January 7, 2013
On Dec. 19, 1998, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives impeached President William Jefferson Clinton on two charges, an article of perjury (lying to a grand jury on Aug. 17, 1998) and an article of obstruction of justice (for actions in the sexual harassment lawsuit brought by Paula Jones).
Bill Clinton was just the second president to face an impeachment trial; Andrew Johnson was impeached on Feb. 24, 1868, over his dismissal of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Johnson kept his office when the Senate voted 35-19 for impeachment, one vote shy of the required two-thirds majority.
Clinton dealt with a variety of charges of his inappropriate behavior during the election campaign, and his opponents did not relent after the election; reports and allegations of sexual impropriety surfaced several times during his first term. The frequent rumors and allegations earned the name “bimbo eruptions” from Clinton political consultant Betsey Ross Wright, who was the deputy chairman of the 1992 campaign.
On Sept. 11, 1998, independent counsel Kenneth Starr released the report, commonly called the http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/clinton/icreport/icreport.htm" Starr Report,” of his investigation into actions by Clinton, both before his election to President and during his two terms in office. The investigation began as an inquiry into a real estate investment, Whitewater Development Corp., that Hilary and Bill Clinton had made. Three separate inquiries into Whitewater did not uncover sufficient evidence to prosecute the Clintons, though several people were convicted of criminal conduct.
Starr expanded the Whitewater investigation, with the approval of the Clinton-appointed Attorney General, Janet Reno, to include other allegations of misconduct, the firing of White House travel agents, the suicide of Vince Foster, misuse of FBI files, Clinton’s role in the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit, and finally testimony related to taped phone calls between White House intern Monica Lewinsky and the president.
The investigation and report were significant issues during the 1998 Congressional elections, which saw the Republicans pick up two seats in the Senate, to 55, and lose 6 seats in the House, to 228. The election results prompted Speaker Newt Gingrich to announce he would step down as House leader and resign his seat in Congress. (Republican John Hardy Isakson won a special election in February 1999 for Georgia’s 6th District seat.) The Republican caucus unanimously picked Rep. Robert L. Livingston Jr., R-Louisiana, to succeed Gingrich, but the impeachment debate ensnared Livingstone and other Congressmen. Livingston resigned as Speaker-elect after admitting to an extramarital affair, and called for Clinton to resign as well.
The House voted to impeach, 228-206, on the perjury charge, and 221-212 on the obstruction of justice charge. Two other charges failed, a second perjury charge and an abuse of power charge.
On Jan. 7, 1999, the Senate opened the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist presided, and 13 Republicans from the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., and including Rep. Ed Bryant of Tennessee’s 7th District, served as “managers,” essentially prosecutors.
After a 21-day trial the Senate voted on Feb. 12 to acquit Clinton. Impeachment requires a two-thirds majority, 67 votes, the perjury charge failed with 45 guilty votes, and the obstruction charge failed with 50 guilty votes.