Topic: Bill Clinton's impeachment trial
Can the President of the USA get away with lying about his personal life?
What did he do?
On 6th May 1994, Paula Jones filed a lawsuit claiming that President Bill Clinton had sexually harassed her when he was the Governor of Arkansas. She claimed that Clinton had invited her to his hotel room where he made a sexual advance. In the preparation for the trial other witnesses were questioned in relation to other incidents, including Monica Lewinsky, who had been an intern at the White House during Clinton’s presidency.
The Whitewater scandal
In a totally separate matter, Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr had been appointed to investigate other charges against Clinton; the Whitewater real estate venture, in which Clinton was accused of pressurising someone to provide an illegal $300,000 loan to one of his business partners.
Starr was granted permission to expand the scope of his research to probe into the new allegations. He proceeded to conduct a wide ranging investigation of alleged abuses including the sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Paula Jones. In the course of the investigation, Starr was given taped phone conversations in which Monica Lewinsky discussed having intimate relations with Clinton.
Did he lie?
On the 9th September Starr submitted a report to the US Congress in which he said that Clinton has committed eleven acts which were grounds for his impeachment, including lying under oath.
The Impeachment Trial in the Senate started on 7th January 1999. In order to impeach the President, Congress would need two thirds of senators to vote ‘guilty.’ However, on the 12th February, The Senate found Clinton not guilty. Most of the senators voted on party lines – Democrats voted in support of Clinton, Republicans against. However, although the vote came close to 50-50, it was not nearly close enough to the two thirds necessary to impeach him.
None of our business?
While the report outlined 11 possible grounds for impeachment, none stemmed from the initial subjects of the investigation, including the Whitewater real estate deal. The real focus of the accusations seemed to be Clinton's moral conduct, and the “Starr Report” graphically detailed his sexual affair. The trial raises fascinating questions about the distinction between public morality and private morality. Commentators at the time debated whether what the President does in his private life has any impact on his job in office.