In 1999, for only the second time in United States history, the Senate conducted an impeachment trial of a President. The acquittal of William Jefferson Clinton on February 12 came as no great surprise, given the near party-line vote on impeachment charges in the House of Representatives leading to the trial.
Despite its predictable outcome, the impeachment trial of President Clinton is well worth studying, both for what it says about the failure of the judiciary and political institutions to respond adequately to an unprecedented situation, and what it tells us about the failures of Bill Clinton, the all-too-human occupant of the nation's highest office. The trial also raises fascinating questions about the distinction between public morality and private morality.
Background: The Paula Jones Sexual Harassment Suit
The impeachment saga of President Clinton has its origins in a sexual harassment lawsuit brought in Arkansas in May, 1994 by Paula Jones, a former Arkansas state employee. In her suit, Jones alleged that on May 8, 1991, while she helped to staff a state-sponsored management conference at the Excelsior Hotel in Little Rock, a state trooper and member of Governor Clinton's security detail, Danny Ferguson, approached her and told her that the Governor would like to meet her in his hotel suite....