The Clinton Lewinsky scandal 20 years on

On September 7 the long-awaited season three of “American Crime Story” will hit U.S. screens (on FX). This time it's “Impeachment,” the Ryan Murphy and Co. anthology that painstakingly delves into the story of Monica Lewinsky and the scandal that shook Bill Clinton's presidency to its core.

6 September 2021

The big picture. As this story is more than two decades old, there are bound to be many people who no longer remember what happened. But a world-class series is on its way with everything needed to cure the amnesia of those who have forgotten the political scandal that marked an era: the affair between former U.S. President Bill Clinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

  • It all happened between 1995 and 1997. At the time Lewinsky was working as a West Wing intern and revealed to her then colleague and friend Linda Tripp that she had had sex with Clinton in the White House nine times.
  • What Monica Lewinsky did not know or suspect was that Tripp was recording that telephone confession. And thus unknowingly the intern kept spilling more and more details of her adventures with the President.
  • Now the time has come for the public to hear another version of that story. In “American Crime Story: Impeachment” Ryan Murphy adds a new story (the first two installments were based on the cases of O.J. Simpson and the Gianni Versace crime) to his catalog.
  • The story and screenplay are based on Jeffrey Toobin’s book, “A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President.” And following an excellent adaptation the most anticipated series of recent times will premiere on FX on September 7.
  • News of the scandal first broke on January 17, 1998, on the Drudge Report website, which also reported that a number of journalists were already working on the story exposing the affair.

Why does it matter?  Because Clinton’s affair with this 22-year-old White house intern almost took down his presidency, and led him to face impeachment.

  • This series matters because for the first time it will tell the story of the affair from Lewinsky’s point of view, which until now has been largely unknown as she has given at most three interviews since then. Details and pressures that were not disclosed at the time will now be revealed.
  • The cast includes Clive Owen as Clinton, and Edie Falco will be his wife, Hillary. Beanie Feldstein will play Lewinsky and Sarah Paulson will play Linda Tripp. Anthony Green will play Al Gore and Annaleigh Ashford will play Paula Jones.

The story.  It all began in 1995 when Monica Lewinsky, a graduate of Lewis & Clark College, was hired to work as an unpaid White House intern during Clinton’s first term. She was later transferred to the White House Office of Legislative Affairs.

  • While working at the White House, she began a personal relationship with Clinton. From the few statements she has made we know that she believed she was in love with the president, but when he denied their involvement she realized that the relationship she felt they had was an “inappropriate abuse of authority.

The impeachment. Both Lewinsky and Clinton lied under oath. In talking about “sexual relations” he stated that “There is no sexual relationship, improper sexual relationship or any other type of improper relationship.” Undoubtedly, one of the most dubious uses of semantic pedantry in history.

  • Clinton’s lawyers then laughably tried to argue that Clinton had not committed perjury, since the word “is” shows that he was only speaking in present tense. And that these were not sexual relations as such, since the sex was done “to” him, and not “by” him.
  • In 1998 news of this extramarital affair and the resulting investigation, spurred by the Republican Party, led to President Clinton’s impeachment for perjury by the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • Clinton denied having had any sexual relationship with Lewinsky. However, the DNA tests of a stain on a blue dress forced the president to admit the relationship.
  • On July 28, 1998, Lewinsky was granted prosecutorial immunity in return for grand jury testimony about her relationship with Clinton. Despite this, she has faced a lifetime of ridicule and scorn in the affair’s aftermath. Until now that is, because it looks like the American Crime Story dramatization is finally going to balance things out.
  • Clinton later admitted, in taped grand jury testimony on August 17, 1998, that he had had an “inappropriate physical relationship” with Lewinsky. Clinton then gave a televised speech, watched by millions of Americans, acknowledging the fact.

Aligned in hiding the affair. Lewinsky testified that she had had sexual encounters with Bill Clinton on nine occasions between November 1995 and March 1997. According to of the United States, Hillary Clinton, was at the White House at least at some point, on seven of those days.

  • In April 1996, Lewinsky’s superiors relocated her to the Pentagon because they felt she was spending too much time with the President.
  • According to then-UN Ambassador Bill Richardson’s autobiography, the White House asked him to interview Lewinsky for a job at the UN in 1997. Richardson did interview and offer her a position, but she turned it down.
  • Over the following months and throughout the summer, the media debated whether there had been an affair and whether Clinton had lied or obstructed justice, but nothing could be definitively established beyond the recordings. And besides, Lewinsky herself was unwilling to discuss or testify about the affair.
  • On January 27, Hillary Clinton appeared on NBC’s Today morning show, where she stated that,  “The big story here for anyone who wants to research and write about and explain it is this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced his candidacy for President.
  • In a 21-day Senate trial. Clinton was exonerated of all charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. In addition, he was spared from a full impeachment trial and allowed to remain in office, as his behavior was not considered to constitute “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
  • On August 20, 1998, three days after Clinton testified about the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Operation Infinite Reach launched missiles against Al Qaeda bases in Khost, Afghanistan, and the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum, Sudan. Some countries, media outlets, protesters and Republicans accused Clinton of ordering the attacks as a smokescreen.

What is Lewinsky’s involvement in the series? She is fully on board as one of the show’s executive producers. She also told Vanity Fair that, “People have been telling my part in this story for decades. In fact, it has only been in recent years that I have been able to fully reclaim my story, almost 20 years later.”

  • Throughout history, women have been traduced and silenced. Now it is our time to tell our own stories in our own words.”
  • Lewinsky also points out that almost all of the books written about Clinton’s impeachment were written by men. “But I hope that by participating, by telling the truth about a time in my life—a time in our history—I can help ensure that what happened to me never happens to another young person in our country again.”