Bill Clinton’s Big Scandal
Technology, science, and the press create new precedents for cheating politicians
Imagine if Bill Clinton’s infamous affair with 22 year old White House intern Monica Lewinsky had taken place thirty years earlier, in 1968. While his infidelity may have been discovered, the case would have ended very differently. There would have been no Internet or emerging blogosphere to keep the topic alive, no forensic team deployed to find DNA on a blue dress. Linda Tripp probably wouldn’t have had access to the relatively new idea of using voice recordings as evidence, and Saturday Night Live wasn’t yet making comedy out of political events. However, as history would have it, Bill Clinton’s scandal was poised at the perfect moment for technology, science, the press, and popular culture to come together, building a case against a cheating politician that would change national precedents forever.
While Monica Lewinsky will always be remembered as the pinnacle of Bill Clinton’s philandering, she was hardly his first experience with infidelity. Almost immediately after marrying Hillary Rodham in 1975, Clinton began cheating, leaving behind a trail of liaisons that would become evidence against him in the impeachment trails of 1988. There were co-workers, like Kathleen Wiley, and glamour girls Gennifer Flowers and Elizabeth Ward Gracen. According to former Arkansas state trooper L.D. Brown, Clinton pursued hundreds of prostitutes during his time as state governor, including Bobbie Ann Williams who claims that Clinton is the father of her son. Most damaging, there was the woman who exposed it all – Paula Jones.
In 1991, Jones was an Arkansas state employee, working under Governor Clinton. According to Jones’s claims, Clinton escorted her to a hotel room in Little Rock, where he proceeded to expose himself and proposition her for sex. Jones refused and kept the incident quiet until 1994, suing Clinton for $750,000 in sexual harassment damages two days before a three-year statute of limitations would have made her case impossible. Ultimately the case was settled out of court, but the $200,000 awarded to Jones was the least of Clinton’s concerns. Throughout the case numerous liaisons had come to light, including an acquisition regarding Lewinsky. With his sexual history on full display to the America people, it’s no wonder that no one believed Clinton on January 26, 1988 when he said:
“I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time. Never. These allegations are false, and I need to go back to work for the American people.”
So what exactly was going on? During the summer and fall of ‘95, Lewinsky was one of 250 interns at the White House, but according to co-workers, her determination to work closely with the President made her stand out. She was always first to volunteer for tasks that would take her to the Oval Office, and could often be found hanging out in the halls surrounding the West Wing. Even after landing a paying position in the Old Executive Office Building next door, Lewinsky frequently visited the White House, and had to be told more than once by chief of staff Evelyn Lieberman to go back to her office. By ‘96 Lieberman was fed up, and transferred her to the Defense Department, located in the Pentagon.
It was here that Lewinsky met another woman who had been removed from the White House – Linda Tripp. Although Tripp was 24 years older, the two developed an unlikely friendship, often sharing intimate details and long phone conversations. Lewinsky told Tripp about performing oral sex in the Oval Office, receiving gifts from the President, and about a blue Gap dress that was hanging in her closet, still stained with a bit of Clinton’s semen. Unbeknownst to her, Tripp was recording their conversations, hoping to gather enough information to write a book with her publisher friend Lucianne Goldberg.
In January 1998, Tripp handed over her tapes to independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr, who had already made a name for himself by investigating two high profile Clinton administration scandals: the death of Vince Foster and the Whitewater trials. Evidence quickly piled up against Clinton, and after a media-frenzied year, he was impeached by the House of Representatives on December 19th, on charges of perjury and abuse of power. By February 1999, Senate had acquitted Clinton of both charges, and his only punishment was a fine and a five year loss of his Arkansas law license – a far cry from nearly becoming the third U.S. president to be impeached.
After Clinton’s sordid past was exposed, why did Hillary choose to stay? In 1998 Hillary called the scandal a “vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president,” and considering that the votes to impeach Clinton came only from Republicans, she might have been right. However, more recently Hillary recorded a very different, emotional reaction to the affair in her book Hard Choices. Whatever the case, anyone who has ever been married knows that her decision to remain married to the man who cheated on her countless times was personal, and extremely complicated.
Today Hillary is the political head of the Clinton family, and signs point to her becoming the first female president in 2016. The Clintons will most likely be moving back to the White House, this time with Bill serving as the nation’s first “First Gentlemen.” The power couple has stayed intact, largely due to Bill’s remarkable recovery from the scandal. In 2013 CNN ranked him as the third greatest president of all time, coming in just behind Kennedy and Reagan. It’s no wonder that so many women were attracted to Clinton – his wife, undoubtedly among the smartest people in the world, and over three-fourths of America, are still absolutely crazy about him.