The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
Think you know everything about the Clinton–Lewinsky affair? Think again.
American Crime Story’s newest installment, Impeachment, follows the affair between then-President Bill Clinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky, which ultimately led to the impeachment of Clinton. The season has 10 episodes and follows the entire story through the eyes of every woman involved (c’mon, women representation!)— including Monica Lewinsky, Hillary Clinton, Linda Tripp, and Paula Jones, to name a few. This is the third season of American Crime Story. The first season covered the O.J. Simpson trial, and the second season portrayed the assassination of Gianni Versace. American Crime Story is created by the same creators of American Horror Story (another one of my absolute favorite television shows!). I had already seen the O.J. Simpson season and really enjoyed it, so I decided to indulge in the Impeachment installment. I also thought it would be a cool way to learn the progression of events that happened during the affair/impeachment, and how everything came to fruition. Here, I’ll give a rundown of some key characters, a synopsis of each episode (warning: some spoilers may occur!) and a final review of the entire season.
Before I began this new season of American Crime Story, I hadn’t known many specific details about the affair between Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky— and I didn’t realize how much I was missing out on. There are so many other things that happen that are completely unrelated to Lewinsky that catapult the trial against Bill Clinton, things that go way beyond Lewinsky. The entire reason that their affair was brought to light was because of another trial between the President and a woman named Paula Jones, which began in 1994. Jones, from Clinton’s home state of Arkansas, was working at a hotel that Clinton was staying at while he was governor of Arkansas, and she alleged that he sexually harassed her in his hotel room. As prosecutors in the Jones trial were trying to make a case against Clinton, they caught wind that he had been having a recent affair with a 21-year-old White House intern— Monica Lewinsky— and they used this to build their case that Clinton is known for abusing his power for sexual interests. Each episode takes a look into the development of the Paula Jones case, and eventually the affair between Lewinsky and Clinton. We’ll provide a list of key characters to keep in mind, and we’ll also do a synopsis of each episode, carrying you through the entire journey that Impeachment takes, and dive into the craziness that is American Crime Story: Impeachment.
- Monica Lewinsky
Monica Lewinsky was roughly 22 years old when her affair with Bill Clinton began in 1995. For context, Clinton’s daughter Chelsea is 15 years old in 1995 as well (insert squirmy face). Monica grew up in Beverly Hills and entered the White House at 21 years old as an unpaid intern. Monica had another relationship that was an affair, years before she went to the White House, a relationship with her former high school’s drama club assistant who was married. While this doesn’t really change much, it’s still an interesting fact to keep in mind.
- Linda Tripp
Linda Tripp was in her forties when the scandal took place and got very close with Monica as they both worked at the Pentagon together. Tripp is arguably the most complex character involved— she is miserable because of the amount of time and effort she’s put into her work for the government, but she’s gotten nothing in return. She got transferred to the Pentagon, which was a step down for her, and she was not a fan of the Clinton administration or Clinton himself. She is a single mother of two teenagers and leads a very boring lifestyle (seriously— the most enjoyment she gets out of her day is watching her potato cook in the microwave). Tripp is also complex because you never really know if she’s a good guy or a bad guy. One minute she’s cheering Monica up and shopping with her, and the next minute she’s secretly recording their phone conversations together, without telling Monica. She seems conflicted with fame and money and notoriety, as well as with doing the “right thing.” It is clear very early on that she wants to go public with the affair, but what’s not clear is her reasoning— is she doing this to help Monica? Or to help herself? The world may never know.
- Paula Jones
Paula Jones is a woman from Arkansas, Clinton’s home state, who filed a lawsuit against Clinton for sexual harassment. She claimed that at the hotel she worked at, he invited her to his hotel room for a drink and made unwanted advances towards her. Jones is a very naïve woman, as she trusts people very easily. Her hometown in Arkansas was extremely small, and everyone was very close with one another and knew everyone, so she was very unaware of the kinds of people she was dealing with in this scenario.
- Bill Clinton
Ah, yes, the star of the hour. Bill Clinton is in his second term as President when the story takes place. He tries to keep the affair as quiet as can be, which makes sense considering he basically threw Monica out of the White House, yet none of his efforts worked in the end.
- Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton is Bill Clinton’s wife, however, her character isn’t really shown much. Rather, we see her more prominently in the later chunk of the season. Hillary and Bill’s relationship is another very complex thing, and their dynamic is interesting to watch when news of the affair breaks.
- Betty Currie
Betty Currie is Bill Clinton’s personal secretary, and pretty much knows everything about the affair between him and Monica Lewinsky. She even delivered gifts from one to the other. Betty isn’t an extremely integral part of the story, but she is featured quite a bit and is worth mentioning.
- Lucianne Goldberg
Lucianne was a literary agent at this time, and she was basically someone that you would call if you wanted to publish a book. Linda Tripp had a sort of “friendship” with Lucianne, confiding in her about Monica’s affair and debating whether she wanted to go public and publish a book about everything she knew. Lucianne is ultimately the one who convinced Linda Tripp to record phone conversations between her and Lewinsky.
- Episode 1: “Exiles”
The season kicks off with a flash-forward of the FBI, along with Linda Tripp, approaching Monica Lewinsky in a mall food court. We then flashback 5 years earlier, to Linda Tripp’s job relocation to the Pentagon. Linda Tripp worked for White House counsel Vince Foster, who committed suicide seemingly because of his involvement with Whitewater (think Watergate, but instead of Nixon we have Clinton). Linda Tripp’s boss committed suicide (due to the stress from his shady involvement with Whitewater), which led to Tripp’s transfer to the Pentagon. We then meet Paula Jones and see her file her lawsuit against Clinton. Monica Lewinsky was also transferred to the Pentagon at this time, and the episode closes with Lewinsky and Tripp meeting, becoming friends, and discussing Lewinsky’s affair— although Lewinsky hasn’t revealed just who yet.
- Episode 2: “The President Kissed Me”
The second episode opens with a government shutdown that occurred in 1995. Lewinsky is an intern at the White House at this point, and thus begins the affair between Lewinsky and President Clinton. We also see an update with Paula Jones, and the talk of her case grows larger and larger. Monica decides to tell her new gal pal Linda Tripp about her affair with Clinton after his re-election into office so that all the press and chaos dies down a bit when she spills to Tripp and then explains that Clinton promised her a job back in the White House after his re-election. Basically, Clinton moved Lewinsky out of the White House during his re-election campaign so that she wouldn’t cause any problems for him (gross), and said he’d get her job back for her once he won. But do you really think he did? (hint: no). The episode then closes out with our dear friend Linda Tripp, who talks to a reporter about yet another allegation of sexual harassment against Clinton— and tells him there’s way more to the story. Oh, Linda.
- Episode 3: “Not to Be Believed”
In episode 3, Linda Tripp continues her conversation with that reporter (his name is Michael Isikoff, by the way) who came to her with questions about a woman named Kathleen Willey (who is seen briefly in episode 1). Willey was another White House employee who was shown walking out of a room with Clinton— with her lipstick smudged. Tripp is angry about this situation because after Tripp saw the smudged lipstick on Kathleen Willey, that’s when she got transferred to the Pentagon— but Kathleen Willey got to keep her White House job; Tripp thought that the only reason Willey still had her job was that she had a relationship with the President. Tripp then decides to spill even more beans to this reporter, Isikoff, and tells him about Monica’s affair with Clinton. On another hand, Paula Jones is offered a financial settlement to basically keep her mouth shut about what Clinton did to her. Lewinsky and Clinton’s affair comes to an end as well by the end of this episode.
- Episode 4: “The Telephone Hour”
The fourth episode shows a worried Monica, as she still hasn’t gotten her job back in the White House yet as Clinton promised. This is also the episode where Linda starts recording her and Monica’s phone conversations, without Monica’s consent. The idea actually came from Linda Tripp’s “literary agent” Lucianne Goldberg (aka the woman that Linda has been venting to about the Lewinsky-Clinton affair, in hopes of going public and publishing a book with Lucianne). Monica is then shown meeting with a man named Vernon Jordan, Clinton’s friend who he claimed would get Monica a job in New York.
- Episode. 5: “Do You Hear What I Hear?”
Alright, hang in there. This one’s wild. In the fifth episode, set around December of 1997, Monica is preparing for her new job in New York City. However, after a phone call with Bill Clinton, Lewinsky learns that she is on the witness list for the Paula Jones trial against Clinton. Clinton tells Lewinsky to get legal representation and to create an affidavit that says they never had an affair (side note: if you weren’t sure, an affidavit is basically just a written statement from somebody and has an oath to the truth— it’s the same level of oath as if the person who wrote it were testifying in a courtroom). So, Lewinsky technically committed perjury— lying under oath— a big no-no. Linda Tripp was also on the witness list for the Paula Jones case. Coincidence? Yep. Linda set it up with Lucianne Goldberg (remember her “literary agent”?) so that she and Monica would be subpoenaed so that Linda could blame her testimony of the Lewinsky-Clinton affair on testifying truthfully in court. But that’s not all. Tripp also decides to bring her tapes of her and Monica’s phone calls to her lawyer, but her lawyer tells her that under Maryland’s laws as a two-party consent state, it’s against the law to record someone without their consent— whoops! Linda is now freaking out that she’s going to get arrested, while Lucianne Goldberg leaks the information about the tapes to the prosecution team in the Paula Jones case. They then ask Linda Tripp to wear a wire and meet with Monica. This scene is honestly so intense; we know Linda is recording Monica, and they sit down for the most awkward, nail-biting meal I’ve ever seen.
- Episode 6: “Man Handled”
At the beginning of this episode, we are now back where we were right at the beginning of episode one— we see Monica in the mall being approached by FBI agents and Linda Tripp. They take Monica to a hotel room, where the prosecution team is waiting. The team tells Monica she is facing up to 28 years in prison for perjury, and they explain that she must tell them every detail of her and Clinton’s affair for immunity. This moment can’t go without explaining the shock when Monica found out Linda had been recording her and talking to the FBI under her nose all this time. It is such an intense moment, as we have seen their friendship get stronger and stronger, so we thought (so did Monica). It is also important to note how horribly Monica is treated by the prosecution team. They threaten her, yell at her, and make her feel like a hostage— they didn’t allow her to call her lawyer, saying that she can call any civil lawyer she wants, just not her lawyer. For nearly 11 hours the prosecution team hounded Lewinsky to testify against Clinton, but she didn’t. On the other hand, Clinton is preparing for his own testimony he must make the very next morning in the Paula Jones case. Things are getting rocky!
- Episode 7: “The Assassination of Monica Lewinsky”
In this episode we see Clinton’s testimony in the Paula Jones case and, you guessed it, he denies everything! He denies any assaults against Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, and denies the affair with Lewinsky. We also finally meet Hillary in this episode, as we see Bill tell her that this “rumor” is going around about him and Lewinsky, but that it’s not true. Lewinsky signs a deal with the prosecution team to testify in exchange for immunity, but after her own lawyer makes some snarky remarks on the news, the deal is cut off by the prosecution. We also get to see the repercussions Linda is facing for breaking the news— she’s perceived as a back-stabbing liar and a horrible person. It is very interesting to see her expectations of how her life would change after going public, and then to see the actual result, a very unpleasant one at that.
- Episode 8: “Stand by Your Man”
We also see some more of Hillary Clinton in this episode, as she appears on 60 Minutes with Bill to deny any claims of sexual harassment or affairs. Bill gets good press from this interview, while Hillary gets bad press. Monica remakes the deal with the prosecution team to testify in exchange for immunity, as she fired her old lawyer and got a new (better) one. Bill also reveals (some of) the truth to Hillary in this episode about his affair with Lewinsky, telling her that they had an inappropriate relationship, and that’s it. Hillary is extremely upset and refuses to speak to Bill.
- Episode 9: “The Grand Jury”
In this episode, we get to see both Monica and Linda testify to the grand jury. This basically meant that they sat in a big room full of people (people of the public who are serving as jurors) that determine whether the suspect should be charged with whatever the crime at hand is. Monica’s testimony is shown first, and we see the grand jury begin asking her demeaning, disrespectful questions left and right. At one point, they ask her about the day that the prosecution and Linda Tripp set her up. One of the prosecutors is in this room, with the grand jury, and Monica asks him to leave so she can describe how awfully they treated her. Queen! The grand jury seems to eventually feel bad for Monica; they can’t help but see a young girl who got exposed by some older, backstabbing friend for something that is nobody’s business. Then, we see Linda’s testimony. The grand jury is brutal to Linda, and they basically all see her as just a horrible human being. Meanwhile, Paula Jones is going through a rough patch, as she separates from her husband because of the harassment trial, and the prosecution team has enough evidence to charge Clinton for perjury and obstruction of justice.
- Episode 10: “The Wilderness”
This is the final episode of the season, and the Lewinsky-Clinton affair has taken the media by storm. The Starr Report is released, which is basically the prosecution team’s entire encapsulation of the affair— meaning that every detail Monica gave them, including details about each sexual encounter with Clinton— was made available online, to everybody. Yet another allegation of sexual assault against Clinton comes about when a woman named Juanita Broderick comes forward about Clinton raping her in the 1970s. In December of 1998 the House of Representatives voted to impeach Clinton on perjury to a grand jury and obstruction of justice, but the Senate acquitted him. The episode concludes with Monica creating a biography, and Linda Tripp still miserable, hated by nearly the entire nation.
Overall, I would give this season of American Crime Story a solid 9 out of 10. I was immediately roped into the whirlwind of drama and lies and all of the events that transpired, and there were so many moments that were just incredibly intense and entertaining. I also really liked how much this season made me think and analyze the people involved— I found Linda Tripp’s character the most interesting. I couldn’t tell if I loved her or hated her— one minute I was laughing at her dry, witty humor, and the next minute I was yelling at her through my television screen. The only reason I can’t give this season a full 10 out of 10 is that I feel like the anticipation of events slowed down right at the halfway mark. Up until episode five, there was so much suspense building up with so many different conflicts. However, I felt a bit unsatisfied after all the build-up that occurred in the first half, because I don’t think that the second half of the season lived up to what the first had set up for it.
Although this is a fictional account of a true story, I think that the anticipation of when things really boiled over could have been better executed. I was hoping for an extremely juicy, drama-filled finale, but it just felt like a conclusion. Sometimes I don’t mind when a show or movie has a concluding ending, because sometimes it’s nice to have closure on everything and to have things come to an end. However, with the progression of the show, I would have liked to see it build more and more and then truly explode in the final episode. That is quite literally the only critique I have of the show. The acting was incredible, not to mention I love anything directed by Ryan Murphy. The show was a great summarization of the entire scandal, and actually taught me a lot more about the situation that I didn’t know. I also really loved that the whole story was told from the viewpoint of all the women involved, because that isn’t what happened in real life, and it shows new, unique perspectives that are necessary to be heard. So, go ahead and give it a watch! Despite everything I’ve told you, there’s still so much more to see— so I’d definitely recommend giving it a watch.