Nowadays, people talk about impeachment in terms of a president being removed from office. Impeachment, in terms of the presidency, is when they are charged with treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors (a very broad label, subject to the judgment of congress). The House of Representatives decides on impeachment and the Senate holds the impeachment trial. Impeachment does not mean removal from office, it means bringing criminal charges against a public official. Once the House brings formal impeachment charges, there is a trial by the Senate which requires a 2/3 majority for a successful conviction.
President William Jefferson Clinton was impeached on two charges: perjury and obstruction of justice. The charges were stemming from sexual harassment case brought by Paul Jones. Clinton is only the second president to be impeached. Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868 and acquitted. Richard M. Nixon resigned his presidency when the House was in the middle of impeachment proceedings. Despite the House’s vote, Clinton promised to stay in the presidency until the “last hour.”
December 19, 1998 was a cold winter day. Bill and First Lady Hillary Clinton prepared for the outcome of the House impeachment vote. They arrived on Capitol Hill to deliver a speech to Democratic members of the House of Representatives before the house votes on articles of impeachment on two charges related to a sexual relationship that he had with White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.
People protested for and against the impeachment outside the Capitol Building.
Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich named Representative Ray LaHood, an Illinois Republican, to preside over the impeachment proceedings.
That same day, Rep. Bob Livingston, a Louisiana Republican who had been the Speaker of the House-elect, resigned over his own case of adultery. In his speech before the House, Livingston called on Clinton to resign as the full House prepared to vote to submit articles of impeachment.
When the House of Representatives voted on Clinton’s articles of impeachment, two articles passed by close margins.
Chairman of the US House Judiciary Committee Henry Hyde, an Illinois Republican presented the formal Articles of Impeachment of President William Clinton to the Secretary of the Senate Gary Sisco. This took place moments after the full House of Representatives passed the votes to impeach.
That morning, the Washington Post reported that pizza deliveries in the Capitol were booming that week due to staffers working late nights to prepare for the impeachment vote.
On the same day the House voted on his impeachment, President Clinton held a news conference to announce that he was calling off operation Desert Fox, a brief bombing campaign against Iraq.
Clinton was impeached on two charges, perjury and obstruction of justice, stemming from the Jones sexual harassment case. While the Democratic president was plagued by impeachment hearings, polling suggested that Republicans could pick up as many as 30 seats in the November mid-term elections, and Gingrich vowed to step down as Speaker if the Republicans failed to gain more seats. Not only did they not gain any seats in the elections, they lost with seats to the Democrats, and Gingrich was toast.
When the House voted on Impeachment it was the post-election lame-duck session. They voted to impeach on the charge of perjury to a grand jury by a vote of 228–206 and of obstruction of charges by a vote of 221–212. Two other charges failed to get enough votes. A charge of perjury in the Paula Jones case failed by a vote of 205–229 and abuse of power by Clinton by a vote of 148–285.
On January 7, 1999, Clinton was formally charged with lying under oath and obstructing justice, and his impeachment trial began in the Senate. As instructed in Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution, Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist was sworn in to preside, and the senators were sworn in as jurors.
On February 8, the newly elected Senate heard closing arguments on removing Clinton from office and were presented with each side receiving an allotted three-hour time slot. On the President’s behalf, White House Counsel Charles Ruff declared:
There is only one question before you, albeit a difficult one, one that is a question of fact and law and constitutional theory. Would it put at risk the liberties of the people to retain the President in office? Putting aside partisan animus, if you can honestly say that it would not, that those liberties are safe in his hands, then you must vote to acquit.
After deciding on closed door deliberations, the Senate emerged after 3 days and voted on February 12th. A two-thirds majority (67) vote was required to convict and remove a president from office. The Republicans held 55 seats in the Senate. The perjury charge was defeated by 55 votes against and 45 for conviction. The obstruction of justice charge was defeated with a 50 to 50 vote.
Hillary Clinton stood by her husband’s side as he delivered a speech following the vote. The Clintons smiled as they met members of the press outside the White House.
Today, Bill Clinton is founder and chairman of the board of the nonprofit Clinton Foundation. He published a political thriller co-authored with novelist James Patterson last summer, about a president facing impeachment. Clinton struggled to respond to reporters’ questions about whether the #MeToo movement cast his past personal behavior in a new light. He and Hillary just launched a speaking tour billed as An Evening With The Clintons.