Virtual Session

The Impeachment and Trial of William Jefferson Clinton

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Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee

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Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Illinois) with the committee's most effective Democrat, Barney Frank of Massachusetts.

Keeping in mind our earlier coverages of the impeachment attempts against Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon, today's virtual session explores the impeachment and trial of Bill Clinton in 1998. Of course, studying such recent events poses the problem of historical objectivity, but the topic cam be framed in a historical fashion, chiefly by addressing the similarities and differences between the Clinton impeachment and its predecessor. Indeed, this primarily historical question was at the heart of the Clinton impeachment debate: Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee invited Watergate-era members Robert Drinan, Liz Holtzman, and Wayne Owens back to Washington for their insights; Drinan was particularly outspoken on the matter.
You can begin with a timeline of the impeachment proceedings, along with a sampling of House debate on impeachment. Although without transcripts, this nonetheless provides a good sense of the tense atmosphere in the House during the proceedings. Given the recent nature of the Clinton impeachment, it is difficult to address in a historical framework. But not impossible. First of all, two excellent books on the impeachment--by Jeffrey Tobbin and Richard Posner--provide some broader grounding of the affair. Second, the Clinton/Lewinsky affair provides an opening for some interesting historical questions, namely:
How did the Office of Independent Counsel change the nature of American politics? This Slate dialogue between law professors Akhil Amar and Laurence Tribe offers a good jumping-off point for discussion
How--if at all--did the Clinton articles of impeachment differ from those offered against Nixon?
And, in the end, did the House Republicans misinterpret the Framers' conception of what constituted an impeachable offense--specifically the provisions described by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 65 and Federalist 66?

Impeachment, of course, represents only one avenue of judicial or quasi-judicial investigations of the executive since Watergate.  Most such investigations have centered on the Office of Independent Counsel, one of the more controversial creations of the Watergate-era Congress. This interesting site provides a history of the law along with a start-to-finish coverage of one high-profile independent counsel investigation.