OTD in History… December 19, 1998, Bill Clinton becomes only the second president in American history to be impeached




OTD in History… December 19, 1998, Bill Clinton becomes only the second president in American history to be impeached

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

Source: Washington Examiner

On this day in history December 19, 1998, the House of Representatives votes to impeach President Bill Clinton on two counts of “high crimes and misdemeanors” for “lying under oath and obstructing justice” over his affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Clinton’s impeachment ended what historian Gil Troy called the “Lost Year of 1998,” while Lewinsky referred to it as a “living hell.” The Republican controlled House mostly voted on party lines approving two articles of impeachment while voting down two others. After the vote, Clinton speaking on the South Lawn of the White House surrounded by Congressional Democrats vowed to keep “working” “to do what’s best for our country… It’s what I’ve tried to do for 6 years; it’s what I intend to do for 2 more, until the last hour of the last day of my term.”

With the House’s vote, Clinton became only the second president in history to be impeached after Andrew Johnson in 1868 and the only elected president to face impeachment. Historians Jon Meacham, Timothy Naftali, Peter Baker, and Jeffrey A. Engel in their 2018 book Impeachment: An American Historynote, Clinton “thus avoided joining Nixon as only the second president to be driven from office by scandal. He could not, however, evade the dubious distinction of joining Johnson as one of the only two presidents ever impeached.” (Meacham, 7)

On January 7, 1999, the Senate convened to commence the first impeachment trial in 130 years, after a five week-trial the Senate voted to acquit, Clinton ending a constitutional crisis brought on because Clinton wanted to hide his inappropriate personal behavior. Meacham, Naftali, Baker, and Engel believe, Clinton “ultimately won this third presidential campaign of his two terms when the required supermajority of senators declined to convict him of perjury and obstruction of justice.” (Meacham, 7)

After a thirteen-hour debate on the House floor, which began on Friday, December 18, on Saturday, December 19, the House of the 105th Congress mostly voted down party lines, with the exception of some Republicans voting with the Democrats in opposition to the articles of impeachment, and some Democrats voting for impeachment with the Republicans. The impeachment or House Resolution 611 vote was delayed because of Clinton’s order to bomb Iraq. The House passed the first article of impeachment 228 to 206 at 1:22 p.m. for Clinton perjuring himself during his August 17, 1998, grand jury testimony, where he denied having any relations with Lewinsky.

Article I stated, “The president provided perjurious, false and misleading testimony to the grand jury regarding the Paula Jones case and his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.” Five Republicans and five Democrats crossed party lines in their votes. The second article of impeachment passed article III, for obstruction of justice by a slimmer margin, the article accused Clinton of inducing others to commit perjury at his bequest. The article passed with a vote of 221 to 212, with 12 Republicans voting against the article and two Democrats voting in favor. Article III stated, “The president obstructed justice in an effort to delay, impede, cover up and conceal the existence of evidence related to the Jones case.”

The House defeated two of the four articles of impeachment, Article II accusing Clinton of perjury during the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit failed with a vote 229 to 205, with 28 Republicans voting against the article. The last article, Article IV accusing Clinton of abuse of power in his responses to the House Judiciary Committee overwhelmingly failed in a vote of 285 to 148, where 81 Republicans opposed the article and just one Democrat voted in favor. The vote set up Clinton to be only the second president ever to go through a Senate impeachment trial. At the time, the American public opposed the impeachment proceedings. As the New York Times reported, “a CBS News Poll of 548 people showed only 38 percent wanted their representative to vote for impeachment; 58 percent wanted a no vote.”

The year 1998 began with the Drudge Report scooping, Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff’s story on President Clinton’s affair with a former intern on January 17 launching the media frenzy over whether the president had or not with Clinton’s vehement denials. On January 21, the mainstream media including the Washington Post, Newsweek, and ABC News reported on the possible affair. Clinton went into full denial mode appearing on PBS’s Jim Lehrer,“There is no improper relationship.” Lewinsky recently recounted for the new A&E documentary “The Clinton Affair,” “With that, the demonization of Monica Lewinsky began. As it so often does, power throws a protective cape around the shoulders of the man, and he dictates the spin by denigrating the less powerful woman.” From the news media to the late night shows, comedians and everything in between shamed Lewinsky, mocking her and attacking her as a stalker and slut, bullying she could not escape even after Clinton’s resolved his legal issues.

Source: Time

The accusation led Clinton famously to declare at a press conference on January 26, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time — never.” Following up, First Lady Hillary Clinton decried the accusation on January 27, at a Today Show appearance as a “vast right wing conspiracy” by the Republican House of Representatives. The then dubbed Lewinsky Scandal dominated the news, the American public and the Clinton presidency throughout 1998. The news media and public questioned every action Clinton did as president as a diversion from the scandal that dominated.

The story actually started two and half years earlier in July 1995, when 21-year-old Monica Lewinsky became a White House intern. After intense flirting, they began a sexual relationship during the November 1995 government shutdown where interns worked as White House support staff. Lewinsky recalled how it started, “I blurted out, ‘You know, I have a crush on you,’ And he laughed and smiled and then asked me if I wanted to go to the back office. And I did.” Over the next year and a half, Clinton would have nine encounters of oral sex in the confines of the Oval Office and phone sex continuing until March 1997. In April 1996, Deputy White House Chief of Staff Evelyn Lieberman concerned that Lewinsky was getting too close to the president, transferred Lewinsky to work as the assistant to Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon. Lieberman officially said the reason was Lewinsky’s “inappropriate and immature behavior.” The personal relationship and gift giving continued as the sexual relationship ended and Lewinsky began pressuring Clinton for a job after he failed to keep his promise and bring her back to the White House after the 1996 presidential election.

Source: History.com

In July 1996, Lewinsky frustrated began confiding in her Pentagon colleague Linda Tripp, who betrayed Lewinsky’s trust and told book agent Lucienne Goldberg about Lewinsky’s affair with the president, a blue semen stained dress as proof and the mutual gifts. Goldberg convinced Tripp to record Lewinsky, and beginning in August 1997, Tripp recorded her conversations with Lewinsky. Tripp also took her story to the news contacting Isikoff. In an October meeting with Goldberg, Isikoff and Jonah Goldberg offered to play a recording of her conversation with Lewinsky but Isikoff later recounts, “I had gotten what I wanted to get, which was the name.” In November 1997, Tripp tips off Paula Jones’ lawyers and leads to them to Lewinsky and her involvement with the president and she is subpoenaed to testify in the case. In 1994, Jones filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Clinton accusing him of exposing himself to her in an Arkansas hotel room in 1991.

Source: Clinton Library

Throughout the fall of 1997, Lewinsky pressured Clinton to help her find a job, Clinton’s personal secretary Betty Currie helped in enlisting the Vernon Jordon with the job search. After interviews with the United Nations and Ambassador Bill Richardson, MacAndrews & Forbes Burson-Marsteller, and Revlon in New York, Lewinsky settled on public relations at Revlon, and left the Pentagon on December 26, 1997, after the scandal broke Revlon revoked their offer. The Jones case haunted Clinton throughout his presidency and with the tip; Jones’ lawyers placed Tripp and Lewinsky on their witness list. On December 5, Clinton’s lawyers received the witness list with Lewinsky’s name included and ten days letter a subpoena. Clinton asked Lewinsky to give all the gifts he had given her to Currie to, who hide them in her home. Tripp already notified Lewinsky she would be on the Jones’s witness list, but early on December 17, Clinton phoned her about being a witness, claiming it “broke his heart.” Two days later on December 19, Lewinsky receives her subpoena.

The year 1998 would begin with the actions that would to Clinton’s impeachment eleven months later. On January 7, Lewinsky signed an affidavit for the Jones case saying, she “never had a sexual relationship with the president.” Lewinsky’s lawyer only submits the affidavit on January 12. Jones lawyers outlined in 92 words their “Definition of Sexual Relations,” Clinton would later argue that he was telling the truth based on the definition provided, a loophole in his lie. Robert Bennett recently recounted to The Atlantic, “the president took full advantage of in answering.” On January 17, Clinton responded in his deposition that Lewinsky’s response was “absolutely true.” Clinton also denied he had been alone with Lewinsky, a blatant lie. Lewinsky recounted they used Clinton’s personal secretary as a cover, she would go into the Oval Office with them but then leave and stay in the adjoining dining room, while Lewinsky and Clinton would be alone in the study.

Meanwhile, On January 12, Tripp contacted Kenneth Starr’s Office of the Independent Counsel (OIC) telling them about Lewinsky’s involvement with the president, offering and then providing them with 20 hours of taped conversations between Lewinsky and Tripp. Starr asked Tripp to wear a wire at her next meeting with Lewinsky, and on January 13, she did recording their conversation at a lunch. On January 15, Starr requests from the Department f Justice permission to expand the scope of his investigation into President Clinton. On January 16, after a three-judge panel and Reno gave Starr permission to expand his investigation, the OIC set up to entrap Lewinsky in what resembled a hostage situation and an “ambush.” Tripp set up a meeting with Lewinsky at the Pentagon Mall and then the FBI swooped in and held Lewinsky at a room in the Ritz-Carlton for 12 hours, preventing her even from having a lawyer present. Just minutes before, Currie gave Lewinsky the heads up about the press finding out about the affair and two FBI agents arrived forcing Lewinsky to come with them, as Tripp looked on. The OIC’s operation was defining moment in the scandal and Lewinsky’s involvement, both Lewinsky and Ken Starr have different recollections of the events from what Lewinsky wore to from where she was taken.

Starr wrote in his memoir Contempt: A Memoir of the Clinton Investigationpublished in 2018 for the twentieth anniversary, “Our team dubbed the operation ‘Prom Night.” Lewinsky was facing “facing federal charges of perjury and subornation of perjury.” Starr recounted, “For an hour, Monica screamed, she cried, she pouted, and complained bitterly about her scheming, no-good, so-called friend. After a while, she calmed down and began asking questions. The meeting turned into a marathon.” In her authorized biography Monica’s Story by Andrew Morton published in 1999, Morton recounts, “She was in shock and she was panicking, but most of all she was in deep, deep trouble. As the lift took Monica, her treacherous friend and the two cold-eyed FBI men to the Ritz-Carlton’s Room 1012, she found herself thinking, “How did I get here?”

Lewinsky recounted in her March 2018, Vanity Fair article, “Emerging from the ‘House of Gaslight’ in the age of #metoo” Starr’s staff “had hustled me into a hotel room near the Pentagon and informed me that unless I cooperated with them I could face 27 years in prison.” Starr and his lawyers “[threatened] to prosecute my mom (if she didn’t disclose the private confidences I had shared with her), [hinted] that they would investigate my dad’s medical practice, and even [deposed] my aunt, with whom I was eating dinner that night. And all because [Starr], standing in front of me, had decided that a frightened young woman could be useful in his larger case against the president of the United States.”

Recently, in the new A&E documentary “The Clinton Affair” Lewinsky retold how she felt during the questioning, “The ground completely crumbled in that moment. I felt so much guilt. And I felt terrified.” Visibly upset Lewinsky, she recounted, “There was a point for me somewhere within these first several hours where I would be hysterically crying and then I would just shut down… And in the shut down period I just remember looking out the window and thinking the only way to fix this is to kill myself…. I just felt terrible … and I was scared … and I was mortified.”

In March 2018, Lewinsky recounted meeting Starr for the first time since the investigation on Christmas Eve 2017, and seeing him “as a human being.” She was “paving the way” for Starr to apologize, telling him, “Though I wish I had made different choices back then. I wish that you and your office had made different choices, too.” All Starr did was respond, “I know. It was unfortunate.” Recently, Starr said he would not apologize to Lewinsky for his actions. In a June 2018, interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Starr responded “no,” “Monica — and I wish her all the best — her life has been disrupted. But the evidence is the evidence, and she was part, as we saw it, of an effort to obstruct justice and to commit perjury.” In October 2014, the Washington Postuncovered a Special Counsel’s Report from December 2000, which counters Starr and determined that Starr and the OIC staff mistreated Lewinsky during the twelve-hour interrogation.

The OIC realize Lewinsky was the real deal when later on Lewinsky’s lawyer brought them the gifts Clinton gave to Lewinsky. Since the fall of 1997, Currie hid the gifts in her home to hide any evidence from Lewinsky that linked her to the president. Paul Rosenzweig, the lawyers at OIC, who first spoke to Tripp, remembers, “They’re real gifts. They’re not like something the president gives everybody…. So the connection between the president and Monica Lewinsky — we know it’s real.”

As Starr zeroed in on Lewinsky, Isikoff finished his story about President Clinton’s affair, when on January 17; Newsweek informed him they were holding the story until the next week. When Goldberg found out that Newsweek held the story she told Ann Coulter, who advised her to go to conservative leaning Matt Drudge, who operated a website, the Drudge Report, a no hold’s bar site that was not afraid of exposing Washington scandals. Drudge broke the story on January 17, opening the floodgates, under the headline “Newsweek Kills Story on White House Intern.” Goldberg recounted to the Atlantic, “I think it was Ann, or my lawyer, or Tripp’s lawyer. Drudge broke it within the hour.”

In 1998, again Clinton’s personal actions led to scandal this time leading to a constitutional crisis over his lying, possible perjury, obstruction of justice and abuse of power. Since his campaign in 1992, Clinton had been dogged by accusations of impropriety both personal and professional. From the start Clinton dealt with accusations of sexual affairs, while a 1978 land deal gone wrong, called Whitewater might have led to illegal campaign contributions. Accusations became legal issues for the president when former Arkansas state employee, Paula Jones filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the president and in April 1997, the Supreme Court ruled the harassment suit could proceed against a sitting president, Clinton main argument against the suit. On January 12, 1994, Clinton’s scandals invaded his presidency when Attorney General Janet Reno appointed a special prosecutor to investigate Whitewater. In his role, Kenneth Starr, a former Pepperdine University Law School professor, former federal judge and solicitor general expanded his investigations to the White House Travel Office, White House Counsel Vince Foster’s suspicion suicide and then Jones and Lewinsky.

As winter 1998 turned to spring, Clinton’s and the White House denials seemed to be working on the American public, and in turn, the Clinton White House turned the tables in their attacks. As Troy recounts in his book, The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, Clinton “and his aides argued that the accusations were not true, and besides, his accusers were worse, especially Monica Lewinsky, the emotional stalker, and Kenneth Starr, the legalistic stalker.” (Troy, 224) While, Historians Meacham, Naftali, Baker, and Engel in their 2018 book Impeachment: An American History recount, “Clinton refused to resign in shame, launching instead an orchestrated push to save his presidency by undermining his accusers’ credibility. (Meacham, 6)

Where there is smoke there is fire, however, and the news was circulating rumors of semen stained dress that would link Clinton to Lewinsky and prove he had been lying, but American public opinion did not seem to care, as Clinton’s approval ratings remained high. Clinton especially felt vindicated when on April 1, U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright dismissed the Jones case. All the while, however, Starr was conducting his investigation amassing the evidence linking Lewinsky to Clinton. Starr called a former East Wing intern, Nicole Maffeo Russo and Special Assistant to the President Sidney Blumenthal in front of a grand jury among his witnesses.

Starr, however, ramped up his investigation in July, when on July 27, he began interviewing Lewinsky. After threatening Lewinsky with prosecution, for nearly seven months her lawyers argued for immunity before she would speak to Starr. Starr blames Lewinsky for the time she took to tell the truth. Starr also interviewed for The Clinton Affair said, “The real shame is that, when you look back on it, if [Lewinsky] had said, ‘I was betrayed by Linda Tripp, there’s nothing else I can do, I’ve got to tell the truth.’ And you know what? The horror that the nation went through for eight months would have been essentially avoided. It would have been over very, very quickly.”

On July 28, after Lewinsky agreed to hand over the semen stained blue dress and other proof of the affair, Starr granted Lewinsky and her family transactional immunity. On August 6, Lewinsky gave her grand jury testimony, recounting her whole affair with the president and revealing about her blue Gap semen stained dress. On July 17, Starr subpoenaed the president and but on July 29, Clinton agreed to testify for Starr’s grand jury under conditions, “Clinton would appear via closed-circuit TV from the White House, his testimony would be limited to one day, and his lawyers could be present.” In a presidential first, on August 3, the White House physician drew blood from Clinton for DNA test to confirm a match with the dress.

On August 17, Clinton became the first sitting president subjected to giving testimony in front of a grand jury. After Lewinsky’s testimony and the physical evidence, Clinton was asked if “there is absolutely no sex of any kind” with Lewinsky, he responded, “It depends on what the meaning of the word is is.” After his testimony, in the evening Clinton went on television to speak to the nation. Clinton acknowledged his affair with Lewinsky after months of lying to the public. Clinton admitted, “As you know, in a deposition in January I was asked questions about my relationship with Monica Lewinsky. While my answers were legally accurate, I did not volunteer information. I know that my public comments and my silence about this matter gave a false impression. I misled people, including even my wife. Indeed, I did have a relationship with Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong. It constituted a critical lapse in judgment and a personal failure on my part for which I am solely and completely responsible.”

One month later on September 9, Starr and the OIC transfer 36 boxes of evidence including their 445-page report recommending nine articles of impeachment to Congress. Starr never believed the report he and his writing staff, which included lawyers Brett Kavanaugh and Stephen Bates, would be made public. Their report relied heavily on Lewinsky graphic testimony to outline Lewinsky relationship with the president, however, the report left out some information. One of Clinton’s lawyers David Kendell, does not think the OIC wanted an accurate document because they never included a key Lewinsky grand jury statement, where she declared, “No one ever asked me to lie and I was never promised a job for my silence.” Kendell told The Atlantic, “Starr used the compelled testimony of Ms. Lewinsky to paint a detailed, lengthy, and graphic account of their relationship. To what end? To humiliate and demean both people.”

The same day, Clinton speaking in Florida expressed, “I let you down. I let my family down. I let this country down. But I’m trying to make it right. I determined to never let anything like that happen again.” On September 11, at the National Prayer Breakfast Clinton admitted, “I sinned.” Finally, Clinton publicly apologized. Clinton expressed in his speech, “I don’t think there’s a fancy way to say that I have sinned. It is important to me that everyone who has been hurt know that the sorrow I feel is genuine — first and most important, my family, my friends, my staff, my cabinet, Monica Lewinsky and her family, and the American people. I have asked all for their forgiveness.”

Republicans had different reasons for believing the report should be made able to the public and each side felt it would be beneficial to their cause. Republicans thought Democrats were not taking Clinton’s impeachable actions seriously, while Democrats thought there would be a backlash to the report’s pornographic elements. On September 11, the House voted 363–63 to release the report to the public on the internet. Fledgling publishing house PublicAffairs took advantage publishing the Starr Report, which became a best seller on the new bookseller Amazon.com. On September 21, 2,800 pages of evidence and video of Clinton’s grand jury testimony was made public, another “three volumes” of evidence was made public on October 1, including transcripts of Lewinsky’s conversations with Tripp.

By October, the House Republicans geared up to impeach Clinton. The House Judiciary Committee recommended an impeachment inquiry on October 5. The first vote with the full House on October 8, decided on an impeachment inquiry, the motion passed 258–176, Republicans along with 31 Democrats voted in favor. Republicans won in proceeding with the impeachment but they faced a backlash in the 1998 midterm election. The scandal benefited the Democrats, Clinton’s popularity only increased, after the scandal broke in January, according to Gallup, Clinton’s approval rating went up from 59 to 69 support throughout 1998 it remained in the sixties and when the House impeached Clinton it went to 73 percent. The Democrats won five seats, and the Republicans majority became 223-to-211 seats with one independent. Clinton felt vindicated, ‘’If you look at all the results, they are clear and unambiguous. The American people want their business, their concerns, their children, their families, their future addressed here. That’s what the message of the election was. ‘’

Speaker of the House Gingrich gambled with the House majority betting impeachment would increase their hold and he lost, and after the election announced he would step down. Bob Livingston of Louisiana was voted the new speaker but with the discovery of his past affairs, he resigned on December 19, the same day the House impeached Clinton and urged Clinton to follow his example. Livingston was a byproduct of Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt call offering a million dollars to anyone who had “an adulterous sexual encounter with a current member of the United States Congress or a high-ranking government official.” Other Republican casualties included “Dan Burton of Indiana, Helen Chenoweth of Idaho and Henry Hyde of Illinois,” the Chairman of Judiciary Committee who served as the chief House manager of Clinton’s Senate trial.

In November as the House Judiciary Committee moved forward on impeachment, they looked at the inquiry into President Richard Nixon and the Watergate cover up as their model. On December 8 and 9, Clinton’s lawyers presented their case, including witnesses, Watergate veterans, and historian Sean Wilentz, who warned the Republicans “History will track you down.” The Democrats tried to negotiate a censure with the House Republicans but they would not agree to anything less than impeachment. On December 11 and 12, the Judiciary Committee voted on three articles and then a fourth article of impeachment sending them to the House floor for hearings and a vote on them.

All four articles of impeachment related to perjury about his involvement with Lewinsky and influencing witnesses in the Paula Jones. According to the Atlantic, “The first article alleged that Clinton had committed perjury by lying to the grand jury in August about his relationship with Lewinsky, and in prior false statements. The second alleged that he had also perjured himself in his January deposition in the Jones case. The third accused him of obstructing justice — coaching Lewinsky and Betty Currie on their stories, concealing gifts he had received from Lewinsky, and attempting to find her a job. The fourth alleged that he had abused his office by attempting to stonewall the impeachment inquiry.”

Source: The New York Times

On December 19, after the House voted to impeach Clinton, Rep. Ray LaHood of Illinois who presided over the House impeachment process, recalls the reaction, “I think people were surprised by the fact that Clinton was impeached by the House but not on all four impeachment articles.” Rep. James Rogan of California remembers, “We had maybe half the Senate standing along the back rail of the House chamber watching the vote. There was just absolute, utter shock. I walked by a bunch of them, and they were apoplectic: ‘What’re we going to do now?’ I said, ‘Well, you’re going to have to try the case, that’s what you’re going to do now.’”

Before the Senate trial, the Senate convened behind closed in the Old Senate Chamber to work out the process. Thirteen members of the House Judiciary Committee served as prosecutors and trial managers, including Reps. James Rogan and Bob Barr and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, they worked with Republicans’ chief investigator, David Schippers negotiating the process with the Senate. Despite support among House Republicans for impeachment, Senate Republicans including Majority Leader Trent Lott were not excited to impeach President Clinton they were more concerned how impeachment would affect their reelection chances. House Republicans were limited in making their case; they could not call live witnesses and were limited to the evidence that was already made available to the public.

The Senate trial began on January 7, 1999, as the 106th Congress commenced. The trial was only the second time in American history a sitting president faced an impeachment trial that would determine if he remains in office. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William Rehnquist presided as the judge. On the first day, the trial consisted of formally presenting the charges of impeachment against Clinton and swearing the participants for both sides including the entire Senate which served as jurors. Attorney Cheryl Mills defended Clinton and had a staff of eight other lawyers. The trial lasted for five weeks, on January 8, they adopted the trials “rules and procedures,” both parties submitted briefs, the House on January 11, Clinton’s attorneys on January 13. The House managers presented their case on January 14 through 16, while the defense presented from January 19 to 21. January 22 and 23 were reserved for questions from the prosecution and defense, which were written down and read by Chief Justice Rehnquist.

Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia was the first to call for the case to be dismissed on January 25, and on January 26, Rep. Bryant of the House managers called for witnesses. The Senate voted on both motions on January 27, the motion to dismiss failed 56–44, while the motion to dispose witnesses passed 56–44. Between February 1 and 3, behind closed doors House managers deposed three witnesses Lewinsky, Jordan and Blumenthal. On February 4, the Senate agreed with a vote of 70 to 30 just to use the videotaped deposition as opposed to live witnesses. On February 6, the House Managers played 30 excerpts from Lewinsky’s deposition discussing her affidavit from the Jones case.

On February 8, both sides gave their closing argument, White House Counsel Charles Ruff argued for Clinton’s defense, “There is only one question before you, albeit a difficult one, one that is a question of fact and law and constitutional theory. Would it put at risk the liberties of the people to retain the President in office? Putting aside partisan animus, if you can honestly say that it would not, that those liberties are safe in his hands, then you must vote to acquit.” Chief House manager Rep. Henry Hyde counter-argued, “A failure to convict will make the statement that lying under oath, while unpleasant and to be avoided, is not all that serious. … We have reduced lying under oath to a breach of etiquette, but only if you are the president. … And now let us all take our place in history on the side of honor, and, oh, yes, let right be done.”

Source: The New York Times

The Senate as jury began their closed-door deliberations on February 9, 1999. The House Republicans needed a two-thirds majority, 67 senators to convict Clinton. On February 12, 1999, the Senate voted to acquit Clinton on the two articles of impeachment and charges. The Senate voted not guilty 55 to 45 for Article I, the perjury charge, including 10 Republicans voting with the Democrats to acquit. The Senate split 50–50 for the obstruction of justice charge with five Republicans voting with the Democrats. There were five Republicans Senators that voted to acquit on both charges, John Chafee of Rhode Island, Susan Collins of Maine, Jim Jeffords of Vermont, Olympia Snowe of Maine, and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who voted “not proved,” the equivalent of not guilty. Afterward, a victorious Clinton expressed from the White House, “Now that the Senate has fulfilled its constitutional responsibility, bringing this process to a conclusion, I want to say again to the American people how profoundly sorry I am for what I said and did to trigger these events and the great burden they have imposed on the Congress and on the American people.”

Despite, the Senate impeachment trial in his favor, Clinton’s legal problems and their ramifications were not over. In November 1998, Clinton settled with Jones while she was appealing the court’s dismissal of the case, for $850,000 without admitting any wrongdoing. However, in April 1999, the same Federal District Judge Susan Webber Wright, who dismissed the Jones suit cited Clinton with civil contempt of court for his perjury and “willful failure” to obey her orders. Wright claimed, “Simply put, the president’s deposition testimony regarding whether he had ever been alone with Ms. (Monica) Lewinsky was intentionally false, and his statements regarding whether he had ever engaged in sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky likewise were intentionally false.”

Kenneth Starr left the independent counsel position in 1999 and Robert Ray served as his replacement. Although Clinton escaped impeachment, he still had the possibility of facing criminal charges. In December 2000, to end the independent counsel’s investigation, Clinton’s lawyer drew up an agreement with Ray. There would be no criminal charges, but Clinton would admit to “testifying falsely” in his deposition in the Jones case, he would pay a $25,000 fine, his Arkansas law license would be suspended for five years, and with that, the Supreme Court Bar suspended him.

Twenty years after the scandal broke and Clinton’s impeachment, the perspective is different. The tables have turned, as Republicans have a president who admitted to inappropriate behavior to women on video, and is facing an independent counsel’s investigation over Russian interference in the 2016 election that got him elected. The #MeToo movement, which began in 2017, gave greater sympathy to women who faced sexual assault, sexual harassment and were in relationships with a power imbalance. No longer is Clinton’s actions dismissed as they were in 1998. In the spring of 2018, when Clinton said in a televised interview on NBC TODAY SHOW he did not owe Lewinsky a personal apology he faced a backlash. When host Craig Melvin pushed the issue Clinton responded, “No. I do not — I have never talked to her. But I did say publicly on more than one occasion that I was sorry.” Before the #MeToo movement asking Clinton about the scandal and Lewinsky would have taboo, now even he has to be accountable. Instead, of the scandal recessing in the American mind, it has come to the forefront to Clinton’s detriment. The backlash pushed Clinton to the defensive and to clarify his original comment, “So first point is, I did. I meant it then, and I meant it now. I apologized to my family, to Monica Lewinsky and her family, and to the American people before a panel of ministers in the White House, which was widely reported. So I was… I did that. I meant it then, and I mean it today. I live with it all the time.”

Recently, Lewinsky wrote in Vanity Fair, “So, what feels more important to me than whether I am owed or deserving of a personal apology is my belief that Bill Clinton should want to apologize. I’m less disappointed by him, and more disappointed for him. He would be a better man for it… and we, in turn, a better society.” Lewinsky, however, would like to apologize personally to Hillary Clinton and daughter Chelsea Clinton, “My first public words after the scandal — uttered in an interview with Barbara Walters on March 3, 1999 — were an apology directly to Chelsea and Mrs. Clinton. And if I were to see Hillary in person today, I know that I would summon up whatever force I needed to again acknowledge to her — sincerely — how very sorry I am.” Continuing Lewinsky writes, “I know I would do this because I have done it in other difficult situations related to 1998. I have also written letters apologizing to others — including some who also wronged me gravely. I believe that when we are trapped by our inability to evolve, by our inability to empathize humbly and painfully with others, then we remain, victims, ourselves.”

Historian Taylor Branch in his book The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History in the White House sheds light why perhaps Clinton does not feel he owes Lewinsky an apology for his behavior, especially how he demonized her to the press after the scandal broke. Branch recounts, Clinton “pointed out that Starr had been threatening to jail Lewinsky all year over her sworn denial of the affair. If Clinton had come forward with anything at all about their relationship, he said Starr could have turned him into a witness against Lewinsky, betraying her discreet silence. Such subtleties, while original, struck me as tendentious. The president never claimed chivalry as the real motive for his steadfast denials, nor did he dispute the essential truth of Lewinsky’s account.” (Branch)

The Democrats behavior and blind support for Clinton in 1998 contrasts with the post- #MeToo era and in the context of times seems hypocritical. As Troy recounts in his 2000 book, Mr. and Mrs. President: From the Trumans to the Clintons, “Democrats defended their president’s privacy while exposing Republicans’ affairs. The Democrats instinctively expansive reading of law narrowed into a strict construction of perjury standards and the Constitution’s impeachment clauses. The Democrats also decided that women did not always tell the truth about male predators, especially if the accused was a pro-choice president. Democrats who had skewered Nixon indulged Clinton…. All the while, reporters and citizens played both sides of the fence — as usual — condemning the spectacle while feeding it.” (Troy, 378)

Now twenty years later, history, the public and the characters involved are revising how they viewed the affair and scandal in light of the #MeToo movement, Clinton’s scandals are no longer “dismissed.” Historians Jon Meacham, Timothy Naftali, Peter Baker, and Jeffrey A. Engel in their 2018 book Impeachment: An American History note, “Twenty years later, though, the view of history has shifted a bit. Once dismissed as a national distraction while more serious such as international terrorism and Wall Street corruption went ignored, the Clinton scandal looks a little different in the age of the #MeToo movement… Today some of the key figures in the Clinton impeachment are reassessing.” (Meacham, 203) MSNBC one of the key Clinton defenders in 1998, now host Chris Hayes said, “Democrats and the center left are overdue for a real reckoning with the allegations against him.” (Meacham, 203)

In light of this, Lewinsky, who persistently claimed their relationship, was consensual and she was not a victim, is currently reconsidering whether it was consensual in light of the #MeToo movement. In her March 2018, Vanity Fair article, “Emerging from the ‘House of Gaslight’ in the age of #metoo Lewinsky wrote, “We now recognize that it constituted a gross abuse of power…. Now, at 44, I’m beginning (just beginning) to consider the implications of the power differentials that were so vast between a president and a White House intern.” “I now see how problematic it was that the two of us even got to a place where there was a question of consent. Instead, the road that led there was littered with inappropriate abuse of authority, station, and privilege. (Full stop.)”

In November 2018, Lewinsky wrote of Clinton’s lopsided power, “As it so often does, power throws a protective cape around the shoulders of the man, and he dictates the spin by denigrating the less powerful woman… If you want to know what power looks like, watch a man safely, even smugly, do interviews for decades, without ever worrying whether he will be asked the questions he doesn’t want to answer.” Lewinsky is not the only one reconsidering the relationship and President Clinton’s actions, so is the media and even fellow Democrats. Democratic New York Senator and former Clinton ally Kirsten Gillibrand caused shock waves when in November 2017 when she told the New York Times she believed Clinton should have resigned during the scandal in 1998, telling the Times, “Yes, I think that is the appropriate response.” It was the first time a high-ranking Democrat, indicated Clinton should have resigned.

The woman that brought the whole affair to Starr’s attention, Linda Tripp still maintains that she always saw what Clinton did as an abuse of power. Tripp say s that was the reason she revealed what was going on. Tripp recently spoke to Slow Burn’s host, Leon Neyfakh telling him, “I mean, how it was presented to the country initially is how it continues to be referred to today, which is an affair, the Lewinsky affair. But by virtue of using that word, one assumes it was in some way an actual relationship of sorts — romantic, physical, whatever, it was a relationship — which couldn’t be farther from the truth. What it was was a series of encounters to address a physical need, a use of a young girl, and then the sort of cold, hard dismissal of her on any human level.”

The only two involved who do not believe Clinton abused his power, is he and former First Lady Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton appeared in October 2018 for an interview on CBS and she was was asked if Clinton’s actions were an abuse of power, to which she responded it was not because Lewinsky “was an adult.” Hillary Clinton also responded “absolutely not” when asked if the former president should have resigned over the affair.

For the twentieth anniversary of Clinton’s impeachment and the scandal, A&E made a new documentary, entitled, “The Clinton Affair.” The documentary produced by women gave a different perspective on the scandal, starting with the name giving the responsibility over to Clinton where it rightfully belonged, because he was the president and the one in control. Lewinsky has said she liked “that the perspective is being shaped by women.” In a recent Vanity Fair article “Who gets to live in victimville?: Why I participated in a new docuseries on the Clinton Affair” Lewinsky explains her decision to “relive the events of 1998.” Lewinsky explains, “Why did I choose to participate in this docuseries? One main reason: because I could. Throughout history, women have been traduced and silenced. Now, it’s our time to tell our own stories in our own words.” She also indicates the significance for the series to call it the Clinton Affair as opposed to the Lewinsky Scandal as its been dubbed from the onset another by-product of the #MeToo movement. Lewinsky writes, “Bye-bye, Lewinsky scandal. I think 20 years is enough time to carry that mantle.”

Early on, journalists or jurists, legal scholars wrote most of the books on Clinton’s impeachment, it takes time for a historical perspective. Jurist Richard Posner in his book, An Affair of State: The Investigation, Impeachment, and Trial of President Clinton published just after the legal issues of the scandal resolved in 1999, argued for writing a history so close to the contemporary events having occurred. Posner explains, “The judgments in it are informed by knowledge of how the story ends, although not by knowledge of how it will come eventually to be judged by history,” before “the danger that the history of it will pass rapidly into myth,” because “hindsight bias is a serious problem in historiography.”

In August 1998, after Clinton admitted to the affair with Lewinsky, historian Douglas Brinkley indicated, “In judging a president, there is a considerable world of difference between the long view of history and the volatility of the political moment.” At the time, historians believed Clinton’s legacy would be affected by the scandal. Famed historian Arthur J. Schlesinger Jr. also questioned Clinton’s legacy, saying, “It all depends on what he does, not what he says. Instead of going off to Martha’s Vineyard, he should be gaining control of his demoralized administration. He should be making decisions about Ireland and the Middle East. Obviously, what he said last night is going to tarnish his legacy. But he can overcome these things if he begins fighting for real social change and reform. That’s his very best hope.”

Some historians, however, believed that the scandal might define his presidency. Alan Brinkley believed, “While I don’t believe the Lewinsky matter will constitute the final judgment of him, the scandals and a limited agenda will be what people remember.” Historian Joyce Appleby thought Clinton made scandal more a fixture of the modern political landscape. Appleby stated, “When people look back at the Clinton years, I think they’ll see him as the epitome of a time when our nation became permanently scandalized.”

Historians found that Clinton’s scandal and impeachment was worst than Richard Nixon’s resignation over his impending impeachment over the Watergate Scandal because of Nixon’s presidential accomplishments and the supporting cast. Historian Joan Hoff the author of Nixon Reconsidered, finds that Nixon had more accomplishments as president and had ideological positions that he championed. Hoff remarked Nixon “took risks, he had some success. But what does Bill Clinton stand for? He has no strong inner compass, he wavers a lot, and that’s not much to build a legacy on.” While Troy in his book, Mr. and Mrs. President: From the Trumans to the Clintons, published in 2000 during Clinton’s last year in office compared Watergate to Clinton’s scandal. Troy points out, “The Clinton-Lewinsky scandal was an ugly moment in American history. Unlike during Watergate, no heroes emerged, few ideals triumphed. Reputations shattered. Public language coarsened. Truth became pliable. Partisanship raged. Deathbed conversions predominated.” (Troy, 378)

In 2017, Clinton ranked a respectable number 15 in C-SPAN’s third Presidential Historians Survey, where a hundred historians and biographers ranked the presidents. They marked each president on ten qualities including, “public persuasion, crisis leadership, economic management, moral authority, international relations, administrative skills, relations with Congress, vision and setting an agenda, pursued equal justice for all, and performance within the context of his times.” Clinton’s overall reputation has improved with time, but his ranking on moral authority has remained dismal and at the bottom of the rankings. When he left office in 2000, historians ranked him twentieth overall but number 41, second to last on moral authority. In 2009, Clinton’s overall reputation improved to fifteenth but his moral authority remained low at number 37. In 2017, Clinton’s overall reputation with historians remained the same, his overall score improved, but his moral authority fell to number 38. The ranking was published months before the #MeToo movement burst onto the scene and months after the 2016 presidential election, where former First Lady Hillary Clinton was the Democratic nominee and the media drudged up Clinton’s scandals.

Pulitzer Prize historian Taylor Branch a friend of Clinton’s wrote the revealing The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History in the White House. Throughout Clinton’s presidency, Branch sat down with Clinton to discuss his impressions of his presidency, which were recorded on tape, retained by Clinton, Branch’s book was based on his personal notes, and give insights no other historian can have on Clinton’s thoughts including the scandal and impeachment. According to Branch, Clinton explained the reason he became involved with an intern within the confines of the White House, “I cracked; I just cracked.” Clinton felt “beleaguered, unappreciated, and open to a liaison with Lewinsky” after “the Democrats’ loss of Congress in the November 1994 elections, the death of his mother the previous January, and the ongoing Whitewater investigation.” Branch’s view of President Clinton attempts to reshape the narrative and softens Clinton’s intentions throughout the scandal but spends too little time to have lasting consequences for how history views Clinton, the scandal and his impeachment.

Historians writing in the context of nearly twenty years after scandal have argued the range of the scandal affected Clinton’s legacy and American history. Historian Russell L. Riley writing for the Miller Center at the University of Virginia indicates how Clinton affected his legacy with the scandal. Riley explains, “The damage done to Clinton’s place in history is far more pronounced and probably permanent. Future historians will likely evaluate not just what Clinton did, but also what he did not accomplish, because he was tied-up in a second-term struggle for political survival. It is this consideration of ‘what might have been’ that may be Clinton’s greatest obstacle to gaining historical stature.” Troy lamented the problems with writing about Clinton and having the rest of Clinton’s presidency taken seriously, writing, “The Monica Lewinsky sex scandal upstages,” Clinton’s “astute statements about family, work, community, responsibility, and freedom, but “modern readers must compartmentalize, just as the American people did. Ultimately, the majority of Americans accepted his argument to judge his presidency by his public record.” (Troy, 22–23)

Clinton’s scandal and impeachment affected not only his legacy but also the course of American history in the early twenty first century. Meacham, Naftali, Baker, and Engel argue, “Impeachment thus disrupts the American political landscape as few other events do, leaving scars for generations while dimming the political careers of all involved. Clinton was not only the second president impeached; he was also the first impeached after having been elected president, a stain his two-term vice president and would-be Democratic successor found impossible to wash away during his subsequent razor-tight campaign for the presidency in 2000…. Bill Clinton’s impeachment thus directly contributed to the election of the two subsequent Republican presidents in 2000 and 2016, respectively. But for his behavior, the twenty-first century might have unfolded completely differently.”


105th Congress (1997–1998). “H.Res.611 — Impeaching William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States, for high crimes and misdemeanors.”Congress.gov. December 16, 1998. https://www.congress.gov/bill/105th-congress/house-resolution/611

Branch, Taylor. The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010.

Clinton, William J. “Remarks Following the House of Representatives Vote on Impeachment.” The American Presidency Project. December 19, 1998 https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/remarks-following-the-house-representatives-vote-impeachment

Cosgrove, Alexandra. “A Clinton Timeline.” CBS News. January 12, 2001. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/a-clinton-timeline/

CNN. “A Chronology: Key Moments In The Clinton-Lewinsky Saga.” http://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/1998/resources/lewinsky/timeline/

CSPAN. “William J. Clinton, C-SPAN Survey on Presidents 2017.” https://www.c-span.org/presidentsurvey2017/?personid=1651

Engel, Jeffrey A, Jon Meacham, Timothy J. Naftali, and Peter Baker. Impeachment: An American History. New York: Modern Library, 2018.

Getlin, Josh. “Clinton Legacy May Be History, Say Historians Standing: They cite Lewinsky matter, detect flaws in the president’s character,” Los Angeles Times, August 19, 1998. http://articles.latimes.com/1998/aug/19/news/mn-14568

Garber, Megan. “The End of The Clinton Affair.” The Atlantic, November 22, 2018. https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2018/11/clinton-affair-how-we-remember-women/576271/

Graham, David A. and Cullen Murphy. “The Clinton Impeachment, as Told by the People Who Lived It,” The Atlantic, December 2018. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/12/clinton-impeachment/573940/

Harris, John F. “President Responds With Simple Apology.” The Washington Post, February 13, 1999, A1. https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/clinton/stories/president021399.htm

Lewinsky, Monica. “Emerging from the ‘House of Gaslight’ in the age of #metoo.” Vanity Fair, March 2018. https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2018/02/monica-lewinsky-in-the-age-of-metoo

Lewinsky, Monica. “Who gets to live in victimville?: Why I participated in a new docuseries on the Clinton Affair.” Vanity Fair, November 2018. https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2018/11/the-clinton-affair-documentary-monica-lewinsky

Nicks, Denver. “Report: Investigators Mistreated Monica Lewinsky in Clinton Probe.” Time, October 24, 2014. http://time.com/3536555/report-lewinsky-clinton-starr/

Mitchell, Alison. “IMPEACHMENT: THE OVERVIEW — CLINTON IMPEACHED; HE FACES A SENATE TRIAL, 2D IN HISTORY; VOWS TO DO JOB TILL TERM’S ‘LAST HOUR’.” The New York Times, December 20, 1998. https://www.nytimes.com/1998/12/20/us/impeachment-overview-clinton-impeached-he-faces-senate-trial-2d-history-vows-job.html

Morton, Andrew. Monica’s Story. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999.

Posner, Richard A. An Affair of State: The Investigation, Impeachment, and Trial of President Clinton. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Univ. Press, 1999.

Riley, Russell L. “Bill Clinton: Impact and Legacy.” Miller Center, University of Virginia. https://millercenter.org/president/clinton/impact-and-legacy

Starr, Kenneth. Contempt : a Memoir of the Clinton Investigation. Penguin Publishing Group, 2018.

Starr, Kenneth. The Starr Report: The Findings of Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr on President Clinton and the Lewinsky Affair. Bridgewater, N.J: Replica Books, 1998.

Troy, Gil. Mr. and Mrs. President: From the Trumans to Clintons. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000.

Troy, Gil. The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s. New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2015.

Washington Post. “Approved Articles of Impeachment.” December 20, 1998. https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/clinton/stories/articles122098.htm?noredirect=on

Wikipedia. “Clinton–Lewinsky scandal.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clinton%E2%80%93Lewinsky_scandal

Wikipedia. “Impeachment of Bill Clinton.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impeachment_of_Bill_Clinton

Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA and MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in religion at Concordia University. She is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor, and a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She has over a dozen years of experience in education & political journalism.

OTD in History… August 8, 1974, Richard Nixon announces he will resign from the presidency over impending Watergate impeachment




OTD in History… August 8, 1974, Richard Nixon announces he will resign from the presidency over impending Watergate impeachment

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

On this day in history August 8, 1974, the 37th President Richard Nixon in a televised address announces to the American public that he is resigning the presidency as of noon on August 9, because of lack of support in upcoming impeachment proceedings Congress was taking against him over his role in covering up the Watergate break-in scandal. To avoid the House of Representatives’ impeachment trial, Nixon decided to become the first president to resign from the office, when he did on August 9, 1974, over two years after the Watergate burglary began the president’s descent into a cover-up that consumed his presidency and launched the nation into a Constitutional Crisis.

Nixon already made his decision to resign on August 7, after a meeting with Republican Congressional leaders, who said because of the “Smoking Gun” Oval Office tape recording, Nixon did not have enough Congressional support to survive impeachment, something the president had been relying on. In his address from the Oval Office, Nixon acknowledged to the public, “By taking this action. I hope that I will have hastened the start of the process of healing which is so desperately needed in America.” The next day just before noon, Nixon left the White House one last time as president. Upon boarding a helicopter on the White House lawn, Nixon gave a victory salute before leaving almost six-years to the day; the Republican Party nominated him for president in 1968. A minute after Nixon departed Vice President Gerald R. Ford was sworn in becoming the 38th president.

In the early morning hours of July 17, 1972five burglars were caughtwiretapping and stealing documents from the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex beginning the Watergate scandal. All were associated with Nixon’s reelection campaign, the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP) after the police discovered the committee’s phone number in the belongings. The burglars first bugged the DNC in May, and they were returning after the wiretapping did not work properly to fix it.

From the minute, President Nixon first found out about the burglary, he and members of his White House staff and cabinet went down the road of creating an elaborate cover-up to hide the president’s involvement. Nixon and his advisors decided to have the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) interfere in the FBI investigation and on August 1, Nixon ensured that hush money was given to the intruders, saying, “Well…they have to be paid. That’s all there is to that. They have to be paid.” In August, Nixon delivered a speech assuring the American voters neither he nor the White House was involved in the Watergate break-in. With the public assured, the story faded into the background and Nixon won his reelection bid against George McGovern in a landslide.

Just days after Nixon’s inauguration on January 30, 1973, five of the Watergate burglars and conspirators pled guilty at the president’s request two more were found guilty. When burglar James McCord claimed a letter that the burglars were forced to keep quiet, and perjury was committed at the Watergate trial Judge John Sirica began to be suspicious of a wider conspiracy.

Outside, the investigation continued, two young Washington Post reporters, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward were set on uncovering the president and White House’s involved, and a source within only referred to as Deep Throat, help them unravel the conspiracy. The reporting was the basis of their Pulitzer Prize-winning book all the President’s Men and then revealing the Final Days. In 2005, Bernstein and Woodward announced that W. Mark Felt, a former associate director of the FBI was their source after his death.

Soon Nixon’s aides began to turn on each other and the president. Former president assistant and CREEP deputy director Jeb Stuart Magruder was one of the first turn against the White House claiming White House counsel John Dean and Former Attorney General John Mitchell were responsible for a cover-up. The Nixon’s cover-up began to crumble with Dean’s suspicion of the president and a possible recording system. Each time the trail led closer Nixon would fire and force the resignation of his aides, on April 30, advisers H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, and Attorney General Richard Kleindienst resigned but Dean was fired.

At the same time, the Senate formed the Watergate Committee chaired by Senator Sam Ervin, D-NC, to investigate the mounting evidence of a conspiracy and the Justice Department tapped a Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox to investigate. The Senate’s televised testimony captured the nation which began on May 18. On June 28, Dean’s testimony might have been the most damning revealing a possible recording system in place in the West Wing, accusing Attorney General John Mitchell of authorizing the Watergate break-in and top White House advisors John Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman were aware of the plan, while Nixon knew of the cover-up from almost the start. Soon after on July 13, Alexander Butterfield, the former presidential appointments secretary confirms Dean, testifying that Nixon has been recording his conversations since 1971.

The news of the tapes prompts Nixon to order the system disconnected but by July 23, the Senate Watergate Committee was demanding copies of the tapes. The tapes were Nixon’s downfall. Nixon and his lawyers tried to evade the Senate’s subpoena citing executive privilege eventually offering transcripts. The Saturday Night Massacre on October 23, was a turning point, where Nixon fired Cox, and Attorney General Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus resigned after refusing to comply with Nixon’s orders to fire the special prosecutor. Solicitor General Robert Bork finally fired Cox and appointed a new Special Prosecutor, Leon Jaworski to take over the investigation.

Afterward, Congress began earnestly talking impeachment, with 84 House representatives “co-sponsoring 17 resolutions” for impeachment. Even as Nixon declared on November 17, “I’m not a crook,” to the press, the evidence mounted against him, contradicted it. Nixon finally agreed to comply partially with the subpoena but an 18-minute gap in one of the tapes only added to questions about his involvement.

By 1974, Congress was well on its way to Impeaching the president, the first time in over 100 years. On February 6, the House passed H.Res. 803, the resolution allowed the House Judiciary Committee to investigate whether there were grounds to impeach the president. The House Judiciary Committee chaired by Peter W. Rodino ordered an impeachment inquiry, that included the hiring of 34 counsel with a total staff of 44 lawyers, and 100 overall, the inquiry took eight months. On April 11, the Judiciary Committee again demanded in a subpoena that Nixon had over the actual tapes, 42 with conversations possibly relating to Watergate, while Jaworski subpoenaed 69 more tapes. On April 29, Nixon released a version of the tape transcripts to the public, with redactions for expletives, and where he claimed were for national security reasons.

In March and April, the DC Grand Jury wind down their indictments of in the Watergate case indicting the Watergate seven among them, top aides John N. Mitchell, H. R. Haldeman, and John D.Ehrlichman, including naming Nixon an “unindicted co-conspirator.” In total 69 were indicted and 48 found guilty in association with the Watergate burglary and cover-up.

On May 9, 1974, the Judiciary Committee began its impeachment hearings, only the brief opening was televised the remaining two months were closed-door sessions. The emphasis was whether the president had obstructed justice. On July 9, the committee released their version of Nixon’s tapes “restoring” some of the “damaging “conversations that were deleted, based on testimony, and on July 12 they released all their evidence 3,888 pages.

On July 24, the committee resumed televising the hearings, allowing Americans to see “six days of 13 hours-per-day coverage,” this included Texas Democrat Barbara Jordan’s notable speech on July 25, supporting Nixon’s impeachment. One by one, the nation heard from Democrats and Republicans supporting impeachment, however, Nixon supporters claimed there was still not enough “specificity.”

The American public supported impeachment according to two new polls from July 1974. A Harris poll showed 53 percent of Americans supported impeachment, and 47 percent believed the Senate should convict Nixon, with 34 percent claiming he should be acquitted, and according to Gallup Nixon only had a 24 percent favorability rating. The polls, however, were released before Nixon complied and released the tapes and the “Smoking Gun” from June 23, 1972, proved he was behind the cover-up.

On July 27, 1974, the House Judiciary Committee recommends that President Richard Nixon is impeached with obstruction of justice the first of eventually three articles of impeachment. The decision came three days after the Supreme Court ruled on July 24, in the United States v. Nixon against the president stating he would have to hand over to the Federal Court the missing White House Tapes recordings his conversations in the West Wing. The Judiciary Committee would decide on two more articles of impeachment in the coming days, on July 29 for abuse of power and contempt of Congress on July 30.

On July 27, the House Judiciary Committee recommended the first article of impeachment for obstruction of justice. Article I passed with a vote of 27 to 11, with 21 Democrats and 6 Republicans voting in favor and 11 Republicans opposing:

On June 17, 1972, and prior thereto, agents of the Committee for the Re-election of the President committed unlawful entry of the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in Washington, District of Columbia, for the purpose of securing political intelligence. Subsequent thereto, Richard M. Nixon, using the powers of his high office, engaged personally and through his close subordinates and agents, in a course of conduct or plan designed to delay, impede, and obstruct the investigation of such illegal entry; to cover up, conceal and protect those responsible; and to conceal the existence and scope of other unlawful covert activities.

On July 29, the House Judiciary Committee recommended the second article of impeachment for abuse of power. Article II passed with a vote of 28 to 10, with 21 Democrats and 7 Republicans voting in favor and 10 Republicans opposing:

[Nixon] repeatedly engaged in conduct violating the constitutional rights of citizens, impairing the due and proper administration of justice and the conduct of lawful inquiries, or contravening the laws governing agencies of the executive branch and the purposed of these agencies.

On July 30, the House Judiciary Committee recommended the third article of impeachment for contempt of Congress, with 19 Democrats and 2 Republicans voting in favor and 2 Democrats and 15 Republicans opposing:

[Nixon] failed without lawful cause or excuse to produce papers and things as directed by duly authorized subpoenas issued by the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives on April 11, 1974, May 15, 1974, May 30, 1974, and June 24, 1974, and willfully disobeyed such subpoenas.

According to estimates with the Democratic majorities, the House would have impeached Nixon with 300 votes, and the Senate would have convicted him receiving the 60 votes necessary. Nixon would lose most of his support because of the July 24 Supreme Court ruling ordering Nixon to comply with the subpoenas. On July 30, Nixon hands over the tapes to special prosecutor Leon Jaworski. On August 5, the “Smoking Gun” is made public, the previously unreleased tape of a June 23, 1972, conversation between Nixon and Haldeman in the Oval Office devising a plan to have the CIA obstruct the FBI’s investigation into the Watergate burglary was finally made public among other recordings.

The tape proved that Nixon was part of the cover-up, and he lost the Republicans, who were supporting him in the Judiciary Committee, they now were intending to support Article I, the Obstruction of Justice charge. Most importantly, Nixon lost the support of California Rep. Charles E. Wiggins, who said, “The facts then known to me have now changed… These facts standing alone are legally sufficient in my opinion to sustain at least one count against the President of conspiracy to obstruct justice.”

On August 7, Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz., U.S. House Minority Leader John Rhodes, R-Ariz., and U.S. Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott, R-Pa met with Nixon in the Oval Office, telling him he basically has no support in Congress, would be impeached and convicted. Certain, he would eventually be removed from office. Goldwater later wrote, Nixon “knew beyond any doubt that one way or another his presidency was finished.” Rather than face certain impeachment and removal from office, Nixon decided to control the situation.

On August 8, Nixon spoke to the nation the last time, announcing his decision to resign effective at noon EST on August 9, 1974. Nixon announced in his address, “To continue to fight through the months ahead for my personal vindication would almost totally absorb the time and attention of both the President and the Congress in a period when our entire focus should be on the great issues of peace abroad and prosperity without inflation at home. Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office.”

Many historians see Watergate as the nation’s worst political scandal while clearly placing the blame on Nixon for the downfall of his presidency. Preeminent Watergate historian Stanley I. Kutler in his book The Wars of Watergate: The Last Crisis of Richard Nixon argued that Nixon was “at the center of Watergate,” and “The wars of Watergate are rooted in the lifelong personality of Richard Nixon. Kutler concludes, The Watergate scandal “consumed and convulsed the nation and tested the constitutional and political system as it had not been tested since the Civil War.” (Kutler, 616) London Times Washington Bureau Chief Fred Emery in his book Watergate: The Corruption of American Politics and the Fall of Richard Nixon called Watergate “a self-destruct tragedy for Richard Nixon.” Emery determines that Watergate “was a pattern of malfeasance by him and his men that led to the damning — and bipartisan — vote in Congress.” (Emery, xii)

Historian Joan Hoff in her revisionist history, Nixon Reconsidered, viewed Nixon’s presidency as “more than Watergate,” and “Watergate more than Nixon.” Hoff believes the scandal was a product of the times, concluding, “Watergate was a disaster waiting to happen, given the decline in political ethics and practices during the Cold War.” (Hoff, 341) While historian Allan Lichtman notes Watergate “was a widespread conspiracy. Several dozen people went to jail, including other very high officials of the [Nixon] campaign and of the Nixon administration. So a lot of people who should have known much better got sucked into this terrible scandal and it is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions because in many ways Richard Nixon did a lot for the country.”

On August 9, Nixon left the White House flashing V for victory signs before boarding Marine One and becoming the first president to resign from the office. At the same time, Vice President Gerald Ford took the oath of office, and declared, “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.” A month later, Ford pardoned Nixon, and in time, Nixon’s image rehabilitated but the stain of Watergate remained on the nation and Nixon.


Emery, Fred. Watergate: The Corruption and Fall of Richard Nixon. London: Pimlico, 1995.

Genovese, Michael A. The Watergate Crisis. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1999.

Hoff, Joan. Nixon Reconsidered. New York: BasicBooks, 1998.

Kutler, Stanley I. The Wars of Watergate: The Last Crisis of Richard Nixon. New York: Norton, 1992.

Kutler, Stanley I. Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes. London: Touchstone, 1999.

Small, Melvin. A Companion to Richard M. Nixon. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 2011.

Bonnie K. Goodman has a BA and MLIS from McGill University and has done graduate work in religion at Concordia University. She is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor, and a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.


244 – Address to the Nation Announcing Decision To Resign the Office of President of the United States

August 8, 1974

Good evening:

This is the 37th time I have spoken to you from this office, where so many decisions have been made that shaped the history of this Nation. Each time I have done so to discuss with you some matter that I believe affected the national interest.

In all the decisions I have made in my public life, I have always tried to do what was best for the Nation. Throughout the long and difficult period of Watergate, I have felt it was my duty to persevere, to make every possible effort to complete the term of office to which you elected me.

In the past few days, however, it has become evident to me that I no longer have a strong enough political base in the Congress to justify continuing that effort. As long as there was such a base, I felt strongly that it was necessary to see the constitutional process through to its conclusion, that to do otherwise would be unfaithful to the spirit of that deliberately difficult process and a dangerously destabilizing precedent for the future.

But with the disappearance of that base, I now believe that the constitutional purpose has been served, and there is no longer a need for the process to be prolonged.

I would have preferred to carry through to the finish, whatever the personal agony it would have involved, and my family unanimously urged me to do so. But the interests of the Nation must always come before any personal considerations.

From the discussions I have had with Congressional and other leaders, I have concluded that because of the Watergate matter, I might not have the support of the Congress that I would consider necessary to back the very difficult decisions and carry out the duties of this office in the way the interests of the Nation will require.

I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as President, I must put the interests of America first. America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad.

To continue to fight through the months ahead for my personal vindication would almost totally absorb the time and attention of both the President and the Congress in a period when our entire focus should be on the great issues of peace abroad and prosperity without inflation at home.

Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office.

As I recall the high hopes for America with which we began this second term, I feel a great sadness that I will not be here in this office working on your behalf to achieve those hopes in the next 2 1/2 years. But in turning over direction of the Government to Vice President Ford, I know, as I told the Nation when I nominated him for that office 10 months ago, that the leadership of America will be in good hands.

In passing this office to the Vice President, I also do so with the profound sense of the weight of responsibility that will fall on his shoulders tomorrow and, therefore, of the understanding, the patience, the cooperation he will need from all Americans.

As he assumes that responsibility, he will deserve the help and the support of all of us. As we look to the future, the first essential is to begin healing the wounds of this Nation, to put the bitterness and divisions of the recent past behind us and to rediscover those shared ideals that lie at the heart of our strength and unity as a great and as a free people.

By taking this action, I hope that I will have hastened the start of that process of healing which is so desperately needed in America.

I regret deeply any injuries that may have been done in the course of the events that led to this decision. I would say only that if some of my judgments were wrong–and some were wrong–they were made in what I believed at the time to be the best interest of the Nation.

To those who have stood with me during these past difficult months–to my family, my friends, to many others who joined in supporting my cause because they believed it was right–I will be eternally grateful for your support.

And to those who have not felt able to give me your support, let me say I leave with no bitterness toward those who have opposed me, because all of us, in the final analysis, have been concerned with the good of the country, however our judgments might differ.

So, let us all now join together in affirming that common commitment and in helping our new President succeed for the benefit of all Americans.

I shall leave this office with regret at not completing my term, but with gratitude for the privilege of serving as your President for the past 5 1/2 years. These years have been a momentous time in the history of our Nation and the world. They have been a time of achievement in which we can all be proud, achievements that represent the shared efforts of the Administration, the Congress, and the people.

But the challenges ahead are equally great, and they, too, will require the support and the efforts of the Congress and the people working in cooperation with the new Administration.

We have ended America’s longest war, but in the work of securing a lasting peace in the world, the goals ahead are even more far-reaching and more difficult. We must complete a structure of peace so that it will be said of this generation, our generation of Americans, by the people of all nations, not only that we ended one war but that we prevented future wars.

We have unlocked the doors that for a quarter of a century stood between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.

We must now ensure that the one quarter of the world’s people who live in the People’s Republic of China will be and remain not our enemies, but our friends.

In the Middle East, 100 million people in the Arab countries, many of whom have considered us their enemy for nearly 20 years, now look on us as their friends. We must continue to build on that friendship so that peace can settle at last over the Middle East and so that the cradle of civilization will not become its grave.

Together with the Soviet Union, we have made the crucial breakthroughs that have begun the process of limiting nuclear arms. But we must set as our goal not just limiting but reducing and, finally, destroying these terrible weapons so that they cannot destroy civilization and so that the threat of nuclear war will no longer hang over the world and the people.

We have opened the new relation with the Soviet Union. We must continue to develop and expand that new relationship so that the two strongest nations of the world will live together in cooperation, rather than confrontation.

Around the world in Asia, in Africa, in Latin America, in the Middle East-there are millions of people who live in terrible poverty, even starvation. We must keep as our goal turning away from production for war and expanding production for peace so that people everywhere on this Earth can at last look forward in their children’s time, if not in our own time, to having the necessities for a decent life.

Here in America, we are fortunate that most of our people have not only the blessings of liberty but also the means to live full and good and, by the world’s standards, even abundant lives. We must press on, however, toward a goal, not only of more and better jobs but of full opportunity for every American and of what we are striving so hard right now to achieve, prosperity without inflation.

For more than a quarter of a century in public life, I have shared in the turbulent history of this era. I have fought for what I believed in. I have tried, to the best of my ability, to discharge those duties and meet those responsibilities that were entrusted to me.

Sometimes I have succeeded and sometimes I have failed, but always I have taken heart from what Theodore Roosevelt once said about the man in the arena, “whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again because there is not effort without error and shortcoming, but who does actually strive to do the deed, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumphs of high achievements and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

I pledge to you tonight that as long as I have a breath of life in my body, I shall continue in that spirit. I shall continue to work for the great causes to which I have been dedicated throughout my years as a Congressman, a Senator, Vice President, and President, the cause of peace, not just for America but among all nations-prosperity, justice, and opportunity for all of our people.

There is one cause above all to which I have been devoted and to which I shall always be devoted for as long as I live.

When I first took the oath of office as President 5 1/2 years ago, I made this sacred commitment: to “consecrate my office, my energies, and all the wisdom I can summon to the cause of peace among nations.”

I have done my very best in all the days since to be true to that pledge. As a result of these efforts, I am confident that the world is a safer place today, not only for the people of America but for the people of all nations, and that all of our children have a better chance than before of living in peace rather than dying in war.

This, more than anything, is what I hoped to achieve when I sought the Presidency. This, more than anything, is what I hope will be my legacy to you, to our country, as I leave the Presidency.

To have served in this office is to have felt a very personal sense of kinship with each and every American. In leaving it, I do so with this prayer: May God’s grace be with you in all the days ahead.


Note: The President spoke at 9:01 p.m. from the Oval Office at the White House. The address was broadcast live on nationwide radio and television.

Prior to delivering the address, the President met separately with a group of bipartisan Congressional leaders in his office at the Old Executive Office Building and a group of more than 40 Members of Congress in the Cabinet Room at the White House.

On August 7, 1974, Senators Hugh Scott and Barry Goldwater and Representative John J. Rhodes met with the President in the Oval Office at the White House. The White House released a transcript of their news briefing on the meeting on the same day. The briefing is printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 10, p. 1010).

Richard Nixon: “Address to the Nation Announcing Decision To Resign the Office of President of the United States,” August 8, 1974. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=4324.


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