On this day in 1998, President Bill Clinton became the first sitting U.S. president to testify before a grand jury as the subject of a grand jury investigation. The testimony came after a four-year investigation into Clinton and his wife Hillary’s alleged involvement in several scandals, including accusations of sexual harassment, potentially illegal real-estate deals, and suspected cronyism involved in the firing of White House travel-agency personnel.
The independent prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, uncovered an affair between Clinton and a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky. When questioned about the affair, Clinton denied it, which led Starr to charge the president with perjury and obstruction of justice, prompting his testimony on August 17.
After testifying, Clinton addressed the nation live via television and admitted to an inappropriate relationship with Lewinsky. He expressed regret for misleading his wife and the American people when he denied the affair earlier. Clinton insisted that he had given “legally accurate” answers in his testimony and had not asked anyone to “lie, hide or destroy evidence or to take any unlawful action.” He also maintained that the investigation did not prove any illegal activity on his or his wife’s part.
The revelations from the investigation sparked a battle in Congress over whether or not to impeach Clinton. While Democrats favored censure, Republicans called for impeachment, claiming Clinton was unfit to lead the country. In December 1998, the House of Representatives voted to impeach the president, but after a five-week trial in the Senate, Clinton was acquitted.
Public opinion polls at the time revealed that while many people disapproved of Clinton’s extramarital affair, most did not consider it an action worthy of impeachment or resignation.
Reflecting on the Scandal
Twenty years later, the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal continues to be a reference point in American politics. Monica Lewinsky herself has become an advocate against cyberbullying and has spoken out about the lasting impact of the scandal on her life.
The scandal also serves as a reminder of the power dynamics at play in relationships between individuals in positions of authority and those in subordinate roles. It sparked conversations about consent, workplace harassment, and the personal lives of public figures.
While the scandal had a significant impact on Clinton’s presidency, it did not define his entire legacy. Clinton went on to establish the Clinton Foundation and has been involved in various philanthropic efforts since leaving office.
The Clinton-Lewinsky scandal serves as a reminder of the importance of honesty and integrity in public office. It highlights the consequences of lying under oath and the potential damage that can be done to personal and professional reputations.
It also underscores the need for a fair and impartial legal process, where individuals are held accountable for their actions but also given the opportunity to defend themselves.
The Clinton-Lewinsky scandal remains a significant event in American history, marking a time of political turmoil and intense media scrutiny. It serves as a reminder of the complexities of human relationships and the impact they can have on individuals and society as a whole.