“We did compartmentalize,” Sosnik recalls. “Senior staff at 8 a.m. was almost like a Potemkin village, with no discussion of impeachment. It was all about the functioning of government. If you just went to that meeting and nothing else, you wouldn’t know there was anything going on.” At the same time, Sosnik says, “it’s hovering. It’s like this weight. If you’re in the middle of dealing with this stuff, then it’s an unbelievable load and burden and never leaves you. It’s like having a chronically ill family member.”
Indeed, in at least one especially fraught moment during the scandal, three of his colleagues recalled, Bowles simply threw up.
Greg Craig, a longtime friend of the Clintons and a veteran Washington lawyer, was brought into the White House to help coordinate the work of the impeachment team. “Everything that happened went through the prism of impeachment,” he remembers, even as the president was conducting diplomacy between Israel and the Palestinian Authority at Wye River, Maryland, in October 1998. “Everything that happened—all the planning, all the thinking—had to go through the prism of impeachment.”
Jennifer Palmieri, then one of Lockhart’s press deputies, recalls a particularly grim moment in December 1998 as she sat with Susan Brophy, the White House’s internal lobbyist with the House of Representatives, learning one by one of the defection of the handful of Democrats who had decided to vote for articles of impeachment on the floor. “It just felt like it was all crumbling,” Palmieri remembers. “I would call and give the news to Joe, who was on Air Force One with the president on a trip home from Israel. One time I called him, and he’s like, ‘Did we lose Gephardt?’”—meaning the House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt.
Brophy has a similar memory of that time, only her bad news was the slipping away of moderate House Republicans who Clinton had hoped would stand by him, such as then-Representative Jack Quinn of Buffalo, New York. “Clinton was in Israel, and Sosnik called me and I started to give him the rundown, and he said, ‘I’m going to hand the phone to the president,’ and I told him, ‘Mr. President, we lost Jack Quinn.’ He knew what that meant.” (Quinn, whose district was the most heavily Democratic of any Republican congressional district in the nation, had grown personally close to Clinton over Ireland and other issues, and his decision to vote for impeachment emboldened other GOP moderates to follow suit.)
Perhaps the single most dangerous day for Clinton was Saturday, December 19, 1998, when the full House voted to impeach him. On the same day, the incoming Republican speaker, Bob Livingston of Louisiana, acknowledged an extramarital affair and resigned, challenging Clinton to do the same. Later that afternoon, congressional Democrats trooped to a pep rally on the White House lawn, where Clinton vowed to stay on the job. Still later that evening, the president returned to the lectern and summoned the press to announce the cessation of air strikes on Iraq—Clinton had ordered them days earlier as punishment for Saddam Hussein’s refusal to allow United Nations weapons inspectors to do their work—prompting some Republican critics to accuse him of a “wag the dog” diversion.