What Impeachment: American Crime Story Got Right About The Clinton Scandal

For a few months in the 1990s, the news headlines were dominated by the Bill Clinton impeachment scandal. Not only was it only the second time in U.S. history that a president had been impeached, but the reason for the constitutional process was more attention-grabbing than any sort of political or legislative chicanery. Rather, at the center of it all was a sex scandal. The entire debacle provided plenty of salacious angles for the public to consume, including the narrative of a powerful older man being involved with a subordinate female, and a colorful cast of characters that came in and out of the story at various times.

In 2021, the FX network revisited this time in American history, dramatizing the events for the third season of "American Crime Story." While the show is based on actual events, filmmakers often take liberties with the facts in order to present a more compelling narrative via the medium of TV. However, the show got quite a bit of the story right, as well.

The relationship between Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton

Putting aside, for the moment, the optics of a powerful man and a subordinate woman having a sexual relationship (in particular when the man was married), it seems that Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky weren't just doing sex acts with each other, they genuinely liked each other, as portrayed in the show. 

As Slate reported, the show depicts Lewinsky as trying to get her boss' attention via flashing her thong at him. According to Lewinsky, she told the production team about the incident, and she wanted it included in the show. Similarly, their affection was real, as presented in the show. "We would tell jokes. We would talk about our childhoods. Talk about current events ... there was a lot of hugging, holding hands sometimes. He always used to push the hair out of my face," she said. Clinton, for his part, also admitted later that there was more to his and Lewinsky's relationship than just sex acts, and that it included a genuine fondness for her, calling her a "good young woman with a good heart and a good mind."

Bill and Hillary's marriage was genuinely rocked

Before delving too deeply into this topic, it bears noting that the only two people who know the truth about what went on, and still goes on, in Hillary and Bill Clinton's marriage are Hillary and Bill Clinton. Nevertheless, "Impeachment: American Crime Story" portrays the couple's marriage as genuinely loving, although obviously severely damaged by Bill's affair. Specifically, in the show, the couple has a huge fight, and then retreats to a tense vacation on Martha's Vineyard.

Hillary, for her part, has admitted that she was angry and betrayed when she learned the truth of her husband's infidelity. As The Sydney Morning Herald reported, after insisting that her husband was a victim of lies, he was later forced to admit the truth to her. "Gulping for air, I started crying and yelling at him: 'What do you mean? Why did you lie to me?'" she later wrote of the event in her book. She also noted that, though she stayed married to him, it was one of the hardest decisions she ever made.

Linda Tripp was allegedly motivated by revenge

On the subject of betrayal, "Impeachment: American Crime Story" portrays Monica Lewinsky as by some measures having been betrayed by her friend, Linda Tripp. Specifically, the younger woman was distraught about having fallen for a man decades her senior, whom she could never have, and called her friend, wanting a shoulder to cry on. Tripp, meanwhile, was recording the conversations, with a view toward getting something out of it. 

Obviously, that happened, and is part of the historical record, as ABC News noted. But what motivated Tripp? Revenge? A book deal? Possibly both, as it turns out. Per The Washington Post, she recorded the conversations on the advice of her literary agent. According to The Independent, she was purportedly also salty about having been demoted and wanted revenge. Further, she was genuinely upset about Clinton having used his position as a powerful man to possibly take advantage of a young woman. "I was so angry at him [Clinton]. I wanted this relationship exposed in the biggest way because it was so cruel. It was beyond cruel what he was doing to her," Tripp said in 2020, via ABC News.