O n January 7, Chief Justice William Rehnquist officially opened the impeachment trial in the Senate, and Ken Starr indicted Julie Hiatt Steele, the Republican woman who wouldnt lie to back up Kathleen Willeys story.
A week later, the House impeachment managers made a three-day presentation of their case. They now wanted to call witnesses, something they hadnt done in their own hearings, with the exception of Kenneth Starr. One of the managers, Asa Hutchinson from Arkansas, who had prosecuted my brothers drug case as U.S. attorney in the 1980s, said the Senate had to let them call witnesses, because if he were a prosecutor, he couldnt indict me for obstruction of justice, the issue he was charged with handling, based on the meager record the House had sent to the Senate! On the other hand, another of the House managers argued that the Senate had no right to judge whether my alleged offenses met the constitutional standard of impeachment; he said the House had done that for them and the Senate should be bound by their opinion, despite the fact that the Hyde committee had refused to articulate a standard for judging what conduct was impeachable.
In his closing argument to the Senate, Henry Hyde finally gave his interpretation of the constitutional meaning of impeachment when he said in essence that trying to spare oneself embarrassment over private misconduct was more of a justification for removal from office than misleading the nation about an important matter of state. My mother had raised me to look for the good in everybody. When I watched the vituperative Mr. Hyde, I was sure there must be a Dr. Jekyll in there somewhere, but I was having a hard time finding him.
On the nineteenth, my legal team began its three days of response. Chuck Ruff, the White House counsel and a former U.S. attorney, led off, arguing for two and a half hours that the charges were untrue and that even if the senators thought they were true, the offenses did not come close to meeting the constitutional standard for impeachment, much less removal. Ruff was a mild-mannered man who had been wheelchair-bound for most of his life. He was also a powerful advocate, who was offended by what the House managers had done. He shredded their evidentiary arguments and reminded the Senate that a bipartisan panel of prosecutors had already said that no responsible prosecutor would bring a perjury charge on the facts before them.
I thought Ruffs best moment was when he caught Asa Hutchinson red-handed in a telling misrepresentation of fact. Hutchinson had told the Senate that Vernon Jordan began helping Monica Lewinsky to get a job only after he learned she would be a witness in the Jones case. The evidence proved that Vernon had done so several weeks before he knew or could have known that, and that at the time Judge Wright made the decision to allow Lewinsky to be called as a witness (a decision that she later reversed), Vernon was on a plane to Europe. I didnt know whether Asa had misled the Senate because he thought that the senators wouldnt figure it out or because he thought that they, like the House managers, wouldnt care whether the presentation was accurate or not.
The next day Greg Craig and Cheryl Mills addressed the specific charges. Greg noted that the article charging me with perjury failed to cite a single specific example of it and instead tried to bring my deposition in the Jones case into play, even though the House had voted against the article of impeachment dealing with that. Craig also pointed out that some of the allegations of perjury now being made to the Senate were never made by Starr or any House member during the debates in the Judiciary Committee or on the floor of the House. They were making up their case as they moved along.
Cheryl Mills, a young African-American graduate of Stanford Law School, spoke on the sixth anniversary of the day she began her work in the White House. She dealt brilliantly with two of the obstruction of justice charges, presenting facts that the House managers couldnt dispute but had not told the Senate about and that proved their claims of obstruction of justice to be nonsense. Cheryls finest moment was her closing. Responding to suggestions by Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and others that my acquittal would send a message that our civil rights and sexual harassment laws are unimportant, she said, I cant let their comments go unchallenged. Black people all over America knew that the drive to impeach me was being led by right-wing white southerners who had never lifted a finger for civil rights.
Cheryl pointed out that Paula Jones had had her day in court and a female judge had found that she didnt have a case. She said that we revered men like Jefferson, Kennedy, and King, all of whom were imperfect but struggled to do humanity good, and that my record on civil rights and womens rights was unimpeachable: I stand here before you today because President Bill Clinton believed I could stand here for him. . . . It would be wrong to convict him on this record.
On the third and final day of our presentation, David Kendall led off with a cool, logical, and systematic dismantling of the charge that I had obstructed justice, citing Monica Lewinskys repeated assertions that I never asked her to lie and once again detailing the House managers misstatements or omissions of critical facts.
My defense was closed by Dale Bumpers. I had asked Dale to do it because he was a fine trial lawyer, a careful student of the Constitution, and one of the best orators in America. He had also known me a long time and had just left the Senate after serving twenty-four years. After loosening his former colleagues up with a few jokes, Dale said that he had been reluctant to appear because he and I had been close friends for twenty-five years and had worked together for the same causes. He said that while he knew the Senate might discount his defense as the words of a friend, he had come not to defend me but to defend the Constitution, the most sacred document to me next to the Holy Bible.
Bumpers opened his argument by bashing Starrs investigation: Javerts pursuit of Jean Valjean in Les Misrables pales by comparison. He said, After all those years . . . the President was found guilty of nothing, official or personal . . . we are here today because the President suffered a terrible moral lapse.
He chided the House managers for having no compassion. Then came the most dramatic moment of Dales speech: Put yourself in his position . . . we are, none of us, perfect . . . he should have thought of all that beforehand. And indeed he should have, just as Adam and Eve should havenow he pointed at the senatorsjust as you and you and you and you and millions of other people who have been caught in similar circumstances should have thought of it before. As I say, none of us is perfect.
Dale then said that I had already been punished severely for my mistake, that the people didnt want me removed, and that the Senate should listen to the world leaders who had stood up for me, including Havel, Mandela, and King Hussein.
He closed with an erudite and detailed history of the Constitutional Conventions deliberations on the impeachment provision, saying that our framers took it from English law, which plainly covered offenses distinctly political against the state. He pleaded with the Senate not to defile the Constitution, but instead to hear the American people calling on you to rise above politics . . . and do your solemn duty.
Bumpers speech was magnificent, by turns erudite and emotional, earthy and profound. If the Senate roll had been called at that moment, there wouldnt have been many votes for removal. Instead, the process would drag out for three more weeks, as the House managers and their allies tried to find a way to persuade more Republican senators to vote with them. After the two sides had made their presentations, it was clear that all the Democratic senators and several Republicans were going to vote no.
While the Senate was sitting in trial, I was doing what I always did at this time of the yeargetting ready for the State of the Union speech and promoting around the country the new initiatives that would be in it. The speech was scheduled for the nineteenth, the same day my defense opened in the Senate. Some Republican senators had urged me to delay the speech, but I wasnt about to do that. The impeachment had already cost the American people lots of their hard-earned tax dollars, diverted the Congress from pressing business, and weakened the fabric of the Constitution. If I had delayed my speech, it would have sent a message to the American people that their business had been put on the back burner.
If possible, the atmosphere at this State of the Union was even more surreal than it had been the previous year. As always, I entered the Capitol and was taken to the Speakers quarters, which were now occupied by Dennis Hastert of Illinois, a stocky former wrestling coach who was quite conservative but less abrasive and confrontational than Gingrich, Armey, and DeLay. Before long, a bipartisan delegation of senators and representatives came to take me to the House chamber. We shook hands and talked as if nothing else in the world was going on. When I was introduced and began to walk down the aisle, the Democrats cheered loudly as most Republicans clapped politely. Since the aisle splits the Republicans and Democrats, I expected to spend the trip down to the podium shaking hands on the Democratic side and was surprised that, for whatever reason, several Republican House members held out their hands, too.
I began with a salute to the new Speaker, who had said he wanted to work with the Democrats in a spirit of civility and bipartisanship. It sounded good and he might have meant it, since the impeachment vote in the House had occurred before he became Speaker. So I accepted his offer.
By 1999, our economic expansion was the longest in history, with eighteen million new jobs since I took office, real wages going up, income inequality finally going down a little, and the lowest peacetime unemployment rate since 1957. The state of our union was stronger than ever, and I outlined a program to make the most of it, beginning with a series of initiatives to create a secure retirement for the baby boom generation. I proposed to commit 60 percent of the surplus over the next fifteen years to extend the solvency of the Social Security Trust Fund until 2055, an increase of more than twenty years, a small portion of it to be invested in mutual funds; an end to the limit on what Social Security recipients could earn without penalty; and more generous payments to elderly women, who were twice as likely as men their age to live in poverty. I also proposed to use 16 percent of the surplus to add ten years to the life of the Medicare Trust Fund; a $1,000 long-termcare tax credit for the elderly and disabled; the option to let people between the ages of fifty-five and sixty-five buy into Medicare; and a new pension initiative, USA Accounts, which would take 11 percent of the surplus to provide tax credits to citizens who opened their own retirement accounts, and to match a portion of the savings of workers with more modest incomes. This was perhaps the largest proposal ever made to help modest-income families save and create wealth.
I also proposed a large package of education reforms, arguing that we should change the way we spent the more than $15 billion a year of education aid to support what works and stop supporting what doesnt work, by requiring states to end social promotion, turn around failing schools or shut them down, improve the quality of the teaching force, issue report cards on every school, and adopt sensible discipline policies.
I again asked Congress to provide funds to build or modernize five thousand schools and to approve a sixfold increase in the number of college scholarships for students who would commit to teaching in underserved areas.
To give more support to families, I recommended a minimum wage increase, expanded family leave, a child-care tax credit, and trigger locks on guns so that children could not fire them accidentally. I also asked Congress to pass the Equal Pay and Employment Non-Discrimination acts; to establish a new American Private Investment Corporation to help raise $15 billion to create new businesses and jobs in poor communities; to enact the Africa Trade and Development Act to open more of our markets to African products; and to fund a $1 billion Lands Legacy initiative to preserve natural treasures, and a package of tax cuts and research money to fight global warming.
On national security, I asked for funds to guard computer networks against terrorists, and to protect communities from chemical and biological attacks; to increase research into vaccines and treatments; to increase the Nunn-Lugar nuclear safety program by two-thirds; to support the Wye River accord; and to reverse the decline in military spending that had begun at the end of the Cold War.
Before closing, I honored Hillary for her leadership in the Millennium Project and in representing America so well all over the world. She was sitting in her box with the home-runhitting Chicago Cubs star Sammy Sosa, who had joined her on a recent trip to his native Dominican Republic. After all she had been through, Hillary got an even bigger round of applause than Sammy. I ended the last State of the Union address of the twentieth century by reminding the Congress that perhaps, in the daily press of events, in the clash of controversy, we dont see our own time for what it truly is, a new dawn for America.
On the day after the speech, with the highest job approval ratings I had ever had, I flew to Buffalo, with Hillary and Al and Tipper Gore, to speak to an overflow crowd of more than twenty thousand at the Marine Midland Arena. Once again, in spite of all that was going on, the State of the Union address, with its full agenda for the year ahead, had struck a responsive chord with the American people.
I ended the month with a major speech at the National Academy of Sciences, outlining my proposals to protect America from terrorist attacks with biological and chemical weapons and from cyberterrorism; a trip home to Little Rock to view tornado damage in my old neighborhood, including the loss of several old trees on the grounds of the Governors Mansion; a visit to St. Louis to welcome Pope John Paul II back to the United States; a meeting with a large bipartisan congressional delegation in the East Room to discuss the future of Social Security and Medicare; and a memorial service for my friend Governor Lawton Chiles of Florida, who had died suddenly not long before. Lawton had given me courage for the current fight with one of his favorite sayings: If you cant run with the big dogs, you ought to stay on the porch.
On February 7, King Hussein lost his fight against cancer. Hillary and I immediately left for Jordan with a delegation that included Presidents Ford, Carter, and Bush. I was very grateful for their willingness, on short notice, to honor a man we had all worked with and admired. The next day we walked in his funeral procession for almost a mile, attended the memorial service, and paid our respects to Queen Noor, who was heartbroken. So were Hillary and I. We had enjoyed some wonderful times with Hussein and Noor in Jordan and in the United States. I remembered with particular pleasure a meal the four of us had shared on the Truman Balcony of the White House not long before the king died. Now he was gone, and the world was a poorer place.
After meetings with the new monarch, Husseins son Abdullah, as well as Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Assad, President Mubarak, Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac, Boris Yeltsin, and President Suleyman Demirel of Turkey, I flew home to await the Senate vote on my future. Though the outcome wasnt in doubt, the behind-the-scenes maneuvering had been interesting. Several Republican senators were upset with the House Republicans for putting them through the trial, but whenever the right wing turned the pressure up, most of them backed down and went along with dragging the whole thing out. When Senator Robert Byrd moved to have the charges dismissed as having no merit, David Kendalls partner, Nicole Seligman, made an argument on the law and the facts that most senators knew was undebatable. Nevertheless, Byrds motion was defeated. When Senator Strom Thurmond told his Republican colleagues early on that the votes werent there to remove me and the process should be stopped, he was overruled in the Republican caucus.
One Republican senator who was opposed to impeachment kept us informed of what was going on among his colleagues. Several days before the vote, he said there were only thirty Republican votes for the perjury count and forty to forty-five for the obstruction of justice count. They were nowhere near the two-thirds majority the Constitution requires for removal. A few days before the vote, the senator told us that the House Republicans had said they would be humiliated if neither count got at least a token majority of the votes, and their Senate colleagues had better not humiliate them if they wanted the House to stay in Republican hands after the next election. The senator reported that they would have to whittle the number of Republican no votes down.
On February 12 the impeachment motions failed. The vote on the perjury count failed by 22 votes, 4555, and the vote on the obstruction of justice count failed by 17 votes, 5050, with all the Democrats and Republican senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Jim Jeffords of Vermont, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and John Chafee of Rhode Island voting no on both counts. Senators Richard Shelby of Alabama, Slade Gorton of Washington, Ted Stevens of Alaska, Fred Thompson of Tennessee, and John Warner of Virginia voted no on the perjury count.
The vote itself was anticlimactic, coming three weeks after the close of my defense. Only the margin of defeat was in doubt. I was just glad the ordeal was over for my family and my country. After the vote I said that I was profoundly sorry for what I had done to trigger the events and the great burden they imposed on the American people, and that I was rededicating myself to a time of reconciliation and renewal for America. I took one question: In your heart, sir, can you forgive and forget? I replied, I believe any person who asks for forgiveness has to be prepared to give it.
After the impeachment ordeal, people often asked me how I got through it without losing my mind, or at least the ability to keep doing the job. I couldnt have done it if the White House staff and cabinet, including those who were angry and disappointed over my conduct, hadnt stayed with me. It would have been much harder if the American people hadnt made an early judgment that I should remain President and stuck with it. If more congressional Democrats had bailed out when it looked like the safe thing to do in January, after the story broke, or in August, after I testified to the grand jury, it would have been tough; instead, they rose to the challenge. Having the support of world leaders like Mandela, Blair, King Hussein, Havel, Crown Prince Abdullah, Kim Dae Jung, Chirac, Cardoso, Zedillo, and others whom I admired helped to keep my spirits up. When I compared them with my enemies, as disgusted as I still was with myself, I figured I couldnt be all bad.
The love and support of friends and strangers made a big difference; those who wrote to me or said a kind word in a crowd meant more than they will ever know. The religious leaders who counseled me, visited me at the White House, or called to pray with me reminded me that, notwithstanding the condemnations I had received from some quarters, God is love.
But the biggest factors in my ability to survive and function were personal. Hillarys brothers and my brother were wonderfully supportive. Roger joked to me that it was nice to finally be the brother who wasnt in trouble. Hugh came up from Miami every week to play UpWords, talk sports, and make me laugh. Tony came over for our family pinochle matches. My mother-in-law and Dick Kelley were great to me.
Despite everything, our daughter still loved me and wanted me to stand my ground. And, most important, Hillary stood with me and loved me through it all. From the time we first met, I had loved her laugh. In the midst of all the absurdity, we were laughing again, brought back together by our weekly counseling and our shared determination to fight off the right-wing coup. I almost wound up being grateful to my tormentors: they were probably the only people who could have made me look good to Hillary again. I even got off the couch.
During the long year between the deposition in the Jones case and my acquittal in the Senate, on most of the nights when I was home in the White House I spent two to three hours alone in my office, reading the Bible and books on faith and forgiveness, and rereading The Imitation of Christ by Thomas