Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education



Front Page

World

UK

UK Politics

Business

Sci/Tech

Health

Education

Sport

Entertainment

Talking Point
On Air
Feedback
Low Graphics
Help

Tuesday, December 22, 1998 Published at 17:01 GMT


Sex, lies and impeachment

Beneath an innocent gesture, guilty secrets lurked

For Americans, and much of the rest of the world, 1998 will be remembered as the year of Bill and Monica.

Review of the Year
Bill Clinton, the most powerful leader in the world, was brought to his knees - forced to apologise for his conduct, having the most intimate details of his sex life made public and finally becoming only the second president in American history to be impeached.

As 1998 turns into 1999 it is still unclear what his final fate will be. That is to be decided by the US Senate, which will try him for obstruction of justice and perjury in the New Year.

Yet 12 months ago, Monica Lewinsky, the agent of Mr Clinton's humiliation, was unknown.

Revelations on the Web

Despite rumours of other "bimbo eruptions", Bill Clinton's biggest problem was a woman named Paula Jones, whom he had allegedly sexually harassed while he was governor of Arkansas.


[ image: Monica Lewinsky's official White House photo]
Monica Lewinsky's official White House photo
On 17 January, however, the Web-based Drudge Report published a story that President Clinton had had an
an affair with a young White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.

Just as interesting was the fact that the story had been the scoop of a Newsweek reporter until his magazine spiked it, leading to accusations of a cover-up.

As the mainstream media picked up the story, it emerged that a so-called friend of Ms Lewinsky, Linda Tripp, had secretly recorded their conversations about the affair.

Video of the president hugging Ms Lewinsky on the White House lawn further fuelled the scandal. It was during a public occasion and there were hundreds of people around, but the gesture took on an intimate nature in slow motion and Monica's body language and expression also seemed to indicate a hidden agenda.

Monica Lewinsky - Not just a face in the crowd
A montage of Clinton-Lewinsky public encounters

At the same time, extracts from transcripts of the Tripp tapes were released, seemingly supporting the accusation that Mr Clinton tried to get Ms Lewinsky to commit perjury by lying about their affair.

This increased the stakes. It was no longer a case merely about sexual impropriety. It had become a case about breaking the law.

'I did not have sex with that woman'

The president hotly denied both charges, famously declaring: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms Lewinsky." It was a sentence to be replayed and analysed many times in the months to come.

"I did not have sex with that woman..."
President Clinton's January denial

Mr Clinton was supported by his wife, Hillary, who went on American television to blame the allegations on a right-wing conspiracy.

The nation certainly seemed to support their president as opinion polls showed Mr Clinton's approval rating at an all-time high by the end of January. A high level of support was to be a recurring theme throughout the year.

At the same time, Mr Clinton's morale was boosted by the judge in the Jones case ruling that Ms Lewinsky was not relevant to Mrs Jones's allegations.


[ image: Kenneth Starr: Object of derision, ire and scorn]
Kenneth Starr: Object of derision, ire and scorn
In contrast, special prosecutor Kenneth Starr was very interested indeed in what Ms Lewinsky had to say. He tried to force her to testify before him, but her lawyers would not allow it without an
immunity deal for their client.

As negotiations continued, other witnesses were called, including close aides of the president and even, later on, his bodyguards.

There were also fresh accusations of sexual harassment from another former White House worker, Kathleen Willey.

There was relief for Mr Clinton on the first day of April, however, when the Paula Jones case was dismissed by Judge Susan Webber Wright.


[ image: Paula Jones lost her sexual harassment case]
Paula Jones lost her sexual harassment case
The judge ruled that it did not meet the legal standard for sexual harassment - Mrs Jones's career had not been adversely affected, nor had she suffered significant emotional distress.

When told by an aide of the ruling, President Clinton thought he was the victim of an April Fool's joke, but was delighted to be proved wrong.

Breakthrough for the prosecutor

Mr Starr appeared to be getting nowhere with his attempts to strike a deal with Ms Lewinsky, but in June she sacked her lawyer, the colourful William Ginsburg, and replaced him with Jacob Stein and Plato Cacheris. These two Washington insiders were thought to be better placed to protect their client.

In the meantime, Linda Tripp testified about what she knew of the affair.

At the end of July it emerged that President Clinton had been issued with a subpoena to testify. Just days later it was announced that Ms Lewinsky had reached a deal on immunity in exchange for her testimony.


[ image: The infamous blue dress]
The infamous blue dress
The same month, the FBI began tests on a navy blue cocktail dress rumoured to have been worn by Ms Lewinsky during an encounter with the president, during which it was said to have been stained with semen.

This was compared with a sample of Mr Clinton's DNA - it later proved to be a match.

On 6 August, Monica Lewinsky appeared before the grand jury. She was reported to have told prosecutors that she did have sex with Mr Clinton, but crucially to have denied that he asked her to lie about it.

Video replay

Eleven days later, Kenneth Starr got his wish: President Clinton testified on video to the grand jury.

Details of his testimony were not revealed immediately. But Mr Clinton made a televised address to the nation that evening during which he confessed to having had an "inappropriate relationship" with Ms Lewinsky. He ended by asking to be allowed to get on with his job.

Relations were "not appropriate"
Address to the nation after Grand Jury testimony: 17 August

An estimated two-thirds of the country tuned in to watch, with mixed reactions.

The bombing of terrorist targets in Sudan and Afghanistan soon after led to accusations of 'the tail wagging the dog' - that Mr Clinton was trying to divert attention from his personal problems through a foreign policy adventure, but the American public again supported their president's action.

Lurid details

Mr Clinton helped his cause while in the Irish Republic the following month by finally saying a word conspicuously absent from previous defences of his actions - "sorry". He repeated his apology as the Starr report was delivered to Congress - all 36 boxes of it.

Two days later, the report was published on the Internet.

It listed 11 grounds for impeachment and explicit details of 10 sexual encounters between Mr Clinton and Ms Lewinsky. The most notorious of these involved using a cigar as a sex aid.

The White House responded with a detailed rebuttal, accusing Mr Starr of having produced a smear report full of unnecessary salacious detail. This view was echoed by much of the public, but many other Americans seemed disgusted by his behaviour.


[ image: Clinton was evasive - but did not storm away, as was rumoured]
Clinton was evasive - but did not storm away, as was rumoured
Scenting blood, the Republican-dominated House Judiciary Committee voted on party lines to release President Clinton's video testimony.

At the time, this was thought to be the final nail in Mr Clinton's coffin.

It was widely trailed that he had been shifty and evasive. In the end, although he was seen to split hairs over the meanings of simple words, Mr Clinton appeared relatively cool under fire.

Certainly, that was how it appeared to a majority of Americans who again supported him in the aftermath of his ordeal, approving of the job he was doing if not his morals.

Crucial cuts: Video testimony to Grand Jury
Part of the video made on 17 August but not made public until 21 September

Aside from his personal conduct, however, there was the question of impeachment - whether, like Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton had broken the law and should be prosecuted.

Public disregards the affair

In early October, the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee voted on party lines to begin impeachment hearings. A few days later, the full House approved an impeachment inquiry, with 31 Democrats as well as all the Republicans in favour.

Movement on that front was suspended, however, during the mid-term Congressional elections. It was thought that the Lewinsky affair would cost the Democrats dearly in states where it had become an issue, such as her home state of California and the South.

The Republicans certainly hoped to make political capital out of their opponents' discomfort and their final campaign adverts played on the issue.

But the American people - like Mr Clinton - seemed to have had enough of Ms Lewinsky. They looked instead at the state of the economy and other 'kitchen table' issues.


[ image:  ]
The Democrats received an unexpected boost by gaining ground in the House of Representatives and holding their own in the Senate. The 'Lewinsky factor' turned out to be largely irrelevant.

The immediate effect - though the Republicans denied that there was a link - was the scaling back of the impeachment process. Only one major witness - Kenneth Starr - was to be called, sparing President Clinton the embarrassment of having to testify again.

Even the final release of the infamous Tripp tapes failed to re-ignite the case.

There was further good news for Mr Clinton when Paula Jones accepted a $850,000 out of court settlement - aided by an extra $1m to drop the case from businessman Abe Hirschfeld.

Republicans press ahead

When the impeachment process began on 19 November, the White House therefore had reason to be fairly confident. Mr Starr accused Mr Clinton of a concerted plan to lie and cover up his affair with Monica Lewinsky, but his case was not helped when one of his advisers, Sam Dash, resigned saying that Mr Starr was wrong to testify.

The Republicans, however, were determined to press ahead and were led in this by their new Speaker-elect, Bob Livingston, who said he wanted a vote on the issue even if he knew there was not a majority to impeach.

It was ironic for Mr Clinton that Mr Livingston was in a position to do this. If Newt Gingrich had not resigned after the Republicans' poor showing in the mid-term elections, a deal would probably have been much more likely.

On 9 December, the Republican majority on the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee proposed four articles of impeachment against the president. The articles included two counts of perjury, one of obstruction of justice and one of abuse of power. They were approved by the committee four days later.

Impeachment of the commander in chief

On 16 December, US and UK forces began Operation Desert Fox, the bombing of Iraq, and the House of Representatives postponed the impeachment vote.

On the 18th, however, with bombs and missiles still raining down on Baghdad, the House began its historic debate - the first for 130 years - on whether to impeach the president.


[ image: Bob Livingston and his wife, Bonnie]
Bob Livingston and his wife, Bonnie
Against this bizarre backdrop, the debate was bitter.

This atmosphere was not helped when Mr Livingston proved the old adage about people who live in glass houses by admitting that he too had had extra-marital affairs.

The following day began dramatically when Mr Livingston resigned, saying he would leave the House for good.


[ image:  ]
The day also ended dramatically, historically in fact. William Jefferson Clinton became only the second president in US history to be impeached.

The House voted down two of the articles, but two alleging perjury and obstruction of justice were passed.

Article One is passed
President Clinton is impeached

Mr Clinton remained defiant, declaring he would not resign.

"I will not resign"
President Clinton says he will serve out his term of office

Public support as 1999 draws near

As the year comes to a close, he appears to be basing his hopes for survival on a double strategy. One front is to lobby behind the scenes for a deal, probably accepting a motion of censure from the Senate. The second front is to prepare his defence for a New Year trial in the Senate, the final stage of the impeachment process.

In Mr Clinton's favour is the fact that impeachment requires a two-thirds majority and the Senate is divided along party lines on the issue - giving the Republicans only a 55-45 advantage.

There is also the fact that the Mr Clinton's approval rating is still going up - the American public would much prefer a censure deal which would allow him to hang on until the end of his presidency.

Whether he will be allowed to do so, however, remains to be seen.



Advanced options | Search tips




Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage |


In this section

Sex, lies and impeachment

Northern Ireland: An historic year

The year the bubble burst

Kosovo: Another Balkan tragedy

Nature's turbulent year

Sport: Trials and triumph

Goodbyes