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Secrets of the Serial Set: The Impeachment of Bill Clinton


As of this month, it’s been a year since our initial release of the Serial Set in HeinOnline … celebrate with another installment of our Secrets of the Serial Set series! This month, we dive into the events surrounding the 1998 impeachment of President William Jefferson Clinton.

Secrets of the Serial Set is an exciting and informative monthly blog series from HeinOnline dedicated to unveiling the wealth of American history found in the United States Congressional Serial Set. Join us each month to explore notable events in U.S. history using the primary sources themselves. Grab a seat and prepare to be blown away by what the Serial Set has to offer.

About the Serial Set

The United States Congressional Serial Set is considered an essential publication for studying American history. Spanning more than two centuries with more than 17,000 bound volumes, the records in this series include House and Senate documents, House and Senate reports, and much more. The Serial Set began publication in 1817 with the 15th Congress, 1st session. U.S. Congressional documents prior to 1817 are published as the American State Papers

The Serial Set is an ongoing project in HeinOnline, with the goal of adding approximately four million pages each year until the archive is completed. View the current status of HeinOnline’s Serial Set project by clicking the button below.

Before the Impeachment Inquiry

Clinton v. Jones

The impeachment proceedings against President Clinton were rooted in a 1994 federal civil rights lawsuit filed by former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones. Jones accused then-Governor Clinton of sexual harassment three years earlier, claiming that he had propositioned and made a crude sexual advance toward her in a hotel room. After being served with the lawsuit, President Clinton cited Nixon v. Fitzgerald to claim presidential immunity from liability for civil damages. Presiding Judge Susan Webber Wright ruled in favor of temporary presidential immunity, deferring the case until the conclusion of Clinton’s term while allowing the pre-trial discovery phase of the case to continue. Importantly, in this discovery phase of the lawsuit, Judge Wright asked the President a standard question about his history of sexual relationships with state or federal employees. Clinton denied having a history of any such relationships.

Regarding the timing of the trial, Clinton and Jones both appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The court ruled in favor of Jones, leading President Clinton to further appeal to the United States Supreme Court in January of 1997. That May, however, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jones once more in a unanimous landmark decision—a sitting President of the United States is not immune from civil law litigation for acts unrelated to the presidency.

The Lewinsky Affair

In 1995, during the Jones case, the President entered into a secret affair with unpaid White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Over the next year and a half, the President and Lewinsky maintained a sexual relationship, devising a cover story in the event that the affair was discovered. Even when Lewinsky was transferred to the Pentagon, the two continued to meet under the pretext that Lewinsky was bringing the President “papers,” or visiting her friend, Clinton’s secretary Betty Currie.

Over the course of the relationship, Monica Lewinsky and President Clinton were alone on at least 21 occasions, at least 11 of which were sexual in nature. They had engaged in at least 55 telephone conversations, at least 17 of which were also sexual. Lewinsky had given the President 40 presents; in turn, the President had given Lewinsky 24. Meanwhile, Lewinsky confided in her coworker, Linda Tripp, about her relationship, unaware that at a certain point, Tripp had begun to secretly record their conversations.

The Affair Becomes a Scandal

In the fall of 1997, Tripp spoke about her recordings and Lewinsky’s relationship to a colleague, who then spoke about them to the press. Subsequently, Monica Lewinsky was added to the list of witnesses in the Jones case. President Clinton broke this news to Lewinsky in a 2:00 a.m. phone call, suggesting that she stick to their cover story in a signed affidavit denying their relationship.

In January of 1998, Tripp gave her secret recordings to those working on the Paula Jones case, as well as to Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, who was conducting a separate investigation into the Clintons’ real estate investments, among other matters. Meanwhile, in his deposition for the Jones case, the President swore under oath that he did not have a sexual relationship with Lewinsky. Clinton reiterated this testimony, publicly denying the relationship in a White House press conference.

The following months saw the investigation struggle, unable to definitively establish the existence of an affair due to Lewinsky’s silence. Wired by Starr’s team of FBI agents, Linda Tripp met with her friend Monica Lewinsky once more. Following the conversation, the Starr investigation questioned Lewinsky and offered full immunity for her cooperation and honest testimony before the Jones grand jury. Lewinsky agreed, and also turned over a semen-stained blue dress—the nail in President Clinton’s coffin.

Supported by unquestionable DNA evidence, Lewinsky testified to her sexual relationship with the President. Two weeks later, the President provided his own testimony, acknowledging the affair and contradicting his earlier deposition.

With these revelations, the investigation culminated in the release of the Starr Report that September. The report outlined a case for Clinton’s impeachment on 11 grounds, including the allegation that President Clinton had committed perjury and taken steps to obstruct justice in an attempt to conceal his affair.

Along with the report and Starr’s referral for impeachment, view the three-part publication containing supplemental materials relating to the investigation. Items of note include Tripp’s tape transcripts, letters, and the testimonies of several witnesses, including that of Linda Tripp herself.

The Impeachment Process

The Impeachment

In early October, the House of Representatives initiated a formal impeachment inquiry into President Clinton’s conduct. Because an extensive investigation had already been completed by Starr, the House Judiciary Committee did not proceed with an investigation of its own. Read Clinton’s written responses to 81 requests for admission from the Committee on the Judiciary during the impeachment inquiry process.

The House ultimately pursued four articles of impeachment: (1) perjury to a grand jury, (2) a second count of perjury, (3) obstruction of justice, and (4) abuse of power. Two of the articles—perjury to a grand jury and obstruction of justice—were approved.

President Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives that December. The two resulting articles of impeachment referenced the following misconduct.

  • Article I—Perjury to a Grand Jury, including:
    • Misinformation about the nature and details of Clinton’s relationship with Lewinsky
    • False statements made by Clinton in the Jones deposition
    • False statements made by Clinton’s lawyer about Lewinsky’s affidavit
    • Clinton’s attempt to tamper with witnesses
  • Article III—Obstruction of Justice, including:
    • Clinton’s encouragement of Lewinsky to sign a false affidavit
    • Clinton’s encouragement of Lewinsky to give false testimony
    • Clinton’s concealment of gifts he had given to Lewinsky, which were subpoenaed
    • An attempt by Clinton to secure a job for Lewinsky to influence her testimony
    • Clinton permitting his lawyer to make false statements regarding Lewinsky’s affidavit
    • An attempt by Clinton to tamper with the potential testimony of his secretary, Betty Currie
    • False and misleading statements made by Clinton to potential grand jury witnesses

Read Clinton’s responses to the articles of impeachment, as well as the House of Representatives’ reply.

The Senate Trial

Clinton’s impeachment trial began on January 7, 1999 with Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court William Rehnquist presiding. Users may read the entire proceedings of the U.S. Senate in the impeachment trial, spread across the following four volumes:

Over three days, thirteen House Republicans presented their case for the articles of impeachment, arguing that President Clinton willfully and deliberately attempted to corrupt the justice system. In Clinton’s defense, his counsel countered that political bias had influenced both the investigation and impeachment, and that Clinton’s testimonies were too inconsistent to be determined perjury.

The trial did not call upon live witnesses—instead, Monica Lewinsky, Clinton’s friend and lawyer Vernon Jordan, and White House aide Sidney Blumenthal provided videotaped depositions which were then played in the Senate that February.

View excerpts from each of the depositions below:

Screenshot of excerpts from depositions

On February 9, 1999 the Senate began its deliberations behind closed doors. On February 12, a public vote on the articles of impeachment was put forth. Convicting and removing the President from office required a two-thirds vote, but both charges were defeated, Clinton was acquitted, and he remained in office for the rest of his term through 2001.

Help Us Complete the Project

If your library holds all or part of the Serial Set, and you are willing to assist us in completing this project, please contact Shannon Hein at 716-882-2600 or shein@wshein.com. HeinOnline would like to give a special thanks to the following libraries for their generous contributions which have resulted in the steady growth of HeinOnline’s U.S. Congressional Serial Set.

  • Wayne State University
  • University of Utah
  • UC Hastings
  • University of Montana
  • Law Library of Louisiana
  • George Washington University

We will continue to need help from the library community to complete this project. Download an Excel file listing the missing volumes of the Serial Set below:

Check back next month to unveil another secret of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set with HeinOnline. While you wait, catch up on previous Secrets of the Serial Set. Alternatively, learn more about how to use HeinOnline’s Serial Set with our in-depth LibGuide.

For more great content, connect with us on our social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

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