Flashback Friday – President Clinton Impeachment Trial Begins

On January 7th, 1999, a trial for the impeachment of President Bill Clinton began. He was originally accused of lying under oath and obstruction of justice, later charges of witness tampering and abuse of power were added on. This was all due to testimony regarding the Paula Jones case and his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Many considered the evidence against him to show his guilt, however others asked if he was guilty “enough”. The Constitution states that a president can be removed from office due to “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors”. Since he obviously wasn’t guilty of treason or bribery, it all came down to “other high crimes and misdemeanors”, which is clearly a matter of judgement. When the Constitution was drafted, the framers put this power of impeachment in the hands of the legislative branch rather than the judicial branch which gives Congress the power to give it’s own judgement.
During the Watergate investigation, Gerald Ford stated that what defines high crimes and misdemeanors is “whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.” On this point, Clinton was clearly guilty. With that being said, the investigator into the entire Clinton matter, Kenneth Starr, wasn’t exactly impugn himself and his motives couldn’t be considered infallible. Many considered his obsession with finding something, anything, on Clinton in this situation, that he used Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky as a tipping point in the impeachment investigation. To play devil’s advocate, others could argue that the Clintons so effectively covered their tracks during the Whitewater “scandal” that the Lewinsky affair was the only thing Starr could chase him on. There was a multitude of issues which lead to the impeachment investigation; the Whitewater real estate scandal, the firing of White House travel agents, alleged misuse of FBI files and Clinton’s conduct during a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Paula Jones.
Another interesting point is that the vote to impeach was clearly a draw along party lines, both in the Senate and Congress. In the end, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Bill Clinton, but that was overturned by Senate two months after that.

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