, Research Paper
President William Jefferson Clinton is the third president in our nation’s history to face the Constitutional threat of impeachment and only the second president to ever be impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives. Andrew Johnson was impeached by the House of Representatives in 1868 for violating the Tenure of Office Act of 1867 when he tried to oust the Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton (Short History). Richard Nixon resigned from the Presidency before he was charged with criminal conspiracy in the Watergate Scandal (Short History). Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution sets the grounds for impeachment. The Constitution states:
“The President, the Vice President, and all other Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” (Renstrom 458).
The Clinton Impeachment Trial is unlike the Johnson and Nixon cases because he did not touch off any intra-governmental conflicts like Johnson, nor did he take part in a criminal conspiracy as Nixon did. Some Democrats question if the Clinton Articles of Impeachment are valid according to Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution.
William Clinton began his early political career as many politicians do. He was a bright student throughout his years in high school, college, and finally law school. A Rhodes scholar and Yale Law School graduate, Clinton seemed to be on the right road to success. He served as Arkansas’ Attorney General and Governor of the state for five terms. Clinton revived the Democratic Party and led it to two terms of White House control through the presidency. However, Clinton’s rise to power took a wrong turn when he was accused of sexually harassing a former Arkansas state employee named Paula Jones (L.A. Times). Jones first spoke out against Clinton in 1994, but it wasn’t until January of 1998 that the president would have to answer questions in his defense against Jones. It was also at this time that the independent counsel, Kenneth Starr, who had been investigating Clinton for the Whitewater real estate affair now claimed to be expanding his investigation. Starr alleged that a former 24-year old White House intern named Monica Lewinsky had been asked to lie, in the Jones harassment case, about if she had sexual relations with the president by Clinton himself and friend Vernon Jordan (L.A. Times). Starr began to delve deeper until he had enough evidence against the president. On September 9th, 1998, Kenneth Starr delivered his explicit 453-paged report to the U.S. House of Representatives.
For a president to be impeached there must first be a formal accusation brought up by the House of Representatives (Short History). Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution states that the House of Representatives “shall have the sole Power of Impeachment” (Renstrom 452). By December 12, the House Judiciary Committee had approved four impeachment articles that would go to the floor of the house for a vote. The four articles of impeachment against Clinton were: Perjury before a grand jury, perjury in the Paula Jones case, obstruction of justice, and an abuse of power (U.S News 23). Even though the president’s lawyers had done a reasonable job at defending him in front of the House Judiciary Committee, the articles passed because the majority of the committee members are Republicans, and is chaired by Representative Henry Hyde from Illinois. Prominent Congressional Democratic leaders like Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle and House Minority leader Richard Gephardt sought after a Congressional censure for President Clinton instead of the full impeachment. However, the Democrats did not get a censure resolution for Clinton before the vote took place in the House of Representatives (U.S. News 21). For any of the articles to pass, a majority of the House was necessary (U.S. News 104). House of Representatives Resolution 611, the impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton for high crimes and misdemeanors, took place on December 19th. The 435-member House of Representatives voted for two of the four impeachment articles. The two articles that passed were obstruction of justice and perjury before the grand jury (U.S. News). The perjury charge against Clinton passed 228-206 and the obstruction of justice charge passed 221-212 (Houston Chronicle). Although the House Republicans had won a victory by getting two articles of impeachment approved, the Senate would hear the remainder of the case against President Clinton.
As stated in Article I, Section 3 of the United States Constitution: “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments” (Renstrom 452). This section of the Constitution also sets up some additional guidelines that the Senate must follow. The Senate must act as the jury and “be on Oath or Affirmation.” Also, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is instructed to preside over the trial. “?no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present” pertains to the number that it takes to reach a conviction (Renstrom 452). On January 7th, Republicans discuss how the trial will proceed, which lasts for a week. Starting on January 14th, the thirteen prosecutors of the case, called impeachment trial managers, started their opening comments. The trial managers were the Republican Representatives that serve on the House Judiciary Committee. The Judiciary Committee Chairman, Henry Hyde, was also the head trial manager. Along with Mr. Hyde were Representatives Bob Barr from Georgia, Charles Canandy from Florida, Lindsey Graham from South Carolina, Asa Hutchinson from Arkansas, James Sensenbrenner form Wisconsin, Steve Buyer from Indiana, George Gekas from Pennsylvania, Ed Bryant from Tennessee, Bill McCollum from Florida, Steve Chabot from Ohio, Christopher Cannon from Utah, and James Rogan from California. This all-male, all Republican, all-lawyer team argued that removing President Clinton was necessary to protect the rule of law and safeguard the “covenant of trust” between the president and the country (Clinton Under Fire). The lawyers that defended President Clinton were chief White House counsel Charles Ruff, David Kendall, Cheryl Mills, Nicole Seigelman, and former Senator and Clinton friend Dale Bumpers (Clinton Under Fire). 74-year old Chief Justice William Rehnquist officiated the trial as instructed by the Constitution. Previously, Rehnquist had written an account of the Andrew Johnson impeachment trial called Grand Inquests (Clinton Under Fire).
The biggest conflict between Republicans and Democrats in this trial revolved around witnesses. Originally, the House managers sought after Monica Lewinsky to testify, along with Vernon Jordan, and Sidney Blumenthal. Jordan was brought in because he had supposedly asked Lewinsky to lie under oath at the Paula Jones case deposition she gave, denying that she had had any sexual relations with President Clinton. The trial managers felt that by having Sidney Blumenthal as a witness, it would help the case against Clinton’s obstruction of justice (Clinton Under Fire). For nearly a month, Republicans and Democrats, House managers and White House lawyers, pitched their strategy for winning. On February 12th the Senate reached a verdict after three days of deliberating. William Jefferson Clinton was acquitted on the two counts of perjury before the grand jury and obstruction of justice. The Republicans did poorly in the trial. They control the Senate by 10 seats and did not get a majority on either charge. The first article of impeachment, perjury, was a 50-50-split vote. The obstruction of justice charge was 45 for conviction and 55 against conviction (Houston Chronicle).
Whether or not President Clinton acted in an immoral fashion towards Monica Lewinsky is not as important as the fact the he probably lied to the American people. Is he is truly guilty of the impeachment charges brought against him in the House of Representatives? Clinton did emerge from the trial with a reputation for telling lies and now his presidency will remain tarnished until he leaves office. Unfortunately, Bill Clinton misused the trust of America as a whole. As Representative Henry Hyde asked, “If you cannot believe the president, who can you believe?” (Clinton Under Fire). For some reason, Clinton maintained a fair approval rating among the people of the nation. His approval during the trial was largely due to the fact that the economy has remained better than it has been in years. So what are Americans thinking about politicians? Let the president lie and let Congress use billions of dollars on a pointless trial? Although the trial and other aspects of Clinton’s private life are unremarkable, the fact that all three branches of our federal government came together at one time is.
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