“I want you to listen to me. I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky. I never told a single person to lie, not a single time, never.”
Those were the infamous words spoken by the most powerful man in the world directly from the White House 20 years ago Friday.
In 1998, Americans had many reasons to believe President Bill Clinton was misleading them about his sexual affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky:
- Clinton was being sued for sexual harassment by Paula Jones, a former Arkansas state employee who claimed Clinton exposed himself to her when he was the state’s governor in 1991. (A year later, Clinton settled Jones’ lawsuit with a $850,000 check.)
- Clinton had denied having a 12-year relationship with model and actress Gennifer Flowers during a segment of “60 Minutes,” but Flowers produced taped recordings of phone calls she had with Clinton. And in 1998, Clinton admitted under oath that the two had a sexual encounter.
- Rumors had been circulating for seven years that Clinton had raped a woman in 1978, and the woman was later identified in 1999 as Juanita Broaddrick, a nursing home administrator in Arkansas.
- In March of 1998, former White House aide Kathleen Willey claimed Clinton sexually assaulted her in the Oval Office in 1993.
- It was later revealed Lewinsky co-worker Linda Tripp had been secretly recording phone calls during which Lewinsky discussed her sexual affair with Clinton. Tripp learned that Clinton had been giving gifts to Lewinsky and that the young intern had kept a blue dress containing the president’s DNA.
Still, on Jan. 17, 1998, during his Paula Jones deposition, Clinton had been asked under oath: “Did you have an extramarital sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky?”
“No,” Clinton replied after being sworn in, later stating: “I have never had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. I’ve never had an affair with her …”
The president said he didn’t recall ever being alone with Lewinsky. He later claimed his statements were “legally accurate” and waffled on the meaning of “is,” but he also told America, “It’s nobody’s business but ours.”
A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll taken 20 years ago, from Jan. 25-26, 1998, revealed 61 percent of Americans believed Clinton had an affair. A full 56 percent said they believed Clinton lied under oath. And 48 percent said they thought he tried to obstruct justice. Only 44 percent of America was satisfied with his denials.
Despite the Lewinsky bombshell revelations, Clinton’s approval ratings were above 60 percent, and they continued to soar through the end of his presidency. After his impeachment, his approval ratings approached 70 percent.
So what exactly was happening in America?
Its president had lied under oath about a sexual affair with a young intern and had been accused of committing serious crimes, such as perjury, persuading Lewinsky to commit perjury and obstructing justice, to hide his misdeeds. Why was his approval so high?
And was it all just about sex, as Clinton’s defenders and Democrats in Congress claimed?
“It was about the rule of law,” former Rep. James Rogan, R-Calif., a key player in Clinton’s impeachment who was selected by the House to prosecute Clinton in the Senate, told WND.
“Clinton was a defendant in a federal civil rights action. He had been ordered by a trial judge to answer questions under oath. And he purposefully committed perjury, subornation of perjury and then obstruction of justice in an effort to win the suit that was filed against him and, of course, to avoid any collateral political damage.”
Rogan, a judge of the Superior Court of California and a former gang-murder prosecutor with the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office, was one of the select House Managers who prosecuted Clinton. From his very first day on the House Judiciary Committee, Rogan took meticulous notes during every meeting related to Clinton’s impeachment. He published his detailed impeachment notes in his memoir, “Catching Our Flag: Behind the Scenes of a Presidential Impeachment.”
Rogan explained that the Lewinsky affair mattered in the context of the Jones’ civil rights lawsuit because Jones’ attorneys sought to show a pattern of conduct by Clinton and argue that the president had a propensity for committing such offenses.
“Once they got wind that Monica Lewinsky was out there and that it was potential corroboration of Paula Jones, Bill Clinton moved heaven and earth to destroy that corroboration,” Rogan said.
“So it wasn’t just to avoid embarrassment. He knew that Paula Jones’ case against him became far more problematic if another person similarly situated was able to come forward or they could demonstrate that he had this pattern of conduct. That’s where all of the perjury and the subornation of perjury and getting people involved to basically get Monica Lewinsky out of town, out of the way, and getting her to lie under oath about their relationship, what that was all about.”
Clinton showered Lewinsky with gifts, including an Alaskan stone carving, a decorative pin, a signed copy of his State of the Union address, a souvenir from Radio City Music Hall, stuffed animals, chocolates and sunglasses. She gave him a tie, love notes, a book and about 30 other gifts and a Valentine’s Day note addressed to “Handsome.” More significantly, Clinton helped her try to secure a job in New York.
At the time, Clinton apparently didn’t know Linda Tripp had recordings of Lewinsky discussing her sexual relationship with the president. And Tripp turned those tapes over to Jones’ lawyers.
“Once that became public, Clinton’s people in the White House went on a search-and-destroy mission for Monica Lewinsky,” Rogan said.
Even New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote that some White House officials felt “a little nauseated” over their mission to smear Lewinsky and depict her as a crazy bimbo.
“Inside the White House, the debate goes on about the best way to destroy That Woman, as the President called Monica Lewinsky,” Dowd wrote in 1998. “Should they paint her as a friendly fantasist or a malicious stalker? … At least some of the veteran Clinton shooters feel a little nauseated this time around, after smearing so many women who were probably telling the truth as trashy bimbos. … It is probably just a matter of moments before we hear that Ms. Lewinsky is a little nutty and a little slutty.”
But what about all the other Clinton scandals that could have potentially led to the president’s impeachment at the time?
In his book, Rogan lists a number of potentially explosive allegations against the Clintons – all taking place before Clinton was impeached:
- What about Clinton’s former Associate U.S. Attorney General Webster Hubbell, the one time Arkansas law partner of Hillary Clinton, who collected over $700,000 in “consulting fees” from Clinton friends while he awaited federal prison sentencing for stealing $400,000? What about the White House giving Mrs. Hubbell a high-paying job while her husband sat in federal prison? Did that have anything to do with Hubbell’s refusal to cooperate in the grand jury investigation?
- What about Bill and Hillary Clinton’s Whitewater land investment deal, where former Arkansas state court judge David Hale testified that Clinton pressured him to make an illegal $300,000 loan to Susan McDougal, the Clintons’ Whitewater business partner who herself received a two-year prison sentence for Whitewater related fraud? … What about Clinton releasing McDougal from prison on his last day in office by granting her a presidential pardon …?
- What about major Clinton donor Johnny Chung‘s statement that the Clinton White House was like a subway: “You have to put in coins to open the gates”? What about Chung donating $366,000 to the Democratic National Committee – a portion of which Chung later admitted came from China’s military intelligence community – while seeking favors during forty-nine visits to the White House?
- What about the Clintons renting out the Lincoln Bedroom in the White House to donors for at least $5.4 million in contributions to the Democratic National Committee during 1995 and 1996 alone?
- What about Clinton Commerce Secretary Ron Brown‘s alleged statement to a close business associate – that Bill and Hillary Clinton approved the sale of seats on official government trade missions to donors giving at least $50,000 to the Democratic National Committee?
- What about Charlie Trie’s illegal contribution of $460,000 to President Clinton’s legal defense fund, along with an additional donation of $220,000 to the Democratic National Committee, in exchange for twenty-three White House visits? What about Trie’s private White House coffee with Clinton, where Trie brought a Chinese arms dealer as his guest – all while the U.S. and China engaged in sensitive global arms negotiations?
- What about China obtaining top-secret U.S. missile technology – through both theft and over-the-table Clinton-approved technology transfers – thereby allowing China to modernize its nuclear missiles? What about the chairman of the aerospace company engaged in (and profiting heavily from) these Clinton-approved technology transfers being the single largest donor to Clinton’s Democratic National Committee and Democratic Party satellite organizations?
- What about John Huang raising $3.4 million for the Democratic Party, his sixty-five White House visits in 1996 alone, and his later money-laundering conviction trying to hide the donations?
- What about the Clinton White House hiring Democratic Party operative Craig Livingstone to head the sensitive White House Office of Personnel Security, when Livingstone’s only prior “security” experience came from working as a bouncer at a D.C. nightclub? What about reports that Livingstone improperly obtained and rifled through up to nine hundred national security background files on high-level former Republican administration officials? What about reports that senior White House figures, including Hillary Clinton, reviewed thes files illegally and for political purposes?
- What about investigating Clinton and Vice President Gore’s direct role in their “Citizenship USA” program, implemented to bypass background checks and grant rushed citizenship to over one million aliens that the White House identified as likely 1996 Clinton voters? What about their granting citizenship to 75,000 aliens with criminal arrest records, and an additional 180,000 aliens without FBI fingerprint criminal background checks?
Why didn’t Congress seek to investigate Clinton for all of these potentially impeachable offenses?
The short answer: It simply didn’t have the stomach for it.
And America was suffering Clinton scandal fatigue.
Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., had introduced a resolution authorizing an impeachment inquiry against Clinton for his foreign campaign money laundering connections. His resolution lacked support simply because the GOP believed impeaching Clinton was a bad idea.
In his own colorful way, Barr explained the problem to Rogan: “Nailing Bill Clinton is like trying to nail a fart to the wall. There’s a lot of smell and you know it’s there. You just aren’t sure where to nail.”
But Rogan and many others in Congress apparently smelled something offensive emanating from the Clintons, and the stench went beyond the Lewinsky affair.
“I was somebody who felt at the time that all of the Lewinsky stuff – although bad and demonstrating perjury and subornation of perjury and obstruction of justice were all certainly impeachable offenses – I was far more interested in investigating things such as the Clinton White House essentially opening up all of our nuclear secrets to communist China,” Rogan explained.
“Some of the pay-to-play scandals with Johnny Chung and the other people, the pardons and so forth, I wanted to get into all of those areas and I thought that they were far more dangerous to American domestic and national security than certainly this sex scandal. But we were losing in the battle of public opinion.”
Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., then the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, had been “beaten down,” Rogan explained.
“He was getting tremendous pressure from a fractured House leadership and from a unified Senate leadership that did not want this thing to go to an impeachment to wrap up these hearings,” he said. “Those of us who were urging that we expand the hearings and take our time, and we were just shot down. That wasn’t going to happen. … There was no support from the fractured House leadership. And there was, of course, tremendous pressure put on Chairman Hyde and I presume the leadership of the House from the Senate to make this all go away.”
In fact, Rogan recalled approaching Hyde about looking into various Clinton scandals.
“I remember, I can see him in my mind’s eye, smoking on his big, Churchillian cigar, shaking his head in disgust and saying, ‘That g-ddamn Clinton. Look, you just can’t beat it.'”
Even after four long years of investigating the Clintons’ role in Whitewater, laundering Chinese campaign contributions, giving Webster Hubbell hush money and other potentially explosive scandals, independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s case ultimately focused on the Lewinsky scandal.
Starr’s report cited 11 areas of potentially impeachable offenses, including allegations that Clinton:
- lied under oath at a civil deposition while he was a defendant in a sexual harassment lawsuit;
- lied under oath to a federal grand jury;
- attempted to influence the testimony of a potential witness who had direct knowledge of facts that would reveal his deposition testimony lies;
- obstructed justice by helping and encouraging a witness’ plan to refuse to comply with a subpoena;
- obstructed justice by encouraging a witness to file an affidavit he knew was false, and then made use of the false affidavit at his own deposition; and
- obstructed justice by lying to potential grand jury witnesses, knowing they would repeat those lies before the grand jury.
Clinton’s acts and others “were part of a pattern that began as an effort to prevent the disclosure of information about the President’s relationship with a former White House intern … and continued as an effort to prevent the information from being disclosed in an ongoing criminal investigation,” Starr concluded.
House Democrats had initially insisted that they be informed of any information concerning a range of Clinton scandals arising from Starr’s investigation.
But after the 1998 election in which Republicans lost five House seats and House Speaker Newt Gingrich announced his plans to resign, the Democrats suddenly began insisting that the impeachment investigation be confined to just the Lewinksy scandal. And Democrats were winning the public messaging war.
“We all know that Bill Clinton is a world-class liar,” Hyde said, according to Rogan’s diary entry dated Nov. 30, 1998. “The problem is that the clock is ticking, and we haven’t much time left. America is tired of the whole thing. Ken Starr is a great man, but he spent too long – four and a half years – and he spent too much money on his investigation. Unfortunately, I’m in hurry-up mode. We have to keep our case to the basics: perjury, subornation of perjury, and obstruction of justice in the Monica Lewinsky matter.”
During the House debate on Clinton impeachment, Hyde took the House floor and spoke about the significance of the rule of law:
The question before this House … is not a question of sex. … The matter before the House is a question of lying under oath. This is a public act, not a private act. This is called perjury. The matter before the House is a question of the willful, premeditated, deliberate corruption of the nation’s system of justice. Perjury and obstruction of justice cannot be reconciled with the office of the president of the United States. …
We must decide if the chief law enforcement officer of the land, the person who appoints the attorney general, the person who nominates every federal judge, the person who nominates the Supreme Court, and the only person with a constitutional obligation to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, can lie under oath repeatedly and maintain it is not a breach of trust sufficient for impeachment. …
The president is our flag-bearer. He stands out in front of our people, and the flag is falling. Catch the flag as we keep our appointment with history.
The House ultimately impeached Clinton for perjury (Article I) and obstruction of justice (Article III). Five House Democrats voted to impeach Clinton for perjury.
Thirteen House Republicans from the Judiciary Committee, including Rogan, prosecuted Clinton before the Senate. The House managers took videotaped depositions from Lewinsky, Clinton adviser and friend Vernon Jordan and White House aide Sidney Blumenthal. They were not allowed to call witnesses or conduct a full trial.
“I did know – and I argued very strongly at the time – that there was zero chance of Bill Clinton every being held constitutionally accountable in the Senate if we were precluded from being able to put on our case,” Rogan told WND. “The only possible way we might have been able to change public opinion would have been to try the case. And that means call the witnesses, put forth our evidence and let America see why the House of Representatives, with the most Republicans and five Democrats crossing over voting to impeach the president of their own party, why the House of Representatives impeached a popularly elected president of the United States.
“In the Senate at the time, the fix was in. We were never allowed to call a single witness. It was the only impeachment trial in the history of America – up to that time there had been about 16 or 17 of them – where the prosecutors were precluded by the jury from being allowed to call a single witness.”
The Senate voted to acquit Clinton of both charges.
“In 20 years, I don’t believe I have ever once criticized the U.S. Senate for their verdict,” Rogan told WND. “Does that surprise you? I’ve never criticized them for their verdict because that was their constitutional prerogative. The Constitution gives the House the authority to impeach or not impeach. The Constitution gives the Senate the authority to remove or not remove. And there are a lot of factors that go into that being political decisions. I’ve never criticized the Senate for the verdict because that was their constitutional prerogative.
“My criticism back then was that they jimmied all the rules of impeachment to preclude us from being able to put on our case and, therefore, guaranteed a fixed result. And that was not the Senate’s finest hour.”
Despite the Senate decision to acquit the president, Clinton’s impeachment was a success for America in a very significant way.
The U.S. Constitution (Article 2, Section 4) states: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
But the Founding Fathers never provided a specific definition of the term “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
“So where does the definition come from? It comes from the precedents of the House of Representatives,” Rogan explained. “In the face of all of this evidence of perjury, subornation of perjury and obstruction of justice in a federal civil rights case, had the House of Representatives failed to impeach President Clinton on one or all of those counts, we would have set a precedent for every future president of the United States who might do that when the topic is more weighty than perhaps an affair with an intern. And we would have set a precedent that those are not impeachable offenses.”
Rogan concluded: “That was a cost far too high for me as a member of the House under constitutional oath to do my job. That was a price too high for me to pay. So I voted to impeach him. I helped lead the prosecution. I paid the price for it that I knew I would pay, which was defeat when I stood for my next election.”