It was 20 years ago today that the impeachment process against President Bill Clinton came to an end when the US Senate acquitted him on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

The case cast a huge shadow over Clinton’s second term as President, even though they began with events that allegedly occurred during his time as Governor of Arkansas in 1991.

Clinton was only the second president to be impeached, the first being Andrew Johnson in 1868. Like Johnson, Clinton was acquitted in the senate. Richard Nixon also faced impeachment over the Watergate scandal but resigned the presidency in 1974 rather than face the real possibility of being removed from office, after which he would probably have been convicted and jailed. His successor, Vice-President Gerald Ford, gave Nixon a full and unconditional presidential pardon for any crimes he had “committed or may have committed or taken part in,” as the pardon document stated.


There were originally four charges related to the sexual harassment case brought against Clinton in 1994 by Paula Jones, an employee of the state of Arkansas. She alleged that during his time as Governor in 1991, Clinton had sexually harassed her and exposed himself to her. Clinton denied it all and had tried to delay the case until after he left office, but the Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that the case could proceed. Lawyers for Jones had trawled through Clinton’s past looking for proof that he was a philanderer. They were contacted by a civil servant Linda Tripp who had secretly tape-recorded her friend Monica Lewinsky, a 22-year-old White House intern, confessing to a relationship – though not sexual intercourse - with Clinton. The President famously denied having “sexual relations” with Lewinsky, seemingly classifying oral sex as not “relations”.

Simultaneously the Democrat President and his wife Hillary, their friends and business associates were under investigation by Kenneth Starr who had been appointed special counsel to look into the Whitewater business scandal linked to the Clintons, and the suicide of their friend White House Deputy Counsel Vince Foster. During that inquiry Starr was allowed to broaden the scope of the investigation and he took evidence from both Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky.

The Starr Report was published in September 1998 and alleged that Clinton had obstructed justice, had abused the power of his office and twice committed perjury, once in his sworn testimony to a Grand Jury and once in the Jones case.

Though impeachment – basically putting the President on trial with both Houses of Congress as jurors - was threatened by Republicans during the mid-term election campaign, the Democrats crucially picked up seats though the Republicans retained control of the House. The Republicans decided to bring four charges against Clinton and impeached him in the House of Representatives on December 19, 1998. He was impeached on one count of perjury and for obstruction of justice, but was cleared of a second count of perjury and abuse of power.

Very few Democrats voted to impeach the President, but the Republican majority carried it through. Some of those Republicans paid a heavy price as the press exposed their own marital infidelities. It should be noted that sufficient Republicans voted in favour of dropping the two charges that failed.


The specific ‘articles’ or charges laid against Clinton were that he had lied to the Grand Jury about the nature and details of his relationship with Lewinsky, that he had lied about prior false statements he made in the Jones case and prior false statements he allowed his lawyer to make characterising Lewinsky’s affidavit, and he had lied about his attempts to tamper with witnesses which he denied doing even though there was evidence that had done so

He was also accused of attempted obstruction of justice by encouraging Lewinsky to give false testimony, concealing gifts to her, attempting to get her a job, trying to tamper with another witness and making false and misleading statements to potential grand jury witnesses.

The trial in the Senate began on January 7, 1999, with 13 Republican senators from the Judiciary Committee acting as prosecutors and Chief Justice William Rehnquist presiding.

The main section of the trial that caused international sensation was testimony by Lewinsky that the President had indeed given her gifts and that he had tried to get her a job, and that there had been 10 or 11 sexual “encounters” which one senator tried to call “salacious” only for Lewinsky to object to that word. The famous stained blue dress was not actually shown to the Senate, but they all knew about it and the FBI proof that the stain was put there by Clinton.

The closing speeches took place on February 8, with Chief Prosecutor Senator Henry Hyde of Illinois, thundering: “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.”

The crucial element was that in order to remove Clinton from office it would require a two-thirds majority, i.e. 67 out of 100 senators. The votes were largely on party lines. The perjury charge was defeated outright by 55 to 45 and the obstruction of justice charge saw a 50-50 vote, meaning that Clinton was acquitted. All 45 Democrat senators voted not guilty on both charges while five Republicans also voted not guilty on both charges and another five Republicans voted against the perjury charge.


For a start, there is little chance of President Trump being impeached. The current Robert Mueller investigation is taking place against a somewhat different background from Starr’s inquiry, in that Mueller is looking into alleged conclusion between the Trump campaign and Russians in the run-up to the Presidential election. His prosecuting team have brought charges against 34 people and three companies including Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, his first national security adviser, Mike Flynn, and his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen. Donald Trump hasn’t even been interviewed by Mueller never mind a grand jury, and the President’s legal team are resisting all moves to have him interviewed.

Most importantly, while the Democrats now control the House of Representatives after their crushing wins in the mid-term elections last November and could impeach Trump, they would certainly lose in the Senate where the Republicans have 53 out of 100 seats. It follows that if the House divides along party lines in a trial as happened in the two previous impeachments, 20 of the Republican senators would need to vote against their Republican president. There is absolutely no sign of that happening. Turkeys, Christmas etc...