On Feb. 12, 1998, Bill Clinton was acquitted by the United States Senate on the charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.
The acquittal brought to an end a three-year investigation into the actions of Bill Clinton before and during his presidency. That investigation led Clinton to be impeached by the House of Representatives – only the second time a president has been impeached (although Richard Nixon most certainly would have been had he not resigned).
Impeachment is the first step in the removal of a president by Congress. To be removed, the House of Representatives must pass, with a simple majority, articles of impeachment, laying out the charges against the president. Following impeachment, the Senate must convict with a two-thirds majority. During the trial, the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court presides.
Voting at the trial was strictly partisan, with all 45 Democrats voting not-guilty on both charges. Five Republicans voted with them on the perjury charge.
- The Constitution states that a president may be impeached for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” but doesn’t define what either term means. How would you define “high crimes and misdemeanors”? What offenses do you think should constitute grounds for removing a president from office?
- The United States is unusual in the world in uniting the jobs of head of state and head of government. In most countries, there is a prime minister, and either a president, chancellor, or monarch. In places where these two roles are split, it is much easier to remove the head of government. Sometimes it happens simply through losing a vote in the legislature! Do you think the Constitution should be amended to make it easier to remove the president? Or do you think the success of the United States is due to the stability of our system?
Feb. 1997, Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky [Digital photograph]. Retrieved from <google.com>