It was a scandal that unfolded shortly before most of us attending Monmouth University were currently born. Two parties: one, one of the most powerful men in the world, the other, an intern, just twenty-two years old. We are talking about the affair of then-President Bill Clinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
This scandal and subsequent impeachment of President Clinton have been covered over and over again in the 23 years since the scandal broke and first made headlines. The new season of Impeachment: American Crime Story on FX sees the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal from a fresh perspective.
In this series, they explore the events of the scandal through the points of view of three women involved in it: Paula Jones, Linda Tripp, and, of course, Monica Lewinsky. Along with showrunner-extraordinaire Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story, Nip/Tuck), Lewinsky is even a producer on this series, reclaiming her story and telling it truthfully, even through the most embarrassing moments of the affair. This ten-episode series stars Beanie Feldstein as Monica Lewinsky, Sarah Paulson as Linda Tripp, and Annaleigh Ashford as Paula Jones, with Clive Owen and Edie Falco appearing as Bill and Hillary Clinton, respectively.
In 1994, Paula Jones, a former Arkansas state employee, sued Bill Clinton for sexual harassment, alleging that he propositioned sex and took advantage of her while he was Governor of Arkansas. When a group of lawyers were working on this case in 1998, they got an anonymous tip that Clinton was having an affair with an intern, Monica Lewinsky. This piqued their interest because it could be used as a legal argument establishing the type of behavior he exhibited with Jones as a pattern. On Jan. 7, 1998, Lewinsky signed an affidavit saying that she never had an affair with Bill Clinton.
What Lewinsky didn’t know was that Linda Tripp, a close friend and fellow White House employee, had recorded hours of their private phone calls wherein Lewinsky discussed essentially everything that had happened between her and the President, and how upset she was over the relationship between them not being successful.
On Jan. 12 of that year, Tripp turned over 20 hours of taped phone calls to independent counsel Kenneth Starr. Having already been investigating the Clintons over the prior Whitewater scandal, these phone calls granted him permission to investigate if Lewinsky had lied about the affair under oath. On two different occasions—on Jan. 16, during a hearing about the Jones lawsuit and then again on Jan. 26 on television—Clinton denied having an affair with Lewinsky. Later that month, it was decided that the Jones lawyers could not use the Lewinsky report as part of their case. On Aug. 17, Clinton admitted to having relations to Lewinsky. In response, on Oct. 8 Congress voted to start an impeachment proceeding against Clinton. Ultimately, Clinton settled the Paula Jones lawsuit, admitting no wrongdoing. While the House voted to impeach Clinton on two charges, perjury and obstruction of justice, on Feb. 12 of 1999 the Senate voted to acquit Clinton on both counts, allowing him to remain President.
This new FX program tries to paint these women in a more sympathetic and understanding light than how they were covered as the events were unfolding, with the series suggesting that no one was 100 percent right or wrong; that Lewinsky may have been in the wrong in doing what she did—having an affair with a married man who is also president—but that she was also a young woman being manipulated by a much older man.
The show deeply explores what Linda Tripp’s motivations were when she decided to, in essence, betray a close friend, putting her and the whole country through an impeachment trial for an affair between two consenting adults. We see that Tripp was becoming miserable with her life, as she worked in the West Wing during the Bush administration and was transferred to the (in her eyes inferior) Pentagon early in the Clinton administration.
Impeachment also features the storyline of Paula Jones, who, at the end of the day, sought justice for being harassed by a man in power. This show takes a more feminist approach in this way, taking back the narrative of these women, who were criticized of their looks, intelligence, and weight by male journalists, politicians and others when these events were unfolding. NPR writes that “Tripp gets the most nuanced treatment, humanized even as she is shown to be an unlikeable woman given to exaggerating her importance and feeling discarded when she is transferred out of the White House. Much as she tries to cast her befriending of Lewinsky and recording of her private conversations as some sort of intervention, Tripp also wants to use her knowledge for something she’s never had before.”
Overall, this show gives a new perspective on a scandal that has been examined and reexamined again and again over twenty years. It shows the events that unfolded in a way that creates suspense and makes the viewer feel as though they are right there, in Washington D.C., witnessing these historic moments as a fly on the wall would. It also gives a fresh perspective of these women who were ruthlessly shamed in the late nineties, and giving them a dignified voice.
American Crime Story: Impeachment airs Tuesday at 10 p.m. on the FX network.