Bill Clinton was the 42nd president of the United States from January 1993 to January 2001. In the early 1990s, he had to deal with the Lewinsky scandal, which became a public embarrassment for him and his wife Hillary Clinton.
However, it wasn’t some gossipy tabloid article that brought this upon him. Instead, it was a 21-year-old White House intern who worked for him at the time. On 21 December 1995, 29-year-old Monica Lewinsky met Bill Clinton at a Christmas party in Washington D.C.
The next day, she gave him oral sex while they were alone in an adjacent office. Later that month, they had sex again – this time in a hotel room where they engaged in sexual intercourse as well as oral sex again. This continued over several days until finally, Lewinsky brought her ordeal to an end by telling her boss that she had been sexually harassed by his friend and lawyer Vernon Jordan (who was also married).
He then promptly fired Lewinsky (who also worked as an unpaid volunteer) and took responsibility for being “caught up in passions he thought were appropriate” – which is a euphemistic code for what went on between them.
Bill Clinton and Hillary stepping down
By the end of January, the relationship between Clinton and Lewinsky had become well known within the White House – and rumors of an affair were rife. The couple tried to keep a low profile during this period, but on 13 March, Clinton announced that he would not run for re-election in 1996.
He told the public that it was for health reasons, but the Lewinsky scandal was the real reason. The Lewinsky scandal became public when the Washington Post published a story that claimed that Clinton had lied about the nature of his relationship with Lewinsky. The paper followed this up with a report in which Lewinsky herself provided details about what happened.
Impeachment vote against a sitting president
The House of Representatives commenced impeachment proceedings against Clinton in December, after the Post story. On 9 January, they voted to impeach Clinton on two counts: lying under oath and obstruction of justice.
This meant that the Senate was now charged with trying to determine if the president should step down. It was the first time that the US had tried to remove a sitting president since Andrew Johnson was tried in 1868. And it was an unprecedented political chapter. The proceedings took place behind closed doors and were carried out in a highly partisan way.
While the Senate was deliberating, Clinton would not give up his office, forcing members of Congress to carry out their duties as if he were still the president. On 11 February, despite a vote of 55 to 43 in favor of impeachment, Clinton was acquitted by the Senate. He would later state that he was “profoundly disappointed” with the result of the impeachment vote.
The House and Senate investigations into the Lewinsky scandal continued for the rest of the Clinton presidency. The House Committee on Government Reform issued a report in June that charged the president with lying about his affair with Lewinsky and about his knowledge of the false affidavit that Jordan had used as part of the process.
The committee also issued a report that accused the Justice Department of covering up the fact that Clinton had fired Lewinsky over misbehavior – rather than to protect the president’s privacy. In August, the Senate Judiciary Committee issued a report that concluded that there was no evidence of wrongdoing by Clinton.
The report stated that there was no indication that he had lied under oath, that Jordan’s affidavit had been unreliable and that there were no indications of obstruction of justice.
Resignation of the Lewinsky scandal
After the House Committee on Government Reform issued its report, the Lewinsky scandal saw a significant drop in publicity. There were no significant scandals between January and August when the Senate issued its report. The Lewinsky scandal was now fading from the public consciousness, and Clinton remained popular.
However, the affair was now of historical significance. Lewinsky herself would go on to speak about the affair, giving interviews to CNN in which she offered her side of the story. She would also include her comments in her book, where she compared Clinton’s affair to the Paula Jones case and the Kathleen Willey case.
Lewinsky would also become a prominent political activist, speaking out against harassment and sexual abuse. She would later receive several awards for her activism.
Legacy of the Lewinsky scandal
The Lewinsky scandal is one of the most famous and infamous affairs in US political history. It was so embarrassing that Clinton would later joke that it put him on the map. It was also the first major political sex scandal in the nation’s history – and it would change the way that people would discuss and respond to such scandals in the future.
The Lewinsky affair showed that people in positions of power could be held accountable for their actions. It showed that presidents and other members of the political elite should not be shielded from such accountability. The Lewinsky scandal also showed the public that their leaders could find themselves in compromising situations. And it also showed that a woman could find herself in such a situation.