In 1994, the second year of his presidency, President Bill Clinton was sued by a former state employee who said he had sexually harassed her in 1991 while governor of Arkansas. Clinton denied the allegation and argued that because he was president any civil trial would have to wait until he left office. Paula Jones claimed her Sixth Amendment right to speedy justice.
Clinton v. Jones made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled 9-0 that the presidency does not confer immunity from liability for private conduct unrelated to the duties of office and that Jones’ attorneys could proceed with discovery: Clinton should cooperate and give a deposition, which he did.
This deposition would lead, in a roundabout way, to his impeachment.
As Ernie Dumas writes for the Central Arkansas Library System Encyclopedia of Arkansas, after Republicans gained control of the House and Senate in the 1994 elections, an unprecedented seven special prosecutors were appointed to investigate various allegations against the Clinton administration at the behest of congressional committees. The most damaging case, Dumas writes, involved a 1978 Arkansas land deal, which became known as Whitewater. Acceding to Republican demands, Clinton asked Attorney General Janet Reno to appoint a special prosecutor. Her choice, Robert B. Fiske, was later replaced by Kenneth R. Starr.
Besides the land deal, Starr’s agents looked into stories of sexual misconduct by the president. In 1998, Linda Tripp, an employee of the Pentagon who had worked in the Bush White House, secretly taped a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, talking about oral sex with the president. Tripp gave Starr the recordings. After Starr reported to the House committee, it released to the public a videotape of Clinton’s grand jury testimony and more than 7,000 pages, including Lewinsky’s sexually explicit testimony.
The House began a formal impeachment inquiry. In December, the judiciary committee recommended four articles of impeachment. On Dec. 19, the House adopted two — lying under oath and obstruction of justice. Democrats called it a brazen attempt to destroy a popular president, and Clinton had become more popular during the hearings. In a Gallup poll the weekend before his State of the Union address in January 1999, he set a record: 81% endorsed his handling of the economy, and his average rating for the final quarter of 1998 was 66%, among the highest numbers since President Lyndon Johnson’s early years, Gallup editor in chief Frank Newport told The Associated Press.
The trial of the president in the Senate began Jan. 7, 1999, and ended Feb. 12. As this Page 1 of the Feb. 13 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports, 10 Republican senators joined the unanimous Democrats to acquit the president on both charges.
— Celia Storey
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