Bill Clinton was one of the most popular American presidents in modern times and the first democrat since Franklin Roosevelt to have been elected as the U.S. president for two terms. It is ironic, therefore, that despite his popularity and despite having presided over the longest period of economic prosperity in the history of the United States he is likely to be remembered in history as only the second U.S. President to have been impeached -- the result of his sexual affair with a White House intern.
In this paper we shall take a brief look at the main characters in the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal and the roles they played in it; discuss the background of the scandal and how it developed. We shall also discuss how different people (including the public and the major parties) viewed the affair and the effect it had on the office of the United States Presidency.
Main Characters in the Affair
William Jefferson Clinton: Defeated the incumbent republican President George Bush in 1992 with a catchy "it's the economy, stupid" slogan; re-elected in 1996. Third youngest U.S. president in history. Major achievement: reversed the trend of rising budget deficits by cutting government spending that stimulated the economy. Faced a hostile Congress during most of his tenure. His affairs with women proved to be his Achilles' heel. In the Lewinsky scandal, he at first emphatically denied having a sexual relationship with Lewinsky, but later admitted to "inappropriate intimate contact." He was impeached by the House in 1998 for not being truthful and for obstructing justice in the Lewinsky case but the Articles of Impeachment were defeated by the Senate in 1999 and he remained President till the end of his term. (Dumas, 2003)
Monica Lewinsky: Worked as a White House intern from June 1995 -- April 1996. Began working at the Pentagon after leaving the White House where she became friends with Linda Tripp. Confided to her friend about an affair with President Clinton in conversations that were secretly taped by Tripp. Lewinsky was subpoenaed by Paula Jones' Lawyers to testify in another lawsuit against Clinton, where she submitted an affidavit denying a sexual relationship with Clinton. Testified before a grand jury in August that she engaged in numerous sexual liaisons with President Clinton at the White House after her lawyers arranged immunity from perjury. She, however, denied that she was asked to lie about the affair by anyone. ("Key Player: Monica S. Lewinsky," 1998)
Kenneth Starr: Republican lawyer and former solicitor general during the Bush Sr. administration. The U.S. Department of Justice assigned him as independent counsel in 1994 to investigate Bill and Hillary Clinton's involvement in a failed land deal (termed "Whitewater") during the 1970s. In January 1998, Starr asked for and received permission to expand his investigation into perjury and obstruction of justice allegations related to the Monica Lewinsky case. Clinton's supporters accused him of a partisan and political vendetta against the President but his own supporters and Republicans considered him dogged and honest. (Clinton himself Clinton bitterly denounced Starr for "prying" into his personal life in a televised address). He delivered an extraordinary, sexually graphic 453-page document ("The Starr Report") to the Congress in September 1988, suggesting 11 possible grounds for impeachment of Clinton. His questionable tactics included wiring Linda Tripp to tape record her conversations with Lewinsky, and forcing her mother to testify before a grand jury about her daughter. ("Key Player: Kenneth W. Starr," 1998)
Linda Tripp: A former White House secretary during George Bush Sr.'s and Clinton's presidencies. She was forced out of the White House and assigned to the Pentagon public affairs department. She began making secret tapes of co-worker and "friend" Monica Lewinsky in 1997 about her confessions of a sexual relationship with President Clinton. She gave the tapes to Starr Jan. 12, 1998, and let him wire her with a hidden microphone to record another conversation with Lewinsky. She also met with Paula Jones's lawyer to brief him about Lewinsky's relationship with Clinton. She was reviled by Clinton's supporters for betraying a friend's trust, while she depicted herself as an "average American" who was "vilified for taking the path of truth." ("Key Player: Linda R. Tripp," 1999)
Vernon Jordan: A close friend of President Clinton, he was a former civil rights activist before becoming a Washington power broker. Helped Lewinsky to find a job in late 1997. Kenneth Starr investigated Jordan in his role in urging Lewinsky to lie or in helping her find a job to hush her up. Jordan strongly denied these allegations and were not addressed in Starr's report. ("Key Player: Vernon E. Jordan Jr.," 1998)
Hillary Clinton: Remained her husband's staunchest defender during the all the stages of the scandal. She resolutely played the role of loyal wife all along, arguing that she and her husband were victims of a "vast right-wing conspiracy" led by the " politically motivated" independent counsel, Kenneth Starr. When the scandal broke she declared that she fully believed her husband's denial of the Lewinsky allegations. After Clinton's admission of an inappropriate relationship with Lewinsky, she continued to insist that she remained "committed to her marriage" and "believes in this president and loves him very much." ("Key Player: Hillary Rodham Clinton," 1998)
How the Scandal Developed
The Lewinsky affair came to Kenneth Starr's attention while he was investigating the Clintons in the Whitewater affair through a civil lawsuit against Clinton filed in 1994 by Paula Jones, a former state government secretary. Jones alleged in the suit that Clinton had violated her civil rights by making a sexual proposition to her in a Little Rock hotel room when he was the governor. During the hearings of her case, Jones had tried to show that Clinton had a pattern of sexual misconduct with women. Her lawyers received a rumor that a White House intern had had an affair with the president, and on December 17, 1997 they subpoenaed Lewinsky. Lewinsky made her last visit to the White House on December 28, 1997 where she reportedly met President Clinton who allegedly asked her to be "evasive" in her answers to the Jones's lawsuit. Lewinsky denied the affair in the court by filing an affidavit on January 7, 1998 but she had confided of her affair to a friend, Linda Tripp (a former employee in the White House) that she was having an affair with Clinton, and Tripp had taped the conversations. Meanwhile, on January 17, 1998 Clinton gave a deposition of his own to Jones's lawyers, becoming the first sitting president ever to testify as a defendant. When asked, he reportedly denied having an affair with Lewinsky.
Other important events in the "chronology" of the scandal are discussed below:
Linda Tripp provides Tapes to Starr
Tripp proceeded to provide Kenneth Starr on January 12 with the tape recordings of Lewinsky discussing the affair. It was the chance Starr was looking for and in January 1998 Starr asked the Attorney General to expand his Whitewater investigation by investigating whether President Clinton had lied about his alleged affair with Lewinsky under oath, and had tried to influence others' testimony about it. Although the Lewinsky affair was unrelated to the Whitewater issues, Starr justified the investigation by saying that it constituted a pattern of obstructing justice at the White House. The attorney general and a panel of three federal judges in the District of Columbia enlarged Starr's mandate to include the Lewinsky matter.
The Scandal Erupts
On January 21, 1998 the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal finally erupted as several news organizations reported the alleged sexual relationship between Lewinsky and Clinton. Clinton promptly denied the allegations and reiterated that he never urged Lewinsky to lie. Vernon Jordan also held a press conference on January 22 to deny that he had urged the intern to lie or that she had a sexual relationship with the President. At a news conference on February 8, 1998, President Bill Clinton declared that he would never consider resigning because of the accusations against him. He formally invoked "executive privilege" on March 20.
Secret Service Agents Can Testify federal judge ruled on May 22, 1998 that secret service agents who guard the president must testify before the grand jury -- solicits an angry response from Monica Lewinsky lawyer to Kenneth Starr in an 'open letter.' The president's lead secret service agent had to finally testify before the grand jury on July 23.
Immunity Agreement with Lewinsky
Starr, after months of wrangling finally works work out a full immunity agreement with Lewinsky on July 28, setting the stage for her testimony before the grand jury staring Aug 6.
Clinton became the first sitting president to testify before a grand jury on August 17, 1998. After the questioning at the White House is finished, Clinton goes on national TV to admit he had an inappropriate relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
The Starr Report
Kenneth Starr submitted his report and 18 boxes of supporting documents to the House of…