Events leading to Bill Clinton's impeachment began long before he met Monica Lewinsky

A sign calling for Bill Clinton's impeachment on a Park Avenue building in New York in 1998. (Reuters)

Bill Clinton asked his bodyguard to bring the young woman to his hotel room.

What happened next set into motion the events of the 1990s that would shake the Clinton presidency to its core.

That woman was Paula Jones.

Ms Jones and the significant role she played in the events leading up to Mr Clinton's impeachment in 1998 have largely faded from public memory.

It is Monica Lewinsky — and to a much lesser extent Linda Tripp — who remain the faces of one of the biggest scandals in American politics.

But how those three women shaped history is being brought into focus in the new drama TV series, Impeachment: American Crime Story, which Ms Lewinksy significantly contributed to as a producer.

Little Rock

Paula Jones had never met the Governor of Arkansas. She had never even seen Bill Clinton in person until he gave a speech at a conference at the Excelsior Hotel in Little Rock on May 8, 1991.

It was then, while she was working at the registration desk, that the Governor's bodyguard handed her a piece of paper with a room number on it and told her Mr Clinton would like to meet her.

The 24-year-old thought it was an honour to be asked to meet the Governor, so she decided to go.

She alleged once they were alone, Mr Clinton made unwanted sexual advances towards her and exposed himself.

Ms Jones left the room, and over the next few days, confided in a colleague, friend, family members and her fiance about what happened.

The experience left her fearful and worried about losing her job. She was also afraid to report the alleged assault to the police, as the bodyguard who escorted her to the room was a local police officer.

The next year, Mr Clinton was elected President of the United States.

President-elect Bill Clinton with his wife Hillary and their daughter Chelsea in 1992. (Reuters: Jim Bourg)

Whitewater

When Mr Clinton moved into the White House in early 1993, it had been 12 years since a Democratic president had been in the Oval Office.

His presidency was dogged by accusations of corruption and cronyism, which Clinton supporters decried as a right-wing conspiracy to bring him down.

The fervour came to a head just a few months into the administration when deputy White House counsel and the Clintons' close friend Vince Foster took his own life.

Mr Foster had been involved in the so-called Travelgate scandal, in which all seven employees in the White House travel office that arranged the press corps' travel were fired and Mr Clinton's third cousin appointed to lead the new team.

Vince Foster. (Reuters)

Police searched Mr Foster's office for a note as part of an investigation into his death, but not until sensitive legal documents were removed by the chief White House counsel.

The removal of the documents — specifically those relating to a real estate development the Clintons had lost money on — inflamed the perception of a cover-up.

So, in a bid to remove suspicion and silence his critics, the president consented to a widespread investigation that would be named after the failed real estate deal: Whitewater.

The Whitewater investigation would go on to be headed by Republican lawyer Kenneth Starr (later a member of president Donald Trump's impeachment legal defence).

Mr Starr and his team toiled away at Whitewater only to bring up naught, much to the displeasure of Clinton dissenters.

It wouldn't be until four years later, when disgruntled former White House employee Linda Tripp knocked on their door, that they would have evidence they needed to try and take down the president.

Linda Tripp

Ms Tripp worked in the White House during the final 18 months of George Bush's presidency and was an executive assistant to Mr Foster before his death.

Then in August 1994, she was forced from her prestigious position in the West Wing, where she shared the same women's bathroom as First Lady Hillary Clinton, to a windowless cubicle in the basement of the Pentagon for a better-paying job in public affairs.

Linda Tripp in 1998. (Reuters)

Ms Tripp despised the Clintons. She detested the way they ran the White House and suspected they were covering things up, including Mr Foster's death.

Like Mr Starr, Ms Tripp was looking for ways to expose the Clintons. She planned to write a tell-all book but made little headway.

Her chance would come in April 1996 when she met her new colleague, Monica Lewinsky.

Ms Lewinsky was just 22 when she started an unpaid internship at the White House the previous July.

She worked in the office of chief of staff Leon Panetta — the president's right hand man.

But as the 1996 presidential election approached, Ms Lewinsky found herself unwillingly transferred to the same basement office as Ms Tripp.

The two women became friends and Ms Lewinsky would go on to tell Ms Tripp that she had a secret sexual relationship with the president.

Bill Clinton stands with Monica Lewinsky for a photo in 1995. (Reuters: Handout, file)

Ms Lewinsky revealed the intimate details of her encounters with Mr Clinton: the first time they kissed in a private corridor, the gifts they shared, a carnal rendezvous in the West Wing.

As Ms Lewinsky poured out her heart over the "crush" she had on her 49-year-old boss over the phone, Ms Tripp patiently listened to her younger friend — with a tape recorder capturing her every word.

Paula Jones's lawsuit

Meanwhile, Ms Jones had quit her job and moved to California with her then-husband and new baby.

But in January 1994 her friend called. The cover story of the conservative magazine The American Spectator reported a woman named "Paula" had met Mr Clinton at the Excelsior Hotel.

The article implied this woman and Mr Clinton had sexual relations.

Ms Jones wanted to set the story straight. On February 11, 1994, Ms Jones and her lawyer attended a press conference organised by conservative supporters in Washington.

Paula Jones in 1994. (Reuters: STR New)

Ms Jones refused to go into any detail about what happened, only to say Mr Clinton had asked her for a type of sex and what he did was "humiliating" to her.

The press conference got little attention from the mainstream media.

A month later Ms Jones filed a lawsuit against Mr Clinton in the US District Court for $US700,000, in which she accused him of "sexually harassing and assaulting" her.

The case dragged out as the courts decided whether the case should be postponed until Mr Clinton was no longer president.

In 1997, Ms Jones turned down a settlement that did not include an apology from Mr Clinton.

Clinton's lie

Ms Tripp began recording Ms Lewinsky in early 1997 at the suggestion of literary agent Lucianne Goldberg, a fierce critic of Mr Clinton.

Ms Tripp started to encourage Ms Lewinsky to ask the president for help getting a job because she was unhappy working at the Pentagon.

She also told Ms Lewinsky to keep a navy blue dress with marks on it that she believed was Mr Clinton's semen as "insurance".

In the end, Ms Tripp captured 22 hours of their conversations over the phone.

A box containing the tapes Linda Tripp made of her private conversations with Monica Lewinsky. (Reuters: Mark Wilson)

By October, she had approached Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff, who was reporting on Paula Jones's lawsuit, and offered him access to the tapes. He declined.

Ms Tripp knew about Ms Jones's lawsuit, and that her lawyers were looking to establish Mr Clinton had pattern of behaviour of sexually harassing female subordinates.

The tapes made their way into the hands of Ms Jones's legal team.

It was enough to subpoena Ms Lewinsky.

On January 7, 1998, Ms Lewinsky signed an affidavit, stating she had "never had a sexual relationship with the president".

But before it was signed, the statement was reviewed by Vernon Jordan, a lawyer and friend of Mr Clinton. 

A few days later, Ms Tripp contacted Kenneth Starr to tell him about the tapes, and that Ms Lewinsky had lied.

It gave them the leverage they needed to bring Ms Lewinsky in.

President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky in an undated photo, with a 1997 birthday note from Mr Clinton to Ms Lewinsky. (Reuters)

Operation Prom Night

On January 16, 1998, Ms Lewinsky was waiting for Ms Tripp at the Pentagon City Mall.

She had just been to the gym and was still in her exercise clothes.

Ms Tripp came up to her with two FBI agents. She encouraged her young friend to cooperate.

They escorted the 24-year-old to the Ritz Carlton Hotel and into Room 1012 where there were more agents waiting.

Mr Starr's investigators told Ms Lewinsky that lying in her affidavit about her sexual relationship with the president was perjury and she could go to jail for up to 27 years.

But, if she agreed to cooperate, they might be able to help her avoid that.

Kenneth Starr led the Whitewater investigation into Bill Clinton. (Reuters: Robert Giroux)

Ms Lewinsky would later recall in her 1999 biography that when Ms Tripp tried to leave the room, she hissed: "Make her stay and watch. I want that treacherous bitch to see what she has done to me."

After several hours of questioning, Ms Lewinsky declined to cooperate with the investigators.

She actually tried to warn Mr Clinton by calling his personal secretary Betty Currie from a pay phone while the agents allowed her to go out for lunch, but Ms Currie didn't pick up.

The next day Mr Clinton gave a deposition in the Paula Jones lawsuit in which he denied having a sexual relationship with Ms Lewinsky.

It was a lie that would lead him to being the first American president to face an impeachment trial in more than 100 years (Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 before his trial began).

The Drudge Report

The same day as Mr Clinton's deposition, a report appeared in an obscure corner of the internet.

The Drudge Report, a gossip website named after its founder Matt Drudge, reported Newsweek had killed a story about a former White House intern's sexual relationship with the president.

It later named Ms Lewinsky as well as personal details about her work history and education.

That the story had broken online was a story in itself, as the internet was still seen as the cyber sandpit of journalism compared to the esteemed establishments of print and TV media.

Within a few days, mainstream media had jumped on the report and the president denied the allegations in a now infamous press conference with his wife Hillary Clinton by his side.

"I did not have sexual relations with that woman," Mr Clinton declared on national TV on January 26, 1998.

Bill Clinton denies allegations of a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. (Reuters)

Hillary Clinton would also dismiss the allegations as a "vast right-wing conspiracy" that had been plotting against her husband since the day he announced for president.

A few days later, the judge in the Paula Jones lawsuit ruled that any evidence relating to Ms Lewinsky be excluded from the case.

But that didn't stop Starr and his team from investigating further. 

Ms Lewinsky's mother Marcia Lewis was made to testify before a grand jury on suspicion that she had encouraged her daughter to lie in the Jones's lawsuit.

She handed over the stained navy blue dress in exchange for immunity. Ms Lewinsky was also granted immunity for her cooperation.

Monica Lewinsky is sworn in during her videotaped deposition in Bill Clinton's impeachment trial. (Reuters)

Mr Clinton agreed to testify before a grand jury and provide a blood sample, which matched the DNA found on the dress.

On August 17, 1998, Mr Clinton addressed the nation, admitting that he had did have a relationship with Ms Lewinsky.

"That was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong."

Scandal's fallout

A month later, the 445-page Starr report was released, detailing the intimate details of Ms Lewinsky's and Mr Clinton's relationship and their attempts to conceal it.

Mr Clinton was impeached by the Republican-held House of Representatives in 1998 on two articles.

After his trial in the Republican-held Senate the following year, he was acquitted and remained in office.

Despite the scandal, the polls showed Mr Clinton remained a popular president.

In November 1998, Paula Jones's case against Mr Clinton was settled out of court. She received $US850,000 with no apology or admission of guilt from the president.

In 2016, Ms Jones appeared at a press conference alongside Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and two other women who accused Mr Clinton of sexual misconduct — Juanita Broaddrick and Kathleen Willey.

Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey and Juanita Broaddrick in 2016. (AP: Julio Cortez)

Linda Tripp was cast as a villain for her involvement in exposing Ms Lewinsky and Mr Clinton's relationship.

She was a punchline in late-night talk host monologues and played by male actor John Goodman in a series of Saturday Night Live sketches.

Ms Tripp was upset by how she was portrayed. She had extensive plastic surgery and settled into a life away from the public eye, running a year-round Christmas shop with her new husband.

Prior to her death in April 2020, Ms Tripp spoke to Slate journalist Leon Neyfakh for the podcast series Slow Burn about her involvement in Mr Clinton's impeachment.

Ms Tripp told Neyfakh that she didn't want to tape her private conversations with Ms Lewinsky, but she felt like she had no choice.

"I kept holding on to thinking if that had been my daughter, I would have wanted to have had someone stop it," she told Neyfakh.

Monica Lewinsky at the 2015 Vanity Fair Oscar Party in 2015. (Reuters: Danny Moloshok)

When Ms Lewinsky heard Ms Tripp was close to death, she tweeted: "No matter the past, upon hearing that Linda Tripp is very seriously ill, I hope for her recovery. I can't imagine how difficult this is for her family."

After years of self-imposed exile, Ms Lewinsky has increasingly spoken out about her experience and attempted to reclaim her story.

Her 2015 TED talk about the online public shaming she went through went viral, as did her 2018 essay for Vanity Fair about how the #MeToo movement has changed her view.

As a producer for the TV series Impeachment: American Crime Story, she gave extensive notes on scenes and worked closely with the actress who plays her.

When asked on the US morning show Today if she thought Mr Clinton owed her an apology, she replied: "He should want to apologise in the same way that I want to apologise any chance I get to people that I've hurt and my actions have hurt."


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