On this day in 1998, the U.S. House of Representatives votes to proceed toward impeaching President Bill Clinton on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. By December 1998, the Republican-led House had gathered enough information from an investigation committee to vote in favor of impeachment, which in turn sent the case to the Senate.
The House of Representatives’ decision to send the impeachment process to the Senate came after a four-year investigation into Clinton and his wife Hillary’s alleged involvement in several scandals including allegedly improper Arkansas real-estate deals, suspected fundraising violations, claims of sexual harassment and accusations of cronyism involving the firing of White House travel agents. Over the course of the investigation, the independent prosecutor assigned to the case, Kenneth Starr, was informed of an extramarital affair between Clinton and a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky. The president had denied the affair as part of another lawsuit (the Paula Jones case), but when questioned by Starr, Clinton tried to invoke executive privilege to avoid responding. An undeterred Starr then charged the president with obstruction of justice, which forced the president to testify before a grand jury in August 1998.
In his testimony, the president admitted to an inappropriate relationship with Lewinsky and that he regretted misleading his wife and the American people when he denied the affair earlier. He insisted he gave “legally accurate” answers in his testimony and “at no time” did he ask anyone to “lie, hide or destroy evidence or to take any unlawful action.” When addressing the investigation into his past business dealings, Clinton insisted the investigation did not prove that he or his wife Hilary had engaged in any illegal activity.
After his testimony, members of the House of Representatives engaged in a battle over whether or not to impeach Clinton. While Democrats favored censure, Republicans called loudly for impeachment, claiming Clinton was unfit to lead the country. In December 1998, the House voted to impeach the president; he was acquitted, though, after a five-week trial in the Senate. Public opinion polls at the time revealed that many people disapproved of the Lewinsky affair–which was conducted in the White House Oval Office–but did not consider it an action worthy of impeachment or resignation.
Bill Clinton was the first president to be impeached by the House of Representatives since Andrew Johnson in 1868. Johnson was also acquitted.