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clinton impeachment

Impeachment of Bill Clinton

Former President of the United States Bill Clinton 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 law suit. The trial proceedings were largely party-line, with no Democratic Senators voting for conviction and only five Democratic Representatives voting to impeach. In all, 50 senators voted "not guilty," and 50 voted "guilty" on the obstruction charge. The Senate also acquitted on the charge of perjury with 55 votes cast as "not guilty," and 45 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

Impeaching is to bring federal charges against someone in office. 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 Janet Reno, conducted a wide ranging investigation of alleged abuses including the firing of white house travel agents, the misuse of FBI files, and Clinton's conduct during the sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former Arkansas 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. Based on this and other evidence Starr concluded that Clinton perjured himself when, in a sworn deposition for this case, Clinton denied having a "sexual affair" or "sexual relations" with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. 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, in turn, was criticized for spending 70 million dollars in an investigation that substantiated no wrongdoing other than perjury and obstruction of justice. Critics of Starr also contend that his investigation was highly politicized because it regularly leaked tidbits of information to the press 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." In fact, Clinton engaged in oral sex with Ms. Lewinsky 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.)

Impeachment proceedings were initiated during the post-election, "lame duck" session of the outgoing 105th 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 Livingston's own marital infidelity came to light. Livingston, in that same speech, encouraged Clinton to resign as well. Clinton chose to remain in office and encouraged Livingston to reconsider resigning. 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 at least one of them. 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

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 Pennsylvania 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

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

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

Voting guilty

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

Democrats: None.

Senate vote: obstruction of justice charge

Voting not guilty

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 of Nebraska, Kerry of Massachusetts, Kohl, Landrieu, Lautenberg, Leahy, Levin, Lieberman, Lincoln, Mikulski, Moynihan, Murray, Reed of Rhode Island, Reid of Nevada, Robb, Rockefeller, Sarbanes, Schumer, Torricelli, Wellstone, Wyden

Voting guilty

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, Hutchison, Inhofe, Kyl, Lott, Lugar, Mack, McCain, McConnell, Murkowski, Nickles, Roberts, Roth, Santorum, Sessions, Shelby, Smith, Smith, 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 Court 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 Arkansas 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 Court 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 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 University:

"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.

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.

Notes

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