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Lewinsky scandal

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While working as an intern at the White House, Monica Lewinsky had a short-term sexual relationship with President Bill Clinton. The news of this affair, and the resulting investigation and impeachment, became known as the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

As Lewinsky's relationship with the President became more distant, Lewinsky confided details of her feelings and the President's behavior to her presumed friend Linda Tripp[?]. Unbeknownst to Lewinsky, Tripp was illegally recording their telephone conversations with the intent to aid Republican persecution of the Democrat President, and eventually delivered the tapes to Kenneth Starr, Independent Counsel appointed by congress to investigate the President on various other matters.

Lewinsky admitted that her relationship with Clinton involved oral sex, including oral-anal contact, as documented in the Starr report[?], which eventually led to President Clinton's impeachment, on the basis of perjury and obstruction of justice regarding the affair.

On May 22, 1998 a federal judge ruled that United States Secret Service agents could be compelled to testify before a grand jury concerning the scandal.

Table of contents

Allegations of Perjury

Clinton had provided misleading and probably perjurious testimony about the relationship to a civil court, initiated for an unrelated investigation (see also Paula Jones[?]) into sexual misconduct. Among other things, he had denied having had sex with Lewinsky, but in light of incontrovertible evidence (the "blue dress"), he amended his story, saying that he had had oral sex with Lewinsky, but this had not constituted "sexual intercourse", which was what he had been denying in previous testimony. This distinction, that "oral sex" does not constitute "sex" or "sexual relations", though confusing and unacceptable to some, was thereafter substantiated by polls as being common to the majority of Americans (c.f. Britney Spears public avowal of Virginity).

The issue was greatly confused by an unusual definition for sexual contact that was ordered during the initial questioning which led to the perjury allegations. "Sexual contact" was defined as contact where the man touches the woman for her gratification; no action by the woman for the man's gratification was considered sexual contact. Legal opinion is divided as to whether President Clinton's denials--though perhaps ungallant--were legal perjury, though he certainly violated the requirement to be clear about what he was saying. However, legal opinion has been almost unanimous that a criminal prosecution on charges of perjury would almost certainly fail.


Under the United States Constitution, the House of Representatives issues Articles of Impeachment, which the Senate must then consider as a panel of judges. Impeachment is a means of quickly removing dangerously criminal officials from high office. The standard for dangerously criminal was that they had committed "high crimes or misdemeanors". A "high" crime in eighteenth century parlance is a crime against the sovereign, which in United States law is taken to mean against the United States as a whole. Examples of "high" crimes include attempting to undermine United States power for political gain, staging a military coup, accepting bribes, plundering the treasury, fixing elections, and making policy decisions to the detriment of the United States for the benefit of cronies.

Republicans argued that by committing perjury while in the office of President, Bill Clinton taught the youth of the nation disrespect for the nation's laws, which would in time lead to the complete downfall of the United States legal system and government: thus, simple perjury was an impeachable high crime.

The House Judiciary Committee headed by Representative Hyde of Illinois commended four articles of impeachment to the full House, and on December 19, 1998, the House of Representatives forwarded two of the four articles of impeachment (perjury and obstruction of justice) to the Senate. This made Clinton the first elected president in U.S. history to be impeached. The only previous impeachment was the unelected President Andrew Johnson (who had succeeded the assassinated Abraham Lincoln) in 1868. President Richard Nixon had resigned under the threat of impeachment in 1974.

The charges had been rushed through the House in order to take advantage of the votes of so-called "lame-duck" Republican congressmen, and did not reflect the recommendations of the Starr Report[?]. Success in the Senate was not anticipated, due to presumed partisans voting if for no other reasons, and the charges were reorganized apparently to maximize the opportunities for sensationalism and the humiliation of the President: for example the new charges allowed the Prosecution in the senate impeachment proceedings to read into the record lurid details from the Lewinsky testimony that would have been irrelevant to the charges recommended in the Starr report.

The senate trial began on January 7, 1999. The prosecution relied on two basic forms of argument: "The President must have been thinking about topic X at the time that he testifies that he was thinking about topic Y", thus committing perjury--an allegation that cannot be proven; and simply lying about the order and facts of events. While the latter charge is serious, there are numerous documented examples, including:

  • The prosectors presented that on the morning of December 11th Judge Wright issued a court order; actually the court order was issued at 7:50 p.m.
  • Based on this false timing they claimed that a noon meeting was after the court order was issued.
  • Vernon Jordan began making certain telephone calls after a noon meeting; actually his telephone record for those calls starts at 9:30 p.m.
  • A 3:32 p.m. telephone call preceded Betty Currie concealing evidence; they otherwise presented that the evidence was concealed at 2:00 p.m.
In each case (and many others) the false evidence or ordering had been present in the initial written offerings of the prosecutors and the corrections had been listed in the defense's response. All these charges and arguments had been added by the House Judiciary Committee and were not present in the Starr Report[?]. Nevertheless the prosecutors went ahead with the prima facie false accusations, presumably for reasons unrelated to the legal prosecution of the impeachment.

On Friday, February 12, 1999, the senate rejected both of the articles of impeachment. The perjury charges were rejected 55-45, and on the obstruction of justice charges the vote was 50-50. A two-thirds majority (67) would have been required for conviction. The vote fell with few exceptions along party lines.

Many of the House Republicans prominent in the prosecution of the impeachment lost their seats in the following election; it is argued by some that this was an expression of voter distaste for the "embarassing circus" of the impeachment.

The perjury allegations provoked the Arkansas Supreme Court to suspend Clinton's law license in April, 2000. Clinton agreed to the 5 year suspension and to pay a $25,000 fine on January 19, 2001. The following October, the US Supreme Court once again suspended Clinton's law license and gave him 40 days to convince them that he should not be disbarred permanently.

Public Opinion

In early January of 1998 the news broke in various media outlets (see Drudge Report) that the President had had an affair. On January 26, 1998 on American television, Clinton denied he had "sexual relations" with Lewinsky, but did not admit to the actual nature of their relationship.

The components of the scandal, including:

  • extramarital sex;
  • sex with an underling many years his junior;
  • sex with an intern for whom he was arguably acting in loco parentis;
  • perjury allegations;
  • Linda Tripp's 'betrayal' of Lewinsky's friendship;
  • the President's misleading public disavowal;
  • the allegations of impeachable offenses;
coupled with increasingly hostile media coverage, opportunistic persecution of a perceived vulnerable Democrat by the Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, and general partisan feeling led to spirited and emotional public debate. Individuals might see the President as dishonest, but the exposure of the scandal and subsequent humiliation of his family as a greater crime; some argued that the perjury allegations were insignificant but the public disavowal a disgrace; some hated Lewinsky for seducing the President, some hated the President for being seduced, and some hated Linda Tripp the most for betraying friendship.

The affair, and its sordid details, led to a period of cultural celebrity for Lewinsky; as an unlikely sex symbol, and as a younger-generation nexus of a political storm that was both lighthearted, and extremely serious at the same time. Some mild use of the name "Lewinsky" still exists as a term for oral sex, though Lewinsky references and jokes have long cooled in the public interest.

International affairs

It is widely alleged that Operation Desert Fox--which was launched in December of 1998 and actually delayed some of the House of Representative votes relating to the impeachment process--as well as Operation Allied Force[?]--which commenced operations on March 17, 1999 but which had been on the table since the Racak incident on January 14, 1999--were embarked upon primarily to shore up the authority and stature of the President in the face of the domestic challenges. It is widely held that populations increase their support for leaders in times of war.

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