In 1997 the consequences of two alleged sexual misdemeanours coincided in a nightmare scenario for President Clinton.
During a sexual harassment case relating to alleged events while he was governor of Arkansas, it emerged that tape recordings existed of White House intern Monica Lewinsky confiding that she had shared a sexual relationship with Clinton.
Lewinsky and Clinton both denied it and the matter might have ended there except that the tapes were passed to special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, who had been appointed to investigate various charges against Clinton.
The story broke on 21 January 1998 and for the next 13 months, certain sections of the media concentrated more on the details of the sexual encounters than the more serious issue of whether Clinton had lied about the relationship.
Meanwhile, Starr completed his investigations and published a report suggesting grounds for impeachment.
In September 1998 Starr’s exhaustive report on the matter was released to the media, and yet – for all of Starr’s findings and allegations – Clinton’s approval polls remained remarkably high. The robust health of the American economy didn’t hurt, nor did his role in brokering the Wye River peace accord between Israel and the PLO.
Though poll after poll showed that the majority of Americans wanted to “move on”, the US House of Representatives voted in October to open impeachment hearings.
A week before Christmas the House voted on four articles of impeachment against Clinton. Two passed – one alleging that the president committed perjury, one that he obstructed justice.
The matter would move to the Senate during the first weeks of 1999.
On 12 February, the Senate voted 55-45 on the charge of perjury and 50-50 on the obstruction of justice.
However, the US Constitution requires a 2/3 majority or 67 votes on each charge, and so Clinton was acquitted – a verdict in accordance with the general public opinion that Clinton’s behaviour was inappropriate but did not warrant his dismissal from office.