, his poll numbers with regard to questions of honesty, integrity and moral character declined. As a result, "moral character" and "honesty" weighed heavily in the next presidential election. According to The Daily Princetonian, after the 2000 presidential election, "post-election polls found that, in the wake of Clinton-era scandals, the single most significant reason people voted for Bush was for his moral character."According to an analysis of the election by Stanford Universitymarker:
"A more political explanation is the belief in Gore campaign circles that disapproval of President Clinton’s personal behavior was a serious threat to the vice president’s prospects. Going into the election the one negative element in the public’s perception of the state of the nation was the belief that the country was morally on the wrong track, whatever the state of the economy or world affairs. According to some insiders, anything done to raise the association between Gore and Clinton would have produced a net loss of support—the impact of Clinton’s personal negatives would outweigh the positive impact of his job performance on support for Gore. Thus, hypothesis 4 suggests that a previously unexamined variable played a major role in 2000—the retiring president’s personal approval."
According to the America's Future Foundation:
"In the wake of the Clinton scandals, independents warmed to Bush's promise to 'restore honor and dignity to the White House.' According to Voter News Service, the personal quality that mattered most to voters was 'honesty.' Voters who chose 'honesty' preferred Bush over Gore by over a margin of 5 to 1. Forty Four percent of Americans said the Clinton scandals were important to their vote. Of these, Bush reeled in three out of every four."

Political commentators, however, have argued that Gore's refusal to have Clinton campaign with him was a bigger liability to Gore than Clinton's scandals. The 2000 US Congressional election also saw the Democrats gain more seats in Congress. Al Gore reportedly confronted Clinton after the election, and "tried to explain that keeping Clinton under wraps [during the campaign] was a rational response to polls showing swing voters were still mad as hell over the Year of Monica."

Aftermath for the 13 House managers

Many House managers had varying degrees of success in the years following the trial. Of the 13 house managers, only two, Jim Sensenbrenner and Steve Buyer, still remain in the House, 9 no longer hold political office, one has died, and one is in the Senate.

  • Henry Hyde retired from the House in 2007 and died on November 29 of that year.

  • Bill McCollum chose to run for the United States Senate in 2000 after 20 years in the House, losing the general election to Democrat Bill Nelson - at one point claiming in a fundraising appeal that, next to placing Gore in the White House and Hillary in the Senate, Clinton's top political goal for the cycle was to defeat him. In 2004, he ran for Bob Graham's open senate seat, losing the Republican primary to Mel Martinez. McCollum was elected Attorney General of Florida in 2006, and is running for governor in 2010.

  • Lindsey Graham was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2002 and reelected in 2008.

  • George Gekas lost his bid for reelection to Tim Holden in 2002. He had been in the House since 1969.

  • Steve Chabot lost his bid for reelection to Steve Driehaus in 2008. He had been in the House since 1995.

  • Charles Canady chose not to run for reelection in 2000, following through on a term limits pledge to voters. He had served in the House since 1993. He is currently an associate Justice of the Florida Supreme Courtmarker.

  • Steve Buyer is still serving in the House.

  • Ed Bryant left the House following the 2002 midterm elections. He ran for the U.S. Senate in both 2002 and 2006 but lost the Republican primary race in both years, losing to Lamar Alexander in 2002 and Bob Corker in 2006.

  • Chris Cannon ran for reelection in 2008 but lost a primary challenge to Jason Chaffetz, with Cannon being viewed as weak on the illegal immigration issue. He had been in the House since 1997.

  • Jim Sensenbrenner is still serving in the House.


  1. The Senate Acquits President Clinton
  2. Perjury about sexual relations from the Paula Jones deposition
  3. Report: The Independent Counsel’s Final Report
  4. News leaks prompt lawyer to seek sanctions against Starr's Office.
  5. The Starr Report: How To Impeach A President (Repeat)
  6. Special Report: Clinton Accused
  7. Defense Who's Who, Washington Post, January 19, 1999.
  8. Clinton found in civil contempt for Jones testimony - April 12, 1999
  9. FindLaw - US Supreme Court Order - November 13, 2001
  10. CNN Poll

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