The year 1998 started with an outraged, finger-wagging denial by President Clinton of sexual impropriety in the Oval Office with a young intern. Over the months that followed came a treacherous friend, a stained dress, a zealous prosecutor's tawdry report, semantic hair-splitting and a stunning reversal by the president, acknowledging and apologizing for his misconduct. The events of the year that managed to both rivet and repel the public concluded with the second impeachment of a president in U.S. history. An excerpt from The Post of Dec. 20, 1998:
The House of Representatives impeached the president of the United States yesterday for only the second time in American history, charging William Jefferson Clinton with "high crimes and misdemeanors" for lying under oath and obstructing justice to cover up an Oval Office affair with a young intern.
At 1:25 p.m. on a day of constitutional drama and personal trauma, the Republican-led House voted 228 to 206 largely along party lines to approve the first article of impeachment accusing the Democratic president of perjury before a grand jury. Within the hour, lawmakers went on to pass another article alleging he tampered with witnesses and helped hide evidence, but rejected two other articles on perjury and abuse of power.
A solemn, all-Republican delegation led by Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) then marched across the Capitol to formally deliver the articles of impeachment to the secretary of the Senate, triggering what promises to be a trial like no other to determine whether the 42nd president will be removed from office. At the same time, scores of restive House Democrats piled into buses to drive up Pennsylvania Avenue and rally around their embattled leader at the White House.
Emerging from the Oval Office with first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton on his arm and Vice President Gore at his side, the president stood with his Democratic defenders and decried the partisan vote against him. Brushing aside calls for resignation, Clinton vowed to serve "until the last hour of the last day of my term."
The historic votes in the grand chamber at the Capitol came just hours after the newly anointed House speaker, Bob Livingston (R-La.), called on Clinton to resign and then, abruptly and unexpectedly, took his own advice. "I must set the example that I hope President Clinton will follow," Livingston said, announcing he will step down because of the extramarital affairs he had reluctantly revealed on the eve of the impeachment debate.
Rarely has the capital been so whipsawed by events, as the nation's top leadership was left in disarray at the same time U.S. military forces mounted a fourth and final day of bombing runs agains Iraq. Perhaps the last time a single day combined twin moments of history like this was Jan. 20, 1981, when Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president just minutes before 52 American hostages held in Iran flew to freedom.
Yet unlike that dramatic day, few in Washington found much to celebrate on Dec. 19, 1988. What started out as an indiscreet dalliance with Monica S. Lewinsky, an 18-month series of casual sexual encounters and racy telephone calls, had unleashed the full force of a constitutional crisis. Now, the impeachment of a president who remains popular with the public may redefine the relationship between executive and legislative branches for decades to come.