November 18th, 2019


Presidents and Impeachment: Bill Clinton and the House of Representatives

In 1994, Paula Jones filed a lawsuit accusing President Bill Clinton of sexual harassment. The alleged conduct dated back to when Clinton had been the Governor of Arkansas in 1991. Clinton attempted to delay the trial of the case until after he left office as Presideny, but in May 1997 the United States Supreme Court unanimously ordered the case to proceed. Shortly thereafter the pre-trial discovery process commenced. In an attempt to allege similar fact evidence, lawyers for Jones wanted to prove that Clinton had engaged in a similar pattern of behavior with other women in order to add credibility to Jones' claims.


That same year, in late 1997, Linda Tripp began secretly recording conversations with her friend Monica Lewinsky, a former intern and Department of Defense employee. Lewinsky had confided to Tripp that she had had a sexual relationship with the President. Tripp shared this information with Paula Jones' lawyers, and they added Lewinsky on their witness list in December 1997. All of this was taking place as Clinton was being investigated by Special Prosecutor Ken Starr, who had been appointed to investigate an unrelated matter, concerning an investment made by Bill and Hillary Clinton into a real estate development known as Whitewater. According to the Starr Report, after Lewinsky appeared on the witness list Clinton began taking steps to conceal their relationship. This included suggesting to Lewinsky that she file a false affidavit, suggesting she use false cover stories, asking her to conceal gifts he had given her, and helping her obtain a better job.

Clinton gave a sworn deposition on January 17, 1998, in which he denied under oath that he had a "sexual relationship", "sexual affair" or "sexual relations" with Lewinsky. He also denied that he was ever alone with her. In Clinton's presence, his lawyer, Robert S. Bennett, had stated that Lewinsky's affidavit showed that there was no sex in any manner, shape or form between Clinton and Lewinsky. The Starr Report also alleged that Clinton had told his secretary Betty Currie to repeat his denials should she be called to testify.

When rumors of the scandal became reported in the news, Clinton publicly stated, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." After undisputed proof was revealed that this was false, Clinton admitted that his relationship with Lewinsky was "wrong" and "not appropriate". Lewinsky had performed oral sex with Clinton several times.

The judge in the Jones case later ruled the Lewinsky matter was irrelebant, and threw out the case in April 1998 on the grounds that Jones had failed to show any damages. After Jones appealed, Clinton agreed in November 1998 to settle the case for $850,000 without any admission of wrongdoing.

On January 12, 1998, Linda Tripp, informed Starr that Lewinsky was preparing to commit perjury in the Jones case. She also said Clinton's friend Vernon Jordan was assisting Lewinsky. Jordan was already under scrutiny in the Whitewater probe. Starr obtained approval from Attorney-General Janet Reno to expand his investigation into whether Lewinsky and others were breaking the law.

Clinton maintained that in the deposition, he had not been untruthful, parsing his denial on the precise use of the word "is". Clinton said that his statement that "there's nothing going on between us" had been truthful because he had no ongoing relationship with Lewinsky at the time he was questioned. Clinton said, "It depends upon what the meaning of the word 'is' is. If the—if he—if 'is' means is and never has been, that is not—that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement".

Starr obtained an order seizing the computer hard drive and email records of Monica Lewinsky. Based on the president's conflicting testimony, Starr concluded that Clinton had committed perjury. He submitted his findings to Congress in a lengthy document, called the Starr Report, which was released to the public via the Internet a few days later. The report included descriptions of the intimate encounters between Clinton and Lewinsky.

Starr was criticized by Democrats for spending $70 million on an investigation that substantiated only perjury and obstruction of justice. It was also alleged that his investigation was highly politicized because of regular leaks to the press. They also complained that the report included lengthy descriptions which were humiliating and irrelevant to the charges.

The House of Representatives voted to commence impeachment proceedings against Clinton on October 8, 1998. The House Judiciary Committee decided not to conduct an investigations of its own into Clinton's alleged wrongdoing, relying on Starr's investigation instead. The 1998 midterm elections were approaching and impeachment was one of the major issues in those elections.

In the November 1998 House elections, the Democrats picked up five seats in the House, but the Republicans still maintained majority control. The results were a surprise to House Speaker Newt Gingrich who had predicted that Clinton's scandal would result in Republican gains of up to thirty House seats. Shortly after the elections, Gingrich announced he would resign from Congress as soon as he was able to find somebody to fill his vacant seat. Gingrich officially resigned from Congress on January 3, 1999.

Impeachment proceedings were held after the mid-terms in a "lame duck" session of the outgoing 105th United States Congress. Debate in the House was spirited on both sides. Representative Bob Livingston, who was expected to replace Gingrich as House Speaker, announced his resignation from Congress from the floor of the House after his own marital infidelity came to light in the media. In that speech, Livingston encouraged Clinton to resign. Clinton chose to remain in office and urged Livingston to reconsider his resignation. When Larry Flynt, a publisher of pornographic magazines had offered a reward for information about Republican members of Congress who had committed acts of marital infidelity, three other Republican Member of Congress, (Dan Burton, Helen Chenoweth, and Henry Hyde) had their infidelities exposed. All of them had voted for impeachment.


When the resolution came to a vote, Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives on December 19, 1998 on grounds of perjury to a grand jury (by a 228–206 vote) and obstruction of justice (by a 221–212 vote). Two other articles of impeachment failed – a second count of perjury in the Jones case (by a 205–229 vote) and one accusing Clinton of abuse of power (by a 148–285 vote).

Clinton became the second U.S. president to be impeached and the third president against whom articles of impeachment had been brought before the full House.

Remembering Chester Alan Arthur

On November 18, 1886 (133 years ago today) Chester Alan Arthur, the 21st President of the United States, died at his home in New York City at the age of 57. Arthur succeeded James Garfield as President on September 19, 1881, following Garfield's death. Garfield had been shot on July 2, 1881 by assassin Charles Guiteau, and failed to recover from his wounds. Initially perceived as a crony and a political hack, Arthur surprised many by bringing about civil service reform, to the consternation of his former political bosses.


Arthur was born in Fairfield, Vermont, though he would later be accused by "birther" Arthur Hinman of being born in Canada. He was most likely born in 1829, even though his tombstone says that he was born in 1830. Arthur grew up in upstate New York and practiced law in New York City. He served as quartermaster general in the Union Army during the Civil War. After the war, he became active in Republican politics and quickly rose in the political machine run by New York Senator Roscoe Conkling. He was appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant to the lucrative and politically powerful post of Collector of the Port of New York in 1871, but in 1878 the new president, Rutherford B. Hayes, fired Arthur as part of a plan to reform the federal patronage system in New York. When James Garfield won the Republican nomination for president in 1880, Arthur was nominated for vice president to balance the ticket, even though he had never been elected to any political office. Despite being told by Conkling not to take the job, Arthur accepted and in the election of 1880, the team of Garfield and Arthur was victorious.

After just half a year as vice president, Arthur found himself, unexpectedly, in the executive mansion. Many believed that Arthur would be in the pocket of Senator Conkling and would dole out all of the government jobs as Conkling directed, but to the surprise of reformers, Arthur took up the cause of civil service reform. He signed the Pendleton Act into law and strongly enforced its provisions. He gained praise for his veto of a Rivers and Harbors Act that would have appropriated federal funds in a manner he thought excessive. He also rebuilt the United States Navy which had fallen into disrepair. But Arthur was criticized for failing to alleviate the federal budget surplus that had been accumulating since the end of the Civil War. (Can you imagine such a problem existing today: no government debt and too much money in the surplus?)


Arthur suffered from poor health toward the end of his term. His condition was known as Bright's disease, a kidney disorder which is today called nephritis. He tried to keep his condition private, but by 1883 rumors of his illness began to circulate as the normally robust Arthur had become thinner and older looking. To try to improve his health, Arthur and some political friends traveled to Florida in April 1883. The vacation had the opposite effect, and Arthur suffered from intense pain. Later that year, he visited Yellowstone National Park. The Yellowstone trip was more beneficial to Arthur's health and he returned to Washington refreshed after two months of travel.

Arthur made a half-hearted effort to secure renomination in 1884, but lacked sufficient support. When he retired at the close of his term. Journalist Alexander McClure later wrote, "No man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted as Chester Alan Arthur, and no one ever retired more generally respected, alike by political friend and foe." Mark Twain wrote "it would be hard indeed to better President Arthur's administration."

Arthur left office in 1885 and returned to his New York City home. He was approached to run for United States Senate, but he declined, preferring to return to his old law practice. His health limited his activity with the firm, and Arthur took on few assignments with the firm.

After summering in New London, Connecticut, in 1886, he returned quite ill. On November 16, to the dismay of subsequent historians, Arthur ordered nearly all of his papers, both personal and official, burned. The next morning, Arthur suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and never regained consciousness. He died the following day at the age of 57. On November 22, a private funeral was held at the Church of the Heavenly Rest in New York City, attended by President Grover Cleveland and ex-President Rutherford Hayes. Arthur was buried in the Albany Rural Cemetery in Menands, New York. In 1889, a monument was placed on Arthur's burial plot by sculptor Ephraim Keyser of New York, consisting of a giant bronze female angel figure placing a bronze palm leaf on a granite sarcophagus.

In 1898, the Arthur memorial statue, a fifteen-foot bronze figure of Arthur standing on a Barre granite pedestal, was created by sculptor George Edwin Bissell and installed at Madison Square, in New York City. The statue was dedicated in 1899 and unveiled by Arthur's sister, Mary Arthur McElroy. At the dedication, Secretary of War Elihu Root described Arthur as "wise in statesmanship and firm and effective in administration."