On this day in 1998: President Bill Clinton is impeached by the United States House of Representatives.
On 19 December 1998, President Bill Clinton was charged with lying under oath to a federal grand jury and obstructing justice. His lie was about an affair with a 21-year-old intern, Monica Lewinsky.
He became the second president in American history to be impeached.
So far, only three US presidents have been formally impeached by Congress: Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump – twice during a single term.
Let’s take a look at the reasons behind the impeachments.
Andrew Johnson (Impeached in 1868)
President Andrew Johnson held open disagreements with Congress, who tried to remove him several times.
When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated only 42 days into his second term, Johnson was left in charge trying to reestablish ties with the Confederate states after the Civil War. Lincoln favoured leniency while so-called “Radical Republicans” in his party wanted to punish Southern politicians and extend full civil rights to freed slaves. Johnson clashed with the Radical Republicans in Congress, vetoing political rights for freedmen.
In 1867, Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act, which barred the president from replacing members of his cabinet without Senate approval. Johnson violated this when he fired his Secretary of War. Johnson’s political enemies responded by drafting and passing 11 articles of impeachment in the House.
Johnson was impeached in the House of Representatives by 126 votes to 47. After his acquittal, he served out the rest of his term and became the first (and only) former US president to be elected to the Senate.
Bill Clinton (Impeached in 1998)
On 8 October 1998, the House of Representatives voted to launch an impeachment inquiry against President Bill Clinton, in part because of allegations that he lied under oath when being investigated in the Clinton–Lewinsky scandal.
The charges stemmed from a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against Clinton by Arkansas state employee Paula Jones and from Clinton’s testimony denying that he had engaged in a sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
When the story went public, Clinton was forced to address the accusations on national television.
“I want you to listen to me,” Clinton famously said. “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time, never.”
On 19 December, two articles of impeachment were approved by the House, charging Clinton with perjury and obstruction of justice.
In the ensuing five-week Senate trial, Clinton was acquitted on both counts. Both articles of impeachment failed to receive the required super-majority, and so Clinton was not removed from office.
Despite a very public and embarrassing scandal, and being only the second president in history to be impeached, Clinton’s job approval rating peaked at 73 per cent in 1999.
Donald Trump (Impeached in 2019 and 2021)
On 24 September 2019, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump regarding his alleged efforts to pressure the President of Ukraine to investigate possible wrongdoings by his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
A leaked whistleblower complaint detailed a July phone conversation between Trump and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in which Trump allegedly tied Ukrainian military aid to personal political favours.
On 18 December 2019, Trump became the third US president in history to be impeached as the House of Representatives voted to impeach him over abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The Senate subsequently voted to acquit Trump on both charges.
Trump was impeached for a second time during his single term after he was alleged to incite a deadly attack on the United States Capitol on 6 January 2021 by attempting to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.
On 13 January 2021, the House voted to impeach Trump for “Incitement of Insurrection”.
On 13 February 2021, the Senate found Trump not guilty of incitement of insurrection, by a vote of 57 for conviction and 43 against, below the 67 votes needed for a supermajority. As Trump was no longer president, and the article of impeachment failed to receive the required super-majority, he was acquitted.
Bonus round: Richard Nixon
In addition to those three, only one other president has faced formal impeachment inquiries in the House of Representatives: Richard Nixon.
Despite being complicit in one of the greatest political scandals in presidential history, the Watergate Scandal, Nixon was never impeached. He resigned before the House of Representatives had a chance to impeach him.
In September 1974, his successor, Gerald Ford, pardoned Nixon for any crimes against the US that he might have committed while president.
It’s widely accepted that if Nixon hadn’t resigned, he would likely have been the first president ever impeached and removed from office.