Manchester Historian

Student newspaper for the University of Manchester's History Department

Tuesday 12th December 2017 | Manchester, UK

Lewinskygate and the Changed Map of US Politics

When a leader of a country is elected, the whole nation puts their absolute trust and, if you will, their lives into the hands of their new leader. So imagine having the leader of your nation point blank lie to you as happened to the American people in 1998. President Bill Clinton openly and publicly denied having an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, only to have the scandal erupt a few months later. The resulting investigation lead to the impeachment of Clinton, only the second in US history and has had repercussions for the Clinton family, the Democratic Party and American politics ever since.

Monica Lewinsky began working in the White House Office of Legislative Affairs as an intern in 1995. She then began a personal relationship with Clinton and confided this to her friend, Linda Tripp, who secretly recorded the conversations. However, once Tripp discovered that Lewinsky had signed an affidavit in a separate trial denying relations with Clinton, she turned over the tapes to Kenneth Starr, Independent Counsel who was investigating Clinton on other matters.

The scandal began circling the newspapers in mid-January 1998 causing Clinton to state the famous words on January 26th, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”. The story was still debated in the media throughout the spring of 1998, during which Hillary Clinton stood by her husband. Finally on July 28th 1998, Lewinsky received immunity in exchange for testifying against Clinton, including providing DNA evidence on a dress of the affair.

President Clinton then admitted the affair in the grand jury investigation on August 17th 1998. As he had previously denied it under oath, the Republican dominated Senate brought impeachment charges against Clinton, although they failed to convict him in the Senate trial which followed.

The Lewinsky scandal has arguably had far reaching consequences throughout US politics ever since. The Republicans won the 2000 election, against Al Gore for the Democrats due to a deflation and lack of trust in the Democratic Party after the scandal. Although Hillary Clinton stood by her husband, the scandal continues to follow her into her presidential campaign, particularly with the resurrection of Lewinsky only last year.

There can be no doubt that the Lewinsky scandal profoundly affected US politics. It was the first ‘internet scandal’ and the first to reverberate around the world almost instantly. It lead to the second impeachment of a US president ever and presided over a deeply polarizing period of American politics. Many have since described Clinton’s presidency as incredibly promising but marred by scandal and we can only wonder if Hillary’s campaign and possible presidency will be the same?

 

 

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