Posted: December 20, 2010 in POLITICAL SCANDALS

As sex increasingly becomes a more prominent issue to be considered in the political age of today, this article looks back at the most (in)famous sex scandal of them all. In American politics it is the topic that everybody is aware of but nobody will mention. Sex, still the taboo subject, often dictates who is elected to office, who stays in office and who gets kicked out.

The Lewinsky scandal was a political sex scandal emerging from a sexual relationship between United States President Bill Clinton and a then 22-year-old White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. The news of this extra-marital affair and the resulting investigation eventually led to the impeachment of President Clinton in 1998 by the U.S. House of Representatives and his subsequent acquittal on all impeachment charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in a 21-day Senate trial.
In 1995, Monica Lewinsky, a graduate of Lewis & Clark College, was hired to work as an intern at the White House during Clinton’s first term, and began a personal relationship with him, the details of which she later confided to her friend and Defense department co-worker Linda Tripp, who secretly recorded their telephone conversations. When Tripp discovered in January 1998 that Lewinsky had signed an affidavit in the Paula Jones case denying a relationship with Clinton, she delivered the tapes to Kenneth Starr, the Independent Counsel who was investigating Clinton on other matters, including the Whitewater scandal, the White House FBI files controversy, and the White House travel office controversy. During the grand jury testimony Clinton’s responses were guarded, and he argued, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is”.

The wide reporting of the scandal led to criticism of the press for over-coverage. The scandal is sometimes referred to as “Monicagate“, “Lewinskygate“, “Tailgate“, “Sexgate” and “Zippergate“, following the “gate” nickname construction that has been popular since the Watergate scandal.

It is likely that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s near obsession with public perception of her throughout the presidential race has inadvertently resulted in her mechanical-like demeanor. It is apparent that Mrs. Clinton’s overtly cautious approach results from her husband, Bill Clinton’s affair with the former White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, whilst he was president.

Campaigning for his wife’s bid for president, William Jefferson Clinton has been enjoying the level of media attention he has not been accustomed to since he held the keys to the White House himself, but nine years on, the shadow of the Lewinsky affair still hangs over the former president.

Despite his obvious talents as a politician, not least his achievements as president, Clinton’s legacy shall always be tarnished by his sexual affair with Lewinsky. The scandal saw Hillary Clinton stand by and defend her husband publicly and introduced the world to the independent counsel Kenneth Starr, whom Hillary, amongst other critics, claimed held a personal vendetta against her husband.

Impeachment Trial

The Kenneth Starr investigation lasted from 16th January 1998 until 12th February 1999. The Republican lawyer Starr was first associated with President Clinton in 1994, when he was appointed as Independent Counsel to investigate Clinton’s role in criminal activities in the Whitewater real estate deal. Starr’s investigation for Clinton’s impeachment led to such startling statements such as E. Said’s assertion that “no president has ever been so intimately investigated as Clinton, and it is likely that no one ever will be again”.

After the infamous television address to the nation, in which Clinton gave the immortal line, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms Lewinsky”, seven months later, on 17th of August 1998, in another speech to the nation, he admitted, “I did have a relationship with Ms Lewinsky that was not appropriate”. He also challenged Starr to stop “prying into private lives”. This speech followed only a few hours after his statement to the Grand Jury, during his impeachment trial.

In Clinton’s statement to the Grand Jury, he said, “When I was alone with Ms Lewinsky on certain occasions in early 1996 and once in 1997 I engaged in conduct that was wrong. These inappropriate encounters ended at my insistence in early 1997”. In this statement however, Clinton was keen to point out that, in his view, he did not believe that these “inappropriate encounters” “constitute sexual relations as I understood that term to be defined”.

Clinton’s impeachment trial lasted from January 7th 1999 to February 12th 1999. A motion to end the trial was blocked by Republicans, who used their majority in the Senate to vote for the continuation of the trial. President Clinton however, was later acquitted of the charges made against him and continued as president until the end of his second term.

It is the view of many political commentators that the Watergate scandal of the Richard Nixon years inadvertently had repercussions for President Clinton. As President Nixon resigned in the wake of Watergate, he was not held entirely publicly accountable for his actions. As J. F. MacCannell has stated, the “so-called national trauma of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, and of the president’s impeachment by the House of Representatives, though overtly about sex, was actually a restaging of President R. Nixon’s guilt and exposure in the Watergate affair” (2000).

Public reaction to the impeachment trial did not have the disastrous consequences for the Democrat Party in elections that was largely expected. The American public, it would seem, keep separate the president’s private life, and his performance in office. Clinton was seen by many Americans as promiscuous, immoral even, yet remained in the views of the majority, an excellent president.


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