In 1995, Monica Lewinsky, a graduate of Lewis & Clark College, was hired to work as an intern at the White House during Clinton's first term, and began a personal relationship with him, the details of which she later confided to her friend and Defense department co-worker Linda Tripp, who secretly recorded their telephone conversations. When Tripp discovered in January 1998 that Lewinsky had signed an affidavit in the Paula Jones case denying a relationship with Clinton, she delivered the tapes to Kenneth Starr, the Independent Counsel who was investigating Clinton on other matters, including the Whitewater scandal, Filegate, and Travelgate. During the grand jury testimony Clinton's responses were guarded, and he argued, "It depends on what the meaning of the word is is".
The wide reporting of the scandal led to criticism of the press for over-coverage. The scandal is sometimes referred to as "Monicagate", "Lewinskygate", "Tailgate", "Sexgate", and "Zippergate", following the "gate" nickname construction that has been popular since the Watergate scandal.
Allegations of sexual contact
Lewinsky alleged nine sexual encounters with Bill Clinton :
November 15, 1995, in the private study of the Oval Office
November 17, 1995, while Bill Clinton was on the phone with a member of Congress
December 31, 1995, in a White House study
January 7, 1996, in the Oval Office
January 21, 1996, in the hallway by the private study next to the Oval Office
February 4, 1996, while Clinton was meeting in the Oval Office
March 31, 1996, in the hallway near the study of the Oval Office
February 28, 1997, near the Oval Office (This is when the blue dress stains were created.)
March 29, 1997 (Clinton, however, denied that this day's encounter actually happened.)
According to her published schedule, First Lady Hillary Clinton was at the White House for at least some portion of five of these stated days.
In April 1996, Lewinsky's superiors relocated her job to the Pentagon because they felt that she was spending too much time around Clinton.
According to his autobiography, then-United Nations Ambassador Bill Richardson was asked by the White House in 1997 to interview Lewinsky for a job on his staff at the UN. Richardson did so, and offered her a position, which she declined. The American Spectator provided evidence that Richardson knew more about the Lewinsky affair than he declared to the grand jury.
Lewinsky confided in a coworker named Linda Tripp about her relationship with Clinton. Tripp convinced Lewinsky to save the gifts that Clinton had given her, and not to dry clean what would later be infamously known as "the blue dress". Tripp reported these conversations to literary agent Lucianne Goldberg, who advised her to record them, which Tripp began doing in September 1997. Goldberg also urged Tripp to take the tapes to Kenneth Starr and brought the tapes to the attention of people working on the Paula Jones case. In the fall of 1997, she began speaking to reporters (notably Michael Isikoff of Newsweek) about the tapes.
In January 1998, after Lewinsky had submitted an affidavit in the Paula Jones case denying any physical relationship with Clinton and attempted to persuade Tripp to lie under oath in the Jones case, Tripp gave the tapes to Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr. They added to his ongoing investigation into the Whitewater controversy. Now armed with evidence of Lewinsky's admission of a physical relationship with Clinton, he broadened the investigation to include Lewinsky and her possible perjury in the Jones case.
Denial and subsequent admission
News of the scandal first broke on January 17, 1998, on the Drudge Report website, which reported that Newsweek editors were sitting on a story by investigative reporter Michael Isikoff exposing the affair. The story broke in the mainstream press on January 21 in The Washington Post. The story swirled for several days and, despite swift denials from Clinton, the clamor for answers from the White House grew louder. On January 26, President Clinton, standing with his wife, spoke at a White House press conference, and issued a forceful denial, which contained what would later become one of the best-known sound bites of his presidency:
Now, I have to go back to work on my State of the Union speech. And I worked on it until pretty late last night. But I want to say one thing to the American people. I want you to listen to me. I'm going to say this again: 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 go back to work for the American people. Thank you.
Pundits debated whether or not Clinton would address the allegations in his State of the Union Address. Ultimately, he chose not to mention them. Hillary Clinton publicly stood by her husband throughout the scandal. On January 27, in an appearance on NBC's Today she famously said, "The great story here for anybody willing to find it, write about it and explain it is this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president."
For the next several months and through the summer, the media debated whether or not an affair had occurred and whether or not Clinton had lied or obstructed justice, but nothing could be definitively established beyond the taped recordings because Lewinsky was unwilling to discuss the affair or testify about it. On July 28, 1998, a substantial delay after the public break of the scandal, Lewinsky received transactional immunity in exchange for grand jury testimony concerning her relationship with Clinton. She also turned over a semen-stained blue dress (which Linda Tripp had encouraged her to save without dry cleaning) to the Starr investigators, thereby providing a smoking gun based on DNA evidence that could prove the relationship despite Clinton's official denials.
Clinton admitted in taped grand jury testimony on August 17, 1998, that he had had an "improper physical relationship" with Lewinsky. That evening he gave a nationally televised statement admitting his relationship with Lewinsky which was "not appropriate".
In his deposition for the Jones lawsuit, Clinton denied having "sexual relations" with Lewinsky. Based on the evidence provided by Tripp, a blue dress with Clinton's semen, Starr concluded that this sworn testimony was false and perjurious.
During the deposition, Clinton was asked "Have you ever had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky, as that term is defined in Deposition Exhibit 1, as modified by the Court?" The judge ordered that Clinton be given an opportunity to review the agreed definition. Afterwards, based on the definition created by the Independent Counsel's Office, Clinton answered "I have never had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky." Clinton later stated that he believed the agreed-upon definition of sexual relations excluded his receiving oral sex.
President Clinton was held in contempt of court by judge Susan D. Webber Wright. His license to practice law was suspended in Arkansas and later by the United States Supreme Court. He was also fined $90,000 for giving false testimony which was paid by a fund raised for his legal expenses.
Main article: Impeachment of Bill Clinton
Most Republicans in Congress – who held the majority in both Houses at the time – and some Democrats believed that Clinton's giving false testimony and alleged influencing Lewinsky's testimony were crimes of obstruction of justice and perjury and thus impeachable offenses. The House of Representatives voted to issue Articles of Impeachment against him which was followed by a 21-day trial in the Senate. President Clinton was acquitted of all charges and remained in office. He was not given any penalty beyond attempts at censure by the House of Representatives.
2000 presidential election
The scandal arguably affected the 2000 U.S. Presidential election in two contradicting ways. Democratic Party candidate and sitting Vice President Al Gore claimed that Clinton's scandal had been "a drag" that deflated the enthusiasm of their party's base, effectively suppressing Democratic votes. Clinton claimed that the scandal had made Gore's campaign too cautious, and that if Clinton had been allowed to campaign for Gore in Arkansas and New Hampshire, either state would have delivered Gore's needed electoral votes regardless of what happened in Florida. Many political analysts sided with Clinton's argument, and argued that Gore's refusal to have Clinton campaign with him damaged his appeal.
During the scandal, supporters of President Clinton claimed hypocrisy by at least some of those who advocated for his removal, alleging that the matter was private and "about sex". According to The Guardian,
Larry Flynt...the publisher of Hustler magazine, offered a $1m (£500,000) reward... Flynt was a sworn enemy of the Republican party [and] sought to dig up dirt on the Republican members of Congress who were leading the impeachment campaign against President Clinton. Flynt claimed at the time to have the goods on up to a dozen prominent Republicans, the ad campaign helped to bring down only one. Robert Livingston - a congressman from Louisiana...abruptly retired after learning that Mr Flynt was about to reveal that he had also had an affair.
Congressman Livingston had been widely expected to become Speaker of the United States House of Representatives in the next Congressional session, then just weeks away.
Historian Taylor Branch implied that Clinton had requested changes to Branch's 2009 Clinton biography, The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President, regarding Clinton's revelation that the Lewinsky affair began because "I cracked; I just cracked." Branch writes that Clinton had felt "beleaguered, unappreciated and open to a liaison with Lewinsky" following "the Democrats' loss of Congress in the November 1994 elections, the death of his mother the previous January, and the ongoing Whitewater investigation".Publicly, Clinton had previously blamed the affair on "a terrible moral error" and on anger at Republicans, stating, "if people have unresolved anger, it makes them do non-rational, destructive things.