Clinton-Lewinsky Scandal

Lewinsky scandal

Lewinsky scandal (ləwĬn´skē), sensation that enveloped the presidency of Bill Clinton in 1998–99, leading to his impeachment by the U.S. House of Representatives and acquittal by the Senate.

Paula Corbin Jones, a former Arkansas state worker who claimed that Bill Clinton had accosted her sexually in 1991 when he was governor of Arkansas, had brought a sexual harassment lawsuit against the president. Seeking to show a pattern of behavior on Clinton's part, Jones's lawyers questioned several women believed to have had a liaison with him. On Jan. 17, 1998, Clinton himself was questioned, becoming the first sitting president to testify as a civil defendant.

In his testimony, Clinton denied having had an affair with Monica S. Lewinsky, an unpaid intern and later a paid staffer at the White House, in 1995–96. Lewinsky had earlier, in a deposition in the same case, also denied having such a relationship. Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel in the Whitewater case, had previously received tape recordings made by Linda R. Tripp (a former coworker of Lewinsky's) of telephone conversations in which Lewinsky described her involvement with the president. Asserting that there was a "pattern of deception," Starr obtained from Attorney General Janet Reno permission to investigate the matter.

The president publicly denied having had a relationship with Lewinsky and charges of covering it up. His adviser Vernon Jordan denied having counseled Lewinsky to lie in the Jones case, or having arranged a job for her outside Washington, to help cover up the affair. Hillary Clinton claimed that a "vast right-wing conspiracy" was trying to destroy her husband, while Republicans and conservatives portrayed him as immoral and a liar.

In March, Jordan and others testified before Starr's grand jury, and lawyers for Paula Jones released papers revealing, among other things, that Clinton, in his January deposition, had admitted to a sexual relationship in the 1980s with Arkansas entertainer Gennifer Flowers, a charge he had long denied. In April, however, Arkansas federal judge Susan Webber Wright dismissed the Jones suit, ruling that Jones's story, if true, showed that she had been exposed to "boorish" behavior but not sexual harrassment; Jones appealed.

In July, Starr granted Lewinsky immunity from perjury charges, and Clinton agreed to testify before the grand jury. He did so on Aug. 17, then went on television to admit the affair with Lewinsky and ask for forgiveness. In September, Starr sent a 445-page report to the House of Representatives, recommending four possible grounds for impeachment: perjury, obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and abuse of authority (in claiming executive privilege and other actions). The report, detailed not only in its reporting of claimed misdeeds but also its description of sexual acts, was condemned by many as prurient.

The House Judiciary Committee considered the report in October and November. In mid-November it sent Clinton 81 formal inquiries; his answers, seen as legalistic and combative, were thought to hurt his case. On Dec. 12, in party-line votes, the committee approved four impeachment counts, rejecting a resolution of censure drafted by Democrats as an alternative.

House Republicans had unexpectedly lost seats in the Nov. elections, and it was widely held that the impeachment proceeding was one reason, since polls showed the public did not favor impeachment. It was also said that there was no chance the Senate would convict on any charge. The White House hoped that these facts and its own campaign against impeachment would prevent it, but on Dec. 19 Clinton became the second president (after Andrew Johnson) to be impeached, on two charges: perjury—in his Aug., 1998, testimony—and obstruction of justice. The vote, again, was largely along party lines.

In Jan., 1999, the trial began in the Senate. On Jan. 12, Clinton settled the Paula Jones suit, disposing of any threat her case might hold for him. On Feb. 12, after a trial in which testimony relating to the charges was limited, the Senate rejected both counts of impeachment. The perjury charge lost, 55–45, with 10 Republicans joining all 45 Democrats in voting against it; the obstruction charge drew a 50–50 vote. Subsequently, on Apr. 12, Judge Wright, who had dismissed the Jones case, found the president in contempt for lying in his Jan., 1998, testimony, when he denied the Lewinsky affair. In July, Judge Wright ordered the president to pay nearly $90,000 to Ms. Jones's lawyers. During that same month a Maryland grand jury indicted Linda Tripp for illegally taping phone calls (Tripp had been granted immunity from federal prosecution but not from state charges), but the charges were later dropped when crucial evidence was ruled inadmissable. On Jan. 19, 2001, the day before he left office, President Clinton agreed to admit to giving false testimony in the Jones case and to accept a five-year suspension of his law license and a $25,000 fine in return for an agreement by the independent counsel, Robert W. Ray (Starr's successor), to end the investigation and not prosecute him.

See M. Isikoff, Uncovering Clinton (1999); A. Morton, Monica's Story (1999); R. A. Posner, An Affair of State (1999); J. Toobin, A Vast Conspiracy (2000); P. Baker, The Breach: Inside the Impeachment and Trial of William Jefferson Clinton (2000); K. Gormley, The Death of American Virtue (2010).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Defending the American Presidency: Clinton and the Lewinsky Scandal
Robert Busby.
Palgrave, 2001
The Clinton Scandals and the Politics of Image Restoration
Joseph R. Blaney; William L. Benoit.
Praeger, 2001
The Starr Evidence: Including the Complete Text of the Grand Jury Testimony of President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky
Kenneth Starr.
Public Affairs, 1998
An Affair of State: The Investigation, Impeachment, and Trial of President Clinton
Richard A. Posner.
Harvard University Press, 2000
Sexual McCarthyism: Clinton, Starr, and the Emerging Constitutional Crisis
Alan M. Dershowitz.
Basic Books, 1998
When Is Presidential Behavior Public and When Is It Private?
Jamieson, Kathleen Hall; Aday, Sean.
Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 4, Fall 1998
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Clinton-Lewinsky Obsession
Gitlin, Todd.
The Washington Monthly, Vol. 30, No. 12, December 1998
Media Feeding Frenzies: Press Behavior during Two Clinton Scandals
Maurer, Paul J.
Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 1, March 1999
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Polls: The Public's Response to the Clinton Scandals, Part 1: Inconsistent Theories, Contradictory Evidence. (Features)
Renshon, Stanley A.
Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 32, No. 1, March 2002
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Polls: The Public's Response to the Clinton Scandals, Part 2: Diverse Explanations, Clearer Consequences. (Features)
Renshon, Stanley A.
Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 32, No. 2, June 2002
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Executive Privilege in the Lewinsky Scandal: Giving a Good Doctrine a Bad Name
Rozell, Mark J.
Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 4, Fall 1998
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Monica, Bill, and Ethics
Williamson, Thad.
Cross Currents, Vol. 49, No. 2, Summer 1999
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
A Scandal Unfolds
Shepard, Alicia C.
American Journalism Review, Vol. 20, No. 2, March 1998
The Law of Privacy in the United States and France: One President's Impeachable Offense Is Another's Invasion of Privacy
Eko, Lyombe.
Communications and the Law, Vol. 22, No. 4, December 2000
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