In the twentieth century, America experienced a significant revolution that led to the current urbanization that has attracted a great deal of global attention. It was during this period that large scale industrialization took place in the country. The development influenced many aspects of human life, including politics, ideology, economics, science, and society at large. However, America was still grappling with the challenges of establishing a fully functional democratic government. The development was affected by internal and external factors, such as World Wars I and II, genocide, trials, crime, and the threat of a nuclear attack.
In this paper, the author takes an in-depth look into one of the famous trials in the twentieth century. The trial analyzed is that of President William Clinton. In addition, the addresses such issues as the events that led to the impeachment trial, the importance of the event in American history, and the major conflicts of the twentieth century that emanated from the legal and political proceedings.
A Brief Historical Account of Impeachment in American Politics
In the United States, the power to impeach a president is a preserve of the legislature. It allows for formal charges against a civil officer of government for crimes committed in office (Murrin et al. 609). Impeachment of a sitting president has only happened twice in the history of American politics. The first victim was President Andrew Johnson, who was removed from office on the basis of violating his tenure by secretly appointing Lorenzo Thomas as the new War Secretary to replace Edwin Stanton. He failed to seek the approval of the Senate (Murrin et al. 98). However, the impeachment verdict was never made since the two-thirds majority required to remove a president from office was not reached.
In 1974, President Richard Nixon faced a similar fate with regards to the Watergate break-in case. The case was popularly known as the “smoking gun” saga. The president faced possibilities of both impeachment and conviction for his crimes. However, he chose to resign to avoid the trial (Smith, 45). His actions allowed him to evade trial. However, by doing so, he confirmed his guilt of the charges leveled against him. It is not recorded that Nixon was impeached since he was given a presidential pardon after his resignation by President Gerald Ford (Olson and Roberts 56).
The Trial of President Clinton
The impeachment of Bill Clinton arose from a series of events following the filing of a lawsuit by Paula Jones (Mitchell 2). In her complaint, Ms. Jones made several allegations against the president. At the time the offense was committed, Clinton was the governor of Arkansas. The two were attending a conference at the Excelsior Hotel. She claimed that she was the victim of sexual advances from the accused. The defense team moved to court to try and block the proceedings. The team argued that a president is immune from any lawsuit while in office.
Clinton’s pursuit for exemption was dealt a major blow after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jones. The court allowed for the lawsuit to continue to the pre-trial discovery level, where new revelations of Clinton’s infidelity and sexual relationships with other subordinate members of staff were made (Murrin et al. 614). For instance, it was alleged that Clinton was romantically involved with Monica Lewinsky, an intern at the White House, soon after her appointment. When he was deposed in the lawsuit, he strongly denied having any sexual relationship with Lewinsky or urging her to lie about an affair in court. However, on September 9th, Clinton appeared before Starr’s grand jury and admitted to having an inappropriate relationship with Ms. Lewinsky (Olson and Roberts 56).
The Impeachment Process
Clinton’s admission to lying under oath formed the basis of his impeachment process (Murrin et al. 1091). Starr tabled the findings of the investigation before the Congress. In the submissions, he asserted that there was enough evidence to prove that President Clinton engaged in gross misconduct (Murrin et al. 1091). It was revealed that he lied under oath in the Jones’ litigation and obstructed justice by urging Ms. Lewinsky to file an affidavit that he knew was false (Murrin et al. 1091).
After debate, the House passed two of the articles. The development laid the ground for the impeachment process. The trial commenced on January 7, 1999. It was led by the Republican Chief Whip, Tom De Lay. The leader claimed that it was his personal ambition to see to it that President Clinton was driven out of office through the impeachment call (Mitchell 16). However, after a lot of debate, the Senators voted in favor of the president and found him not guilty of charges leveled against him (Murrin et al. 590).
The Importance of the Trial
The trial of President William Clinton is important in the history of America. It brings out major issues related to the American presidency. For instance, abuse of office for personal gain is clearly brought out in this trial. When a lawsuit was filed against Clinton, he immediately used his powers as the president to delay proceedings against him. He claimed that any legal action against him should be deferred until his term is over (Murrin et al. 591). Clinton went further and used his office to manipulate Ms. Lewinsky into changing her testimony during her deposition in court.
One can also clearly pinpoint the government’s involvement in trying to influence the case in favor of the president. For instance, the Starr investigations that used millions of dollars did not produce evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to warrant a conviction (Linder 45). Efforts to identify and prove wrongdoing by the president were also consistently frustrated, slowing down the impeachment process. President Clinton’s impeachment and acquittal also exposed several fatal flaws in the independent counsel. Such weaknesses included the inability of the office to maintain the credibility of investigations in the face of full-scale political attacks waged by a president or his defenders. The development led to bipartisan support for its disbandment at the end of June 1999 (Hoffman and Gjerde 78).
The president’s impeachment trial also sent mixed signals with regards to any alternatives to impeachment, such as censure. The constitutional legitimacy of such alternatives was questioned. During the trial, neither the Senate nor the House issued a censure resolution. The House failed to submit findings of facts in the course of the impeachment trial. One cannot help but wonder whether or not there are different standards for impeaching presidents and judges (Kraft 23). The president’s lawyers insisted that this difference was crucial. Most members of Congress did not express this argument explicitly. The few who did reject it (Murrin et al. 1093).
The impeachment proceedings influenced a major aspect of American social life. They demonstrated the extraordinary social costs of round-the-clock news coverage on cable and broadcast television networks. They also highlighted the possibility of spreading rumors and misleading information via the internet (Murrin et al. 1093). The developments led to a wide range of news programs focusing on scandals and speculation, rather than on covering news on facts and figures. The public responded to this increased media focus on scandal and speculation by developing the ability to cut through the information provided to determine what is necessary (Baym 276).
The impeachment trial of President William Clinton is one of the high profile legal proceedings in the 20th century. The proceedings will forever serve as a dramatic reminder that impeachment is not a substitute for a civil and criminal lawsuit. On the contrary, it is a special political proceeding. It is used to mete out political punishments for political crimes committed by high ranking officials. Clinton’s acquittal signifies that presidential misconduct can be dealt with in many other ways, such as through criminal proceedings, the court of public opinion, and censure. It is also clear that powerful government officials take advantage of the justice system to manipulate witnesses and hide evidence.
The role of the Senate in dealing with political misconduct is clearly brought out. For instance, one may assume that Clinton’s acquittal meant that Congress condoned his misconduct. However, the fact is that no other president in history has been subjected to such widespread condemnation by Congress. The importance of the trial in relation to American history cannot be ignored. It affected the larger society and shaped future events.
Baym, Geoffrey. “Packaging Reality: Structures of Form in US Network News Coverage of Watergate and the Clinton Impeachment.” Journalism 26.2 (2004): 279-299. Print.
Hoffman, Elizabeth, and Jon Gjerde. Major Problems in American History. 3rd ed. 1865. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Print.
Kraft, Scott. The Humans within the Events: TWILIGHT; Los Angeles, 1992 / On the Road: A Search for American Character. 2013. Web.
Linder, Douglas. The Impeachment Trial of President William Clinton. 2005. Web.
Mitchell, Alison. Impeachment: The Overview. 1998. Web.
Murrin, John, Paul Johnson, James McPherson, Gary Gerstle, Emily Rosenberg and Norman Rosenberg. Liberty, Equality, Power: A History of the American People. Concise ed. 2014. New York, NY: Cengage. Print.
Olson, James, and Randy Roberts. My Lai: A Brief History with Documents (Bedford Series in History and Culture), St. Martin’s: Bedford, 1998. Print.
Smith, Anna. Twilight- Los Angeles, New York: Doubleday, 1994. Print.