The Atlantic Politics Daily: The Last Time a White House Faced Impeachment

“I remember telling Clinton at one point, ‘The Republicans are never going to remove you from office; it’s the Democrats who can.’” Plus: An interview with the Afghan National Security Adviser.

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Today in Politics


A scandal-plagued president facing impeachment. A besieged administration. An angry public. I’m talking, of course, about the Clinton administration.

Two decades before President Donald Trump was put through the impeachment-inquiry wringer, the Monica Lewinsky scandal threw dynamite at the Clinton presidency. What followed was a drawn out political fight, public airing of the president’s dirty laundry, and endless awkward attempts to explain the ordeal to American children.

President Trump’s counter-impeachment strategy is playing out in plain view, my colleague David Frum argues—his administration doesn’t seem to really have one. While Bill Clinton tried to win over Americans who didn’t approve of him, Trump appears to be leaning on his base again, with Twitter tirades targeting just about everyone.

So how did Clinton’s team handle impeachment, such that he emerged at the end of it without being removed from office, and with higher poll numbers?

We have two retrospective pieces that give the full picture of what went down:

David Graham and Cullen Murphy’s interviewed people close to the Clinton impeachment.

And Todd Purdum interviewed former Clinton staffers on how the beleaguered machinery of the White House managed to keep the administration going.

A few recollections, from Clinton staffers themselves:

Doug Sosnick, Clinton’s senior adviser: “I remember telling Clinton at one point, ‘The Republicans are never going to remove you from office; it’s the Democrats who can.’ Jihad against the enemy is kind of the easy part. The hard part is managing your friends.”

Mark Penn, Clinton’s pollster: “If you can keep it operating, if you can make decisions and prove to people that you can supply the product or function, then even if you’re guilty on some of it, it’s okay.”

Julian Epstein, chief Democratic counsel for the House Judiciary Committee: “All this stuff about cigars and all the other gratuitous sexual things were absurd. The foolishness of Starr and the Republicans not to see how the sexual material in the report would backfire was just jaw-dropping to us.”

—Saahil Desai

What Else We’re Watching

(Eduardo Munoz / Reuters)

The future of peace negotiations in Afghanistan is troubled. After a year of failed U.S.-led negotiations with the Taliban, the Afghan National Security Adviser says he wants his government to handle a new peace deal, a process that might be complicated by an election year. Kathy Gilsinan spoke with Hamdullah Mohib, shortly after his United Nations speech last week.

Congress to Court: If the White House tries to stonewall House committees now, Congress should go to court, Garrett Epps argues: “A president, his congressional opponents, foreign leaders, and the U.S. Supreme Court first tangled over executive privilege toward the end of George Washington’s first term. They are almost certainly headed for a collision again in 2019.”


(Mike Blake / Reuters)

America’s first cannabis cafe opened in West Hollywood, California, today.

Featured Read


While the number of kid-focused publications covering politics has dwindled since the Clinton-impeachment era, existing ones must still embark on journalistic endeavors that require a bit of finessing.

When [Andrea] Delbanco and a few of Time for Kids’ other high-level editors gathered to write the piece, they debated how much detail to include about the allegations of wrongdoing against Joe Biden and his son. In their discussions, they also nixed an infographic format that would have framed the impeachment as a sort of flowchart or choose-your-own-adventure scenario. (“Too many confusing possibilities,” Delbanco said.)

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About us: The Atlantic’s politics newsletter is a daily effort from our politics desk. It’s written by our associate politics editor, Saahil Desai, and our politics fellow, Christian Paz. It’s edited by Shan Wang.

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