March 19th, 2016


Presidents Behaving Badly: Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky

In 1998, the leading news story involved a political sex scandal involving a sexual relationship between the 49-year-old married President of the United States and a 22-year-old White House employee, Monica Lewinsky. The news of this extra-marital affair and the resulting investigation eventually led to the impeachment of President Clinton by the U.S. House of Representatives. Clinton was subsequently acquitted on impeachment charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in a 21-day Senate trial. But his reputation was forever tarnished.

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According to Lewinsky, she had sexual encounters with Clinton on nine occasions between November 1995 and March 1997. According to her published schedule, First Lady Hillary Clinton was at the White House for at least some portion of seven of those days. Suspicion began to arise about the possibility of the two of them having inappropriate contact so in April 1996, Lewinsky's superiors moved her job to the Pentagon, because they felt that she was spending too much time around Clinton. United Nations Ambassador Bill Richardson was asked by the White House in 1997 to interview Lewinsky for a job on his staff at the UN. Richardson did so, and offered her a job, but she declined the offer.

Lewinsky confided in her friend Linda Tripp about her relationship with Clinton. Tripp persuaded Lewinsky to save gifts that Clinton had given her. Lewinsky told Tripp that she was in possession of a blue dress on which Clinton had ejaculated. Tripp told Lewinsky not to dry clean the dress, in the even that she ever needed to prove the relationship.

Tripp told literary agent Lucianne Goldberg about her conversation with Lewinsky, and Goldberg advised Tripp to secretly record future conversations. Tripp began doing so in September of 1997. Goldberg also urged Tripp to take the tapes to Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr and bring them to the attention of people working on the Paula Jones case. In the fall of 1997, Goldberg told reporter Michael Isikoff of Newsweek about the tapes.

In January 1998, Lewinsky had sworn an affidavit in the Paula Jones case denying any physical relationship with Clinton. She asked Tripp to lie under oath in the Jones case, but Tripp gave the tapes to Starr. This caused Starr to broaden his investigation to include Lewinsky and her possible perjury in the Jones case.

News of the scandal broke on January 17, 1998, on the Drudge Report, which reported that Newsweek editors were sitting on a story exposing the affair. The story broke in the mainstream press on January 21 in The Washington Post. Clinton issued swift denials. On January 26, President Clinton, standing with his wife, spoke at a White House press conference, in which he said:

"Now, I have to go back to work on my State of the Union speech. And I worked on it until pretty late last night. But I want to say one thing to the American people. I want you to listen to me. I'm going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time; never. These allegations are false. And I need to go back to work for the American people. Thank you."

First Lady Hillary Clinton remained supportive of her husband throughout the scandal. On January 27, she told Matt Lauer, during an interview on NBC's Today, "The great story here for anybody willing to find it and write about it and explain it is this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president."

For the next several months and through the summer, the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal was the leading news story as the media debated whether Clinton had lied or obstructed justice. Lewinsky was unwilling to discuss the affair or testify about it. On July 28, 1998, Lewinsky received transactional immunity in exchange for grand jury testimony concerning her relationship with Clinton. She also turned over a semen-stained blue dress to the Starr investigators, thereby providing unambiguous DNA evidence that could prove the relationship despite Clinton's official denials.

On August 17, 1998 Clinton admitted in taped grand jury testimony that he did have an "improper physical relationship" with Lewinsky. That evening he gave a nationally televised statement in which he said that his relationship with Lewinsky was "not appropriate".

In his deposition for the Jones lawsuit, Clinton had denied having "sexual relations" with Lewinsky. Based on the evidence provided by Tripp, a blue dress with Clinton's semen, Starr concluded that Clinton's sworn testimony was false and that he had committed perjury. In the deposition, Clinton was asked "Have you ever had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky, as that term is defined in Deposition Exhibit 1?" Based on the definition created by the Independent Counsel's Office, Clinton answered, "I have never had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky." Clinton later stated, "I thought the definition included any activity by me, where I was the actor and came in contact with those parts of the bodies". Clinton believed that because he had never contacted Lewinsky's "genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks" his contact with Lewinsky did not meet the agreed-upon definition of "sexual relations" and that the definition included giving oral sex but excluded receiving oral sex.

In December 1998, the House of Representatives voted to issue Articles of Impeachment against Clinton, which was followed by a 21-day trial in the Senate. All of the Democrats in the Senate voted for acquittal on both the perjury and the obstruction of justice charges. Ten Republicans voted for acquittal for perjury while five Republicans voted for acquittal for obstruction of justice. Clinton was acquitted of all charges and remained in office. There were attempts to censure the president by the House of Representatives, but those attempts failed.

The scandal was an issue during the 2000 U.S. presidential election. Democratic Party candidate, sitting vice president Al Gore, said that Clinton's scandal had been "a drag" that deflated the enthusiasm of their party's base. But Clinton said that the scandal had made Gore's campaign too cautious, and that if Clinton had been allowed to campaign for Gore in Arkansas and New Hampshire, both states would have provided Gore with enough electoral votes for victory regardless of what happened in Florida.


According to historian Taylor Branch, author of the 2009 Clinton biography, The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History, following the Democrats' loss of Congress in the November 1994 elections, the death of his mother the previous January, and the ongoing Whitewater investigation, Clinton became worn down. Clinton told Branch, "if people have unresolved anger, it makes them do non-rational, destructive things."

Potus Geeks Book Review: Cold Fire by John Boyko

Canada and the United States share the world's longest international border, and comprise the vast majority of the North American continent. The relationship between these two neighbors is generally believed to be a friendly one, but as author John Boyko discloses in his excellent new book Cold Fire: Kennedy's Northern Front, the 1960s were a turbulent time for Canada-US relations.

The 60s were a time of significant world tension as the Cold War heated up. Winning election to the presidency on the myth that the United States was falling behind in a missile gap with the Soviet Union, President John F. Kennedy took office at a time when the threat of nuclear war was at the heart of many North Americans' fears. The newly elected president stumbled out of the gate on the international affairs front, approving the disastrous Bay of Pigs fiasco and finding himself schooled at a meeting with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna. As the potential for a nuclear confrontation between the two great powers increased, Kennedy counted on Canadian cooperation in his nation's defense, viewing the Canadian government as a compliant subordinate, rather than as a sovereign and independent nation.

Kennedy had not counted on meeting resistance from the strong-willed and initially popular Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, who possessed a passion for a strong Canadian identity, seeing his nation as an equal peer to its neighbor to the south, rather than as subservient or sycophantic. When Kennedy met twice with Diefenbaker, he failed to obtain the concessions he wanted on such controversial subjects as Canadian wheat sales to Communist China, Canadian diplomatic relations and trade with Fidel Castro's government in Cuba, increased Canadian aid to Latin America, Canadian membership in the Organization of American States, Canada's support for Britain's membership in the Common Market, greater Canadian involvement in Vietnam, and the presence of American nuclear weapons in Canada. On each of these contentious issues, the Canadian Prime Minister refused to do as Kennedy wished, for which he earned Kennedy's enduring scorn and contempt.

Boyko tells the remarkable story of how the American President covertly intervened in two subsequent Canadian elections in an effort to defeat Diefenbaker, finally succeeding narrowly in 1963. He also describes how the election of Liberal Lester B. Pearson as Diefenbaker's successor did not end the number of contentious issues between the two nations, though Kennedy was better able to pressure the new Canadian government into compliance with American demands on a number of issues, including putting an end to a proposed budget measure designed to curtail American ownership of Canadian assets and resources.

John Boyko has once again written a well-researched and enlightening history that goes beyond superficiality, and that unveils much of the hidden negotiation and conflict that was kept out of the headlines. He presents a fair picture of the main protagonists of this story, fairly analyzing their strengths and their weaknesses. This book is an excellent account of its times, the personalities involved and of the issues confronting the two nations at the time. It is a fascinating read for anyone interested in Canada-US relations, in the Kennedy administration, in Canadian politics in the 60s, in Cold War North America or in the political climate of the 1960s. Boyko has a gift for being able to present history as if it is occurring as current events, to distill and clearly explain complex issues and to present an enjoyable read in the process. It was a great pleasure to read this book and I recommend it highly.