January 26, 1998 — President Bill Clinton called a news conference at the White House on this day and abruptly denied that he had had sexual relations with a 22-year-old aide, Monica Lewinsky. He left the room without answering any questions after his brief but categorical denial.
The issue would not go away, however, and resulted in political humiliation for both Clinton himself and for his wife, Hillary, when she ran for the presidency in 2016. Her husband’s sexual transgressions were repeatedly raised by rival Donald Trump in a notoriously bitter election campaign.
For Bill Clinton, the seeds were sown in July 1995, when Lewinsky became an unpaid summer intern at the White House. She moved to a paid position in December of that year.
Between then and March, 1997, she said in a later statement, she had nine sexual encounters with President Clinton, including sexual acts – though not actual intercourse – in the Oval Office.
As rumours of the affair began to circulate and Clinton came under intense media scrutiny, independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr stepped up an investigation into the President’s activities. Soon, Clinton was accused of asking Lewinsky to lie about the relationship.
At the White House Press conference, an emotional President, his voice trembling and fist clenched, declared: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.
"I never told anybody to lie, not a single time, never.
"These allegations are false and I need to get back to work for the American people."
Hillary Clinton, the First Lady, said she was standing by her husband and was said to be “in fighting mood.”
However, after repeatedly denying an inappropriate relationship with Lewinsky, the President finally acknowledged the affair in a televised speech to a grand jury in August – six months after his strenuous denial. But he insisted that because certain acts were performed on him, not by him, he did not engage in sexual relations.
A month later, Kenneth Starr's 445-page report on his investigation into the President was studied by the House Judiciary Committee, which then proposed four articles of impeachment.
Clinton was only the second president in American history to face such an indictment – the first was Andrew Johnson in 1868.
Having refused to resign, Clinton’s trial began on 7 January 1999 and ended on 12 February. A move to remove him from office failed to gain the necessary backing and senators voted to acquit him of the impeachment charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.
After leaving the White House, Monica Lewinsky became active in a number of fields. She designed a line of handbags bearing her name, which were successful for a while; she led an advertising campaign for a diet plan and she became a television personality.
In 2005 she moved to London and studied for a degree in social psychology. By 2014 she had become known as a social activist, speaking out against cyberbullying.
But she will be forever associated with President Bill Clinton. Among the millions watching what became known as the Lewinsky Affair unfold over those agonising months for the Clintons was a billionaire businessman in New York, a man at that time without any known political ambitions – Donald Trump.
Published: November 29, 2016
42nd US President
45th US President, Businessman and TV Personality
Politician and US First Lady
White House Intern