Impeachment Trial of Bill Clinton Part 2: January 16-20, 1999

Books on the Clinton impeachment:

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A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President –
Sellout: The Inside Story of President Clinton’s Impeachment –

The impeachment trial of Bill Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States, began in the U.S. Senate on January 7, 1999, and concluded with his acquittal on February 9. After an inquiry between October and December 1998, President Clinton was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives on December 19, 1998; the articles of impeachment charged him with perjury and obstruction of justice. It was the second impeachment trial of a U.S. president, preceded by that of Andrew Johnson.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the House has the sole power of impeachment (Article I, Section 2, Clause 5), and after that action has been taken, the Senate has the sole power to hold the trial for all impeachments (Article I, Section 3, Clause 6). Clinton was the second U.S. president to face a Senate impeachment trial, after Andrew Johnson.

An impeachment inquiry was opened into Clinton on October 8, 1998. He was formally impeached by the House on two charges (perjury and obstruction of justice) on December 19, 1998. The specific charges against Clinton were lying under oath and obstruction of justice. These charges stemmed from a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against Clinton by Paula Jones and from Clinton’s testimony denying that he had engaged in a sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The catalyst for the president’s impeachment was the Starr Report, a September 1998 report prepared by Independent Counsel Ken Starr for the House Judiciary Committee.

Between December 20 and January 5, Republican and Democratic Senate leaders negotiated about the pending trial. There was some discussion about the possibility of censuring Clinton instead of holding a trial. Disagreement arose as to whether to call witnesses. This decision would ultimately not be made until after the opening arguments from the House impeachment managers and the White House defense team. On January 5, Majority Leader Trent Lott, a Republican, announced that the trial would start on January 7.

The Chief Justice of the United States is cited in Article I, Section 3, Clause 6 of the United States Constitution as the presiding officer in an impeachment trial of the President. As such, Chief Justice William Rehnquist assumed that role.

Thirteen House Republicans from the House Judiciary Committee served as “managers”, the equivalent of prosecutors. They were designated to be the House impeachment managers the say day that the two articles of impeachment were approved (December 19, 1998). They were named by a House resolution which was approved by a vote of 228–190.

The Senate trial began on January 7, 1999. Chair of the House impeachment manager team Henry Hyde led a procession of the House impeachment managers carrying the articles of impeachment across the Capitol Rotunda into the Senate chamber, where Hyde then read the articles aloud.

Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court William Rehnquist, who would preside over the trial, then was escorted into the chamber by senators by a bipartisan escort committee consisting of Robert Byrd, Orrin Hatch, Patrick Leahy, Barbara Mikulski, Olympia Snowe, Ted Stevens. Rehnquist then swore-in the senators.

On January 8, during a closed-door meeting, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution on rules and procedure for the trial. However, senators tabled the question of whether to call witnesses in the trial. The resolution allotted the House impeachment managers and the president’s defense team, each, 24 hours, spread out over several days, to present their cases. It also allotted senators 16 hours to present questions to both the house impeachment managers and the president’s defense team. After this, the senate would be able to hold a vote on whether to dismiss the case or to continue with it and call witnesses.

The trial remained in recess while briefs were filed by the House (on January 11) and Clinton (on January 13). Additionally, on January 11, Clinton’s defense team denied the charges made against Clinton in a thirteen page response to a Senate summons.

On January 13, the same day that his lawyers filed their pretrial brief, Clinton told reporters that he wanted to focus on the business of the nation rather than the trial, remarking, “They have their job to do in the Senate, and I have mine.”

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