The following contains spoilers from Episode 8 of Impeachment: American Crime Story. Read our full coverage of the series here.
Impeachment finally got to grips with Hillary.
Episode 8 of the FX series focuses on a woman who played a central role in the impeachment saga – and in Bill Clinton’s life – but has been a ghostly presence on the series so far: Hillary Clinton. Have you heard of her?
With two of her best-known media appearances – a 1992 sit-down on “60 Minutes” that saved Bill from political oblivion in the New Hampshire area code, and a 1998 interview on “Today” that covered the conversation about Monica Lewinsky – Scandal Re-framed – “Stand by Your Man” examines Hillary’s intricate role as the devoted wife and staunch political ally of a man who has repeatedly been unfaithful to her.
Written by Flora Birnbaum, the episode begins during the 1992 Democratic primary when Bill Clinton’s insurgent search for the presidential nomination was nearly stalled by allegations that he had a 12-year affair with a former Arkansas state employee and singer named Gennifer Flowers . Clinton, who needed a first or second spot in New Hampshire to keep his campaign afloat, was in trouble.
That is, until Hillary came to his rescue in “60 Minutes”. In an interview that aired after the Super Bowl and was watched by an estimated 50 million viewers, Hillary defended her husband, quashed rumors of an affair and denied that their marriage was a politically favorable arrangement.
“I’m not sitting here like a little woman standing next to my husband like Tammy Wynette,” she said. “I sit here because I love and respect him, and I honor what he went through and what we went through together. And you know, if that’s not enough for people, then don’t vote for him. “
Clinton took a strong runner-up, earning him the nickname Comeback Kid for his seemingly superhuman political resilience. “It was really Hillary who saved him,” Clinton’s former rival Bob Kerrey later told the New York Times. (For his part, Bill finally admitted in a 1998 statement that he had sex with Flowers despite denying an ongoing affair.)
The story goes on
Hillary, meanwhile, had fallen into a role that was about to become known: cultural war focus. While her husband rallied in the polls, Hillary got into a public feud with Wynette, who was portrayed as an elitist career woman who failed to understand more traditional wives – a perception that was heightened a few weeks later when Hillary committed another infamous slip-up she said that she could have “stayed home and baked cookies and had tea” instead of working as a lawyer.
“Ms. Clinton, you have insulted every woman and man who loves this song – millions,” the singer wrote in an open letter with an apology. “I want you to join me on every forum, including networks , Cable or talk shows, perform and face me. I can assure you that despite your education, you will find me just as intelligent as you. “
Hillary apologized to Wynette – repeatedly – but the interview cemented her polarizing place in American life. Everyone had an opinion about her, even Richard Nixon, who told the New York Times, “If the woman is too strong and too intelligent, the husband looks like a wimp.”
The “60 Minutes” interview was typical of the impossible tightrope act Hillary had to perform throughout her tenure as first lady: she had to be supportive without looking like a weakling, strong without being too assertive. The interview also set a pattern that would shape much of her political life and save her husband’s image at the expense of her own reputation.
“It’s probably one of the greatest missed political opportunities of all time,” Richard Mintz, Hillary’s director of human resources during the campaign, told Politico in an excellent in-depth look at the fateful “60 Minutes” interview.
Hillary believed her husband (again) when he had an affair with Monica Lewinsky and defended him (again) on television.
As Clinton recounted in her 2003 memoir Living History and the 2003 documentary series Hillary, the President woke her early January 21, 1998, sat on the edge of the bed, and warned her about the stories he had just published had an affair with a former White House intern. He stubbornly denied the reports, saying that his attention to Lewinsky may have been misinterpreted.
Clinton accepted her husband’s explanation, which he also privately offered to friends and helpers. “To me, the Lewinsky Imbroglio seemed to be just another vicious scandal made by political opponents,” she wrote in “Living Memory”.
In the days following the Lewinsky revelations, the president’s legal department and his political aides fought over a reaction. “The First Lady was a leading advocate of an aggressive strategy attacking Starr,” reported the Washington Post, referring to Kenneth W. Starr, whose four-year investigation by an independent attorney resulted in President Clinton being ousted from the House of Representatives in 1998.
First, Bill Clinton used a routine White House education on education to deny the affair – the infamous “I Had No Sexual Relationship With This Woman” moment in episode 7, “The Assassination of Monica Lewinsky.”
A few days later, the first lady sat for an interview with Matt Lauer – oh, the irony – on NBC’s Today show, vigorously denying that her husband had an inappropriate affair, arguing that he was the victim of a politically motivated attack was his opponent.
“The great story here for anyone willing to find it and write and explain it is this huge right-wing conspiracy that has plotted against my husband since the day he was announced as a presidential candidate,” she said to the host. (Clinton also admitted that if the allegations prove true, “it would be a very serious crime.”)
“I thought it was part of the whole Starr investigation. I was absolutely convinced from my own experience … that this guy would make things up, ”said Clinton on“ Hillary ”. On the Hulu documentaries, Nancy Gertner, a classmate at Yale Law School, said she and most of her friends believed Bill Clinton was having an affair with Lewinsky because “it just didn’t seem far from the person we knew.” But Hillary refused at the time: “It would be as if a mask would come over her back then,” said Gertner.
Though Hillary Clinton instantly made the term “great right-wing conspiracy” famous, the concept arose in a comprehensive memo by political advisors Chris Lehane and Mark Fabiani outlining the ways in which conservative media had helped create dubious theories about death by Vince to spread Foster and the Whitewater Scandal. In her memoir, Clinton wrote, “I might have been more elaborate in formulating my point of view,” but she stuck to her characterization of Starr’s investigation despite the truth of the Lewinsky affair.
In 1998, Hillary’s “Today” interview was seen as an effective counterattack that helped create conversation pieces for his political allies.
But Bill came clean – at the last minute
Eventually Hillary learned the truth. On August 15, 1998, two days before he was due to testify to a grand jury, Bill Clinton woke his wife again and shared bad news with her, telling her for the first time that the situation was more serious than previously recognized.
“I could barely breathe,” recalled Hillary in Living History. “I gasped, started crying and yelled at him, ‘What do you mean? What are you saying? Why did you lie to me?'”
The revelation left her “stunned, heartbroken and indignant that I believed him at all,” she wrote, admitting that she “wanted to turn his neck”. Hillary also told Bill that he would have to confess to her daughter Chelsea before the news went public.
Days later, the first family went to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts for the summer vacation. On the way to Marine One, Chelsea walked between her parents and took their hands to show their support. But the weeks that followed were chilly, and Hillary seldom spoke to her husband. Her dog Buddy went with her on vacation and “was the only member of our family still willing” to spend time with the President, Clinton wrote in her memoir.
Clinton defended her husband throughout the impeachment process and ultimately decided that his behavior did not warrant impeachment. When it came to their marriage, the answer was less clear.
“I still had to decide whether I wanted to stay in the marriage, whether I thought it was worth saving. We saw a counselor, had painful, painful discussions, ”she said in Hillary.
Ironically, the public humiliation was good for Hillary’s image. Opinion polls showed that the American public approved of their behavior during the scandal. At a time when her husband was toxic, she served as a valuable substitute for the 1998 midterms, resulting in wins for the Democrats – a rarity for the White House party.
The ordeal also seems to have inspired Hillary to run for office herself, something she had denied interest in – partly because she was more interested in politics than campaigning, according to Carl Bernstein’s biography “A Woman in Charge” .
The day the Senate voted for President Clinton’s impeachment acquittal, Hillary was in a study near her office, looking at New York state maps, and campaigning. “There was something particularly defiant choosing this moment to seriously begin her decision-making,” wrote Bernstein, but she was determined to deliver on “part of the promise of her trip” to the White House.
“She told me afterward it was the first time in 53 years that I had spoken in my own voice as my own political person,” said Gail Sheehy, author of Hillary’s Choice, in a PBS “Frontline” special about the 2016 elections.
As we all now know, this historic presidential campaign has been haunted by decades of indiscretions from her husband. Many have argued that it was Hillary Clinton, not Bill, who paid the price for these missteps used as a weapon against her – never more briskly than when Donald Trump invited Bill Clinton’s accuser to a debate in October 2016 to draw attention to distract from the “Access” debate Hollywood “band. Clinton’s decision to stay in her marriage “haunts her in ways she will never get out of,” Jennifer Palmieri, communications director for the 2016 campaign, told Hillary.
In an interview with the Times last year, Clinton pondered this chapter in her life. “The whole impeachment saga and the terrible pain in our family and all of that was, as always, hard to even think about,” she said. “Feeling positive about the decisions I’ve made in my life, even the most difficult ones, doesn’t make it any easier … I’m happy to be on the other side all these years later. ”
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.