The Impeachment Trial of President Clinton Primary Source eText

Primary Source

Senator Joseph Lieberman meets with reporters on Capitol Hill prior to the start of the Senate impeachment trial in January 1999. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. Senator Joseph Lieberman meets with reporters on Capitol Hill prior to the start of the Senate impeachment trial in January 1999. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. Published by Gale Cengage AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION.

Henry Hyde's Statement During the Trial of President Clinton, January 16, 1999


By: Henry Hyde

Date: January 16, 1999

Source: U.S. Senate. Representative Henry Hyde of Ohio. Statement During the Trial of President Clinton, Congressional Record. January 16, 1999. 106th Cong., 1st sess., vol. 145, no. 7.

About the Author: Henry Hyde (1924–) was born in Chicago, Illinois. In 1942, he enlisted in the United States Navy and he saw combat in the Philippines during World War II (1941–1945). In 1949, he earned a law degree from Loyola University–Chicago. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1974, and he chaired the powerful House Judiciary Committee from 1995 to 2001. During the Clinton impeachment trial in the Senate, he was the lead House manager.

Joseph Lieberman's Statement During the Trial of President Clinton, February 12, 1999


By: Joseph Lieberman

Date: February 12, 1999

Source: U.S. Senate. Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Statement During the Trial of President Clinton, Congressional Record. February 12, 1999. 106th Cong., 1st sess., vol. 145, no. 7.

About the Author: Joseph Lieberman (1942–) was born in Stamford, Connecticut. In 1967, he earned a law degree from Yale Law School. For the next ten years, he served in the Connecticut State Senate. From 1982 to 1988, Lieberman was Connecticut's Attorney General. Afterwards, he was elected to the United States Senate. In 2000, he was elected to his third term. During that same election cycle, Vice President Al Gore chose Lieberman to run as his vice presidential running mate in the 2000 Presidential election.


Article I, sections 2 and 3 of the United States Constitution define the process by which federal officials may be removed by impeachment from office. First, the House of Representatives issues a formal accusation of misconduct, otherwise known as the "articles of impeachment." Second, the impeached official is tried in the Senate and a two-thirds vote is needed for conviction. If convicted, the official is removed from office and prohibited from holding that office again. The impeachment process is controversial and arguably subjective, as the Constitution does not define what constitutes an impeachable offense.

Article I, section 4 specifies that only "treason, bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors" are impeachable offenses. The Constitution explicitly defines treason and statutory law clearly defines bribery. The meaning of "high Crimes and Misdemeanors," however, is not self-evident. Further, Congress has never passed a statute defining and cataloguing impeachable behaviors. Consequently, there are two schools of thought on the matter. First, some constitutional scholars argue that "high Crimes and Misdemeanors" include only those offenses for which one can be charged under federal and state law. Conversely, other scholars have a broader interpretation, which include violations of the basic principles of the Constitution and the rule of law—including political acts that violate the public trust, but are not against federal or state law. Ultimately, Congress must determine the meaning of this ambiguous phrase. In 1970, Representative (later president) Gerald Ford (served as president from 1974–1977) perhaps stated it best when he said: "An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment of history."

Since 1789, the House of Representatives had impeached only sixteen officials. The Senate had convicted and removed seven, all federal judges. Prior to 1999, only one president had been impeached. In December 1867, the House of Representatives brought eleven articles of impeachment against President Andrew Johnson (served 1865–1869). Following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Vice President Johnson became the seventeenth president of the United States. Johnson's impeachment was an overtly political process. Characterized as a southern sympathizer, he promoted a lenient Reconstruction policy toward the South after the Civil War (1861–1865). His accusers in the House were Radical Republicans, who demanded that Reconstruction, in part, include black suffrage and political and physical protection of the freed slaves. In the Senate, Johnson escaped removal from office by one vote.

The only other president to face impeachment, other than the brief and ineffectual political moves against presidents Herbert Hoover (served 1929–1933) and Harry S. Truman (served 1945–1953), was President Richard Nixon (served 1969–1974). In 1973 and 1974, Nixon's participation in the Watergate cover-up forced the House to accuse him of obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress. He resigned from office when the House was preparing to vote on the articles of impeachment.


The impeachment and trial of President Bill Clinton (served 1993–2001) is significant, because it may prove to be a pivotal event in the evolution of the presidency. The impeachment involved vastly different issues than those surrounding the Johnson and Nixon impeachment efforts. Unlike Johnson's impeachment, the Clinton controversy was not about opposing political ideologies or important constitutional questions concerning the separation of powers. Unlike the Nixon affair, the articles of impeachment against Clinton did not accuse him of subverting the Constitution. Instead, it may be argued that the Clinton impeachment pertained to issues of personal integrity.

The Clinton impeachment focused on his sexual relationship with a young White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. Clinton committed adultery with Lewinsky, and then lied about it while testifying under oath. When Clinton's actions became known, a scandal ensued. The House of Representatives voted to impeach Clinton, accusing him of committing perjury and obstructing justice. Though clearly reprehensible behavior, Clinton's actions were not directly related to his constitutional duties as president. Many questioned if the president should be stripped of his office over what was essentially a private matter, while others responded that through his actions Clinton had lost the public trust. The Senate ultimately decided that Clinton's behavior did not constitute "high Crimes and Misdemeanors." Thus the Senate acquited President Clinton, and he served out the remainder of his term.

Primary Source: Henry Hyde's Statement During the Trial of President Clinton, January 16, 1999

SYNOPSIS: During an impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate a team of U.S. Representatives presents the case for why the Senate should act on the House's recommendations and remove someone from office. Representative Henry Hyde was the manager of the House team during the trial of President Clinton. In this speech, Hyde presents the basic argument for removing President Clinton from office: Clinton lied under oath, thereby betraying the public trust.

Mr. Manager Hyde: Mr. Chief Justice, counsel for the President, distinguished Members of the Senate, 136 years ago, at a small military cemetery in Pennsylvania, one of Illinois' most illustrious sons asked a haunting question—whether a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal can long endure. America is an experiment never finished. It is a work in progress. And so that question has to be answered by each generation for itself, just as we will have to answer whether this Nation can long endure.

This controversy began with the fact that the President of the United States took an oath to tell the truth in his testimony before the grand jury, just as he had on two prior occasions sworn a solemn oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and to faithfully execute the laws of the United States.

One of the most memorable aspects of this proceeding was the solemn occasion wherein every Senator in this Chamber took an oath to do impartial justice under the Constitution.

But I must say, despite massive and relentless efforts to change the subject, the case before you Senators is not about sexual misconduct, infidelity or adultery—those are private acts and none of our business. It is not even a question of lying about sex. The matter before this body is a question of lying under oath. This is a public act.

The matter before you is a question of the willful, premeditated deliberate corruption of the Nation's system of justice, through perjury and obstruction of justice. These are public acts, and when committed by the chief law enforcement officer of the land, the one who appoints every United States district attorney, every Federal judge, every member of the Supreme Court, the Attorney General—they do become the concern of Congress.

That is why your judgment, respectfully, should rise above politics, above partisanship, above polling data. This case is a test of whether what the Founding Fathers described as "sacred honor" still has meaning in our time: two hundred twenty-two years after those two words—sacred honor—were inscribed in our country's birth certificate, our national charter of freedom, our Declaration of Independence.

Every school child in the United States has an intuitive sense of the "sacred honor" that is one of the foundation stones of the American house of freedom. For every day, in every classroom in America, our children and grandchildren pledge allegiance to a nation, "under God." That statement, is not a prideful or arrogant claim. It is a statement of humility: all of us, as individuals, stand under the judgment of God, or the transcendent truths by which we hope, finally, to be judged.

So does our country.

The Presidency is an office of trust. Every public office is a public trust, but the Office of President is a very special public trust. The President is the trustee of the national conscience. No one owns the Office of President, the people do. The President is elected by the people and their representatives in the electoral college. And in accepting the burdens of that great office, the President, in his inaugural oath, enters into a covenant—a binding agreement of mutual trust and obligation—with the American people.

Shortly after his election and during his first months in office, President Clinton spoke with some frequency about a "new covenant" in America. In this instance, let us take the President at his word: that his office is a covenant—a solemn pact of mutual trust and obligation—with the American people. Let us take the President seriously when he speaks of covenants: because a covenant is about promise-making and promise-keeping. For it is because the President has defaulted on the promises he made—it is because he has violated the oaths he has sworn—that he has been impeached.…

In recent months, it has often been asked—so what? What is the harm done by this lying under oath, by this perjury? Well, what is an oath? An oath is an asking almighty God to witness to the truth of what you are saying. Truth telling—truth telling is the heart and soul of our justice system.

I think the answer would have been clear to those who once pledged their sacred honor to the cause of liberty. The answer would have been clear to those who crafted the world's most enduring written constitution.

No greater harm can be done than breaking the covenant of trust between the President and the people; among the three branches of our government; and between the country and the world.

For to break that covenant of trust is to dissolve the mortar that binds the foundation stones of our freedom into a secure and solid edifice. And to break that covenant of trust by violating one's oath is to do grave damage to the rule of law among us.

That none of us is above the law is a bedrock principle of democracy. To erode that bedrock is to risk even further injustice. To erode that bedrock is to subscribe, to a "divine right of kings" theory of governance, in which those who govern are absolved from adhering to the basic moral standards to which the governed are accountable. We must never tolerate one law for the ruler, and another for the ruled. If we do, we break faith with our ancestors from Bunker Hill, Lexington and Concord to Flanders Field, Normandy, Iwo Jima, Panmunjom, Saigon and Desert Storm.

Let us be clear: The vote that you are asked to cast is, in the final analysis, a vote about the rule of law.…

Primary Source: Joseph Lieberman's Statement During the Trial of President Clinton, February 12, 1999

SYNOPSIS: In this speech Senator Joseph Lieberman argues against removing President Clinton from office. While he does not dispute that Clinton did the things he is accused of, Lieberman maintains that the offenses do not meet the standard of "high Crimes and Misdemeanors."

Mr. Lieberman: Mr. Chief Justice, throughout the history of this great country, we have endured trials that have strained the sinews of our democracy and sometimes even threatened to tear apart our unparalleled experiment in self-government. Each time the nation has returned to the Constitution as our common lodestar, trusting in its vision, its values and its ultimate verity. Each time we have emerged from these tests stronger, more resilient, more certain of Daniel Webster's claim of "one country, one constitution, one destiny." (Speech to a Whig Party rally in New York City, March 15, 1837.) And each time our awe of the Founders' genius has been renewed, as has our reverence for the brilliantly-calibrated instrument they crafted to guide their political progeny in the unending challenge of governing as a free people.

At this moment, we face a test that, although not as grave or perilous as some before, is nevertheless unlike anything this nation has ever experienced. As my colleagues well know, the impeachment trial of William Jefferson Clinton marks the first time in our history that the United States Senate has convened as a court of impeachment to consider removing an elected President from office. But what also makes this trial unprecedented are the underlying charges against President Clinton, which stem directly from his private sexual behavior. The facts of this case are complicated, embarrassing, demoralizing, and infuriating. They raise questions that Madison, Hamilton, and their brethren could never have anticipated that the Senate would have to address in the solemn context of impeachment.

The public examination of these difficult questions—about private and public morality, about the role of the Independent Counsel, and about our expectations of Presidential conduct—has been a wrenching, dispiriting and at times unseemly process for the nation. It has divided us as parties and as a people, reaching its nadir in the partisan bickering and badgering that unfortunately defined the impeachment vote in the House of Representatives and compromised the legitimacy of this process in the eyes of many Americans. It has set off a frenzy in the news media that has degraded and devalued our public discourse and badly eroded the traditional boundaries between public and private life, leaving a pornographer to assume the role or arbiter of our political mores. And it has so alienated the American people that many of them are hardly paying attention to a trial that could result in the most radical disruption of the presidency—excepting assassination—in our nation's history.

Yet despite the significant pain this trauma has caused for the country, I take heart from the fact that we have once again reaffirmed our commitment to the Constitution and the fundamental principles underpinning it. The conduct of the trial here in the Senate has been passionate at times, but never uncivil, and while some votes have broken along party lines, they have never broken the spirit of common purpose we share. Indeed, throughout the past several weeks we as a body have grown closer as we have continually measured our actions with the same constitutional yardstick, and each of us has sought to remain faithful to the Founders' vision as we understand it in fulfilling our responsibilities as triers of the President. This, I believe, is in the end a remarkable testament to the foresight of our forefathers, that even in this most unusual of crises, we could and would rely on the Constitution as our compass to find a peaceable and just resolution.

We are about to achieve that resolution and complete our constitutional responsibilities by rendering a judgment, a profound judgment, about the conduct of President Clinton and the call of the House of Representatives to remove him from office. This is the duty we accepted when we swore to do "impartial justice," and it is a duty that I, as each of you, have pondered night and day since this trial began.

As I have stated previously on this Senate floor, I have been deeply disappointed and angered by this President's conduct—that which is covered in the Articles, and the more personal misbehavior that is not—and like all of us here, I have struggled uncomfortably for more than a year with how to respond to it. President Clinton engaged in an extramarital sexual relationship with a young White House employee in the Oval Office, which, though consensual, was irresponsible and immoral, and thus raised serious questions about his judgment and his respect for the high office he holds. He then made false or misleading statements about that relationship to the American people, to a Federal district court judge in a civil deposition, and to a Federal grand jury; in so doing, he betrayed not only his family but the public's trust, and undermined his moral authority and public credibility.

But the judgment we must now make is not about the rightness or wrongness of the President's relationship with Monica Lewinsky and his efforts to conceal it. Nor is that judgment about whether the President is guilty of committing a specific crime. That may be determined by a criminal court, which the Senate clearly is not, after he leaves office.

No, the question before us now is whether the President's conduct—as alleged in the two articles of impeachment—makes his continuance in office a threat to our government, our people, and the national interest. That, I conclude, is the extraordinarily high bar the Framers set for removal of a duly-elected President, and it is that standard we must apply to the facts to determine whether the President is guilty of "high Crimes and Misdemeanors."

Each side has had ample opportunity to present its case, illuminating the voluminous record from the House, and we Senators have been able to ask wide-ranging questions of both parties. The House was also authorized to conduct depositions of the three witnesses it deemed most important to its case. I have listened intently throughout, watched the videotaped depositions, and been very impressed by both the House Managers and the counsel for the President. The House Managers, for their part, have presented the facts and argued the Constitution so effectively that they impelled me more than once to seriously consider voting for removal.

But after much reflection and review of the extensive evidence before us, of the meaning of the term "high Crimes and Misdemeanors," and, most importantly, of the best interests of the nation, I have concluded that the facts do not meet the high standard the Founders established for conviction and removal. No matter how deeply disappointed I am that our President, who has worked so successfully to lift up the lives of so many people, so lowered himself and his office, I conclude that his wrongdoing in this sordid saga does not justify making him the first President to be ousted from office in our history. I will therefore vote against both Articles of Impeachment.

Further Resources


Beschloss, Michael. The Impeachment and Trial of President Clinton. New York: Random House, 1999.

Van Tassel, Emily Field and Paul Finkleman. Impeachable Offenses: A Documentary History from 1787 to the Present. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, 1999.

Woodward, Bob. Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999.


Bennett, William J. "Why He Must Go." The Wall Street Journal, August 19, 1998.

Katyal, Neal Kumar. "The Public and Private Lives of Presidents." The William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal, 8, April 2000, 677–692.


"Clinton Accused." The Washington Post. Available online at ; website home page (accessed April 4, 2003).

"The Impeachment Trial." Online NewsHouse, The Democracy Project, PBS. Available online at; website home page (accessed April 4, 2003).