Television

What’s Fact and What’s Fiction in the Impeachment Finale

Monica gets a book deal, and Linda gets indicted.

Monica Lewinsky outside in a dress and Feldstein sitting in a dim office
Monica Lewinsky and Beanie Feldstein as Monica Lewinsky in Impeachment: American Crime Story. Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Stephen Jaffe/AFP via Getty Images and Tina Thorpe/FX.

In the final installment of Impeachment: American Crime Story, what should be the climactic event of the story, President Bill Clinton’s impeachment by Congress (the Senate declined to convict), is almost a footnote. The focus of the episode returns to where the story started: the three women who had their lives derailed by the Paula Jones lawsuit and ensuing scandal. Monica Lewinsky has lost her job and career prospects and become the punchline to a national dirty joke, ruining her dream of finding a nice man to settle down and start a family with. Linda Tripp’s career is over and, far from being hailed as the heroic whistleblower she sees herself as, she is widely despised and subject to random hostility from strangers. Paula Jones’ marriage has fallen apart, she’s lost her job as an Arkansas state employee and has moved back in with her mother, and she’s struggling to pay her bills as her newfound conservative activist “friends” abandon her.

Monica Lewinsky’s Book Deal

Lewinsky tells her mother her book proposal has been turned down by several publishers but she has finally found one who wants to sign her and wants her to co-write it with Andrew Morton, author of the bestselling tell-all Diana: Her True Story. Lewinsky feels a book would help her pay for her lawyers and perhaps give her the opportunity to present her side of the story.

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It’s not entirely true that no publishers were interested in acquiring Lewinsky’s book. According to the New Yorker, the tabloid the Star offered her $1 million for the exclusive rights to her story, followed by an offer from HarperCollins editor Judith Regan for $2 million and another from an “undisclosed publisher” for $6 million, the second-highest advance in publishing history to an American author for a single book.

However, in a New York Post interview, Regan declared “no one’s ever gotten $10 million and Monica Lewinsky is not going to be the first” and denied offering $2 million herself, telling New York magazine she had withdrawn her offer based on the proposed content of the book. The idea that the book was not finding buyers gained currency in a Washington Post article that reported that five publishers had turned it down, with one saying “I’m as big a whore as anyone, but I’d rather die first. This whole situation is so unseemly, why make it worse?” The rights were ultimately bought by Morton’s publisher Michael O’Mara, who sold the U.S. rights to St. Martin’s for an undisclosed sum (Slate put it at $12 million). Lewinsky’s decision was based on more than just big numbers, at least according to Barbara Walters, who said, “Monica Lewinsky turned down a very large amount of money from Fox,” which had offered millions for an interview/book deal.

Kavanaugh’s Sexy Talk

Brett Kavanaugh, busy writing the final Starr report, wants to put in language like “he wanted to go down on her.” Other lawyers object, not because they mind the crudity but because they think Kavanaugh is exceeding his brief, which is to cover grounds for impeachment, and is taking over their job of writing the full narrative.

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Documents released by the National Archives in 1998 contained a memo from Kavanaugh in which he recommends hitting Clinton with questions about specific acts of oral sex and masturbation. “He should be forced to account for all of that and to defend his actions. It may not be our job to impose sanctions on him, but it is our job to make his pattern of revolting behavior clear—piece by painful piece,” he wrote. But according to colleagues and at least one other memo, Kavanaugh was uneasy about including sexual details in the final report’s legal argument for impeachment. Special counsel Kenneth Starr told CNN, “There was a lively discussion within the office of what should be included. Brett was a voice arguing in favor of less, rather than more, in terms of the specificity of detail.”

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The salacious element unsurprisingly overshadowed the constitutional arguments and may have hampered the report being taken seriously. In his book An Affair of State: The Investigation, Impeachment, and Trial of President Clinton, Richard Posner, a Reagan-appointed federal appeals judge, noted the details “are a distraction to anyone who wants to understand and evaluate Clinton’s Presidency or the role and function of the President in American government and society,” while University of Missouri law professor Douglas O. Linder observed that while doubtless some discussion of the sexual nature of the relationship between Clinton and Lewinsky was needed to establish that Clinton had lied in his deposition, the Starr report went far beyond what was necessary, with “sexual details of various encounters that suggest the Report also had as its purpose to embarrass Clinton and thus limit his effectiveness as President.”

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If the purpose of including the embarrassing details (so embarrassing that parents wondered whether the New York Times was suitable reading for their teenagers) was to dent Clinton’s prospects, it backfired. In November, two months after the report was released, Republicans became the first party without an incumbent president to lose House seats in a midterm election since 1934. A Gallup poll that same month showed Clinton’s job approval holding steady at 62 percent, while Starr had a 54 percent unfavorability rating and 58 percent disapproved of how he was handling the Clinton investigation.

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Tripp smiling with a takeout cup and Paulson seated at a table
Linda Tripp and Sarah Paulson as Linda Tripp. Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Tim Sloan/AFP via Getty Images and Tina Thorpe/FX.

Did Linda Tripp Face Charges?

Linda gets some bad news from her lawyer: The Maryland state prosecutor is preparing to charge her with illegally recording another person without their knowledge. Linda refers back to her immunity guarantee from Starr, but the lawyer says that covers federal charges only, not state, and Linda may go to trial, leading her to ask, “Why am I the villain here?”

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After a yearlong investigation, Maryland prosecutors did issue an indictment charging Tripp with violating Maryland wiretap laws in July 1999. If convicted, Tripp could have faced five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. However, the state prosecutor who conducted the investigation said even then that the immunity agreement could pose legal hurdles. In May 2000, Maryland dropped the charges after a judge ruled that some testimony by Lewinsky was not admissible, testimony that the state prosecutor felt was essential to obtaining a conviction.

This was the only criminal case brought against a major figure in the Lewinsky affair.

Jones walking and Ashford seated looking forlorn
Paula Jones and Annaleigh Ashford as Paula Jones. Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Vince Bucci/AFP via Getty Images and Tina Thorpe/FX.

Did Paula Join the Psychic Friends Network?

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Separated from her husband and unable to find a job once people find out who she is, Paula starts working for the Psychic Friends Network, an infomercial-based scheme that requires her to do psychic readings over the phone using a script, although she eventually has to quit because she’s getting so many prank calls.

This is true. As of 1996, the PFN, which provided a $3.99/minute 900 number that let Americans chat with “real psychics” on the phone, received some 10 million calls a month, bringing in profits of over $100 million a year. But the scheme wasn’t sustainable, and in February 1998, the PFN filed for Chapter 11.

In April 1999, Jones signed a deal with a different company to host a Paula Jones Celebrity Psychic Network for a 90-day trial, but later tried to find a way out of the contract after her mentor Susan Carpenter-McMillan told her “it’s about psychics and witches. I am opposed to it. I am disgusted by it.” This, however, may have been Jones’ way of saying she walked away instead of being pushed when the phones failed to ring after the service’s commercials aired in May 1999.

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