This is a transcript of Episode 8 of Season 2 of Slow Burn. Listen in the player below, or subscribe here.
A note to our listeners: This episode contains descriptions of sexual assault in the first 15 minutes and in the last 10.
Ken Starr sent his report to Congress on Sept. 9, 1998. More than four years had passed since the start of his investigation into the Clintons.
REPORTER: The Office of Independent Counsel submitted a referral to the House of Representatives, containing substantial and credible information that may constitute grounds for impeachment of the president of the United States.
Along with the report itself, Starr sent over 36 boxes of raw investigative material—one set of 18 boxes for the Democrats and another set of 18 for the Republicans.
REPORTER: Two copies of each piece of evidence.
TOM BROKAW: Hundreds of pages that are the culmination of four years of a controversial investigation by the independent counsel.
The boxes were filled with grand jury testimony, transcripts of closed-door interviews, and internal memos prepared by prosecutors. They were transported in a pair of white vans to the House of Representatives, where they were locked in a room in the Ford Office Building.
For now, the boxes would only be accessible to the House Judiciary Committee, the 37-member body that would decide whether to propose articles of impeachment to the full House.
SPEAKER: The Office of Independent Counsel is not going to make any public statement about the contents of the referral. We will not be discussing it publicly.
The following weekend, a lawyer named Abbe Lowell would begin going through the material page by page. Lowell had been waiting for this moment since the spring, when he’d been recruited by the congressional Democrats, led by Dick Gephardt in the House and Tom Daschle in the Senate, just in case impeachment became a real threat.
ABBE LOWELL: And it was Dick Gephardt who said to me that he and Tom Daschle understood me and the staff were going to get access to the material in a few hours. He understood we would be working through the weekend and he was hoping we would be able to come and have a meeting that next Monday with him and them, and basically tell them whether or not we as a collective thought the president of the United States had committed an impeachable offense. And I remember him saying words to the effect that if we came to that conclusion, and they agreed with it, I needed to remember that it would be he and Tom who walked up Pennsylvania Avenue and told the president that he had to resign.
And so, Lowell sprang into action. When we spoke earlier this year, he described his team’s exploration of the evidence as an earnest effort—a hunt for relevant facts combined with a good faith analysis of the law and the Constitution.
ABBE LOWELL: People think that from second one, the Democrats in Congress were aligned with the president—and that’s not true.
Lowell spent 48 nearly sleepless hours reading, sorting, and taking notes on Ken Starr’s evidence. At the end of this marathon session, he reached a firm conclusion.
ABBE LOWELL: That first, the president of the United States committed conduct that was not anywhere close to what we expect a president of the United States to do. But I did not see his conduct as violating with proof beyond reasonable doubt any of the criminal statutes that address the issue of obstruction or perjury. And I did not see an abuse of power that would have risen to an impeachable offense. And I’d like to think that I would have come to those conclusions no matter what side hired me. But it’s easy to say 20 years later. I just think that’s the case.
Lowell, who now represents Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in matters related to the Mueller investigation, informed Gephardt of his analysis. After hearing it, the House minority leader prepared for battle. If the Republicans wanted Clinton out of office, they were going to have to fight for it.
Here’s Gephardt warning against a drawn-out impeachment process about a month after the Starr Report landed.
DICK GEPHARDT: If we stay here for three, six, nine, 12 months, two years in suspended animation, while we go over every charge that’s out there, we will hurt our country and our people and our children.
What Gephardt didn’t know was that buried deep within the thousands of pages that Ken Starr had sent to Congress was a reference to something explosive: an interview, conducted by the FBI, with a woman who claimed that Bill Clinton had sexually assaulted her.
This allegation did not appear anywhere in the Starr Report. It only came up in an appendix, where it was cited in a footnote attached to a parenthetical. The woman was identified only as Jane Doe No. 5.
ABBE LOWELL: We obviously found it at some point, but I can’t honestly remember whether it was that weekend or not. My instinct was it’s not; my instinct was that that first bit of time was really focused around the referral about which it was made and the mainstream issues that they addressed.
Since Starr himself had concluded that this accusation was not relevant to the case for impeachment, Lowell figured his time was better spent on other material.
ABBE LOWELL: Obviously, one pours through the deposition and grand jury transcript of President Clinton. One pores through the interview memoranda of Monica Lewinsky, and one pores through the documents that were being exchanged about her getting a job. There was neither time, staff, inclination, or a view that we needed to get much beyond that in that beginning of time.
Months later, Jane Doe No. 5’s allegation would become a tremor rumbling beneath Congress and the White House, as Republicans and Democrats learned her story and even her name: Juanita Broaddrick.
How did politicians, journalists, and regular people process Broaddrick’s claim that the president was not just an adulterer but a violent criminal? How did it become part of the impeachment process? And what does it mean that Broaddrick’s story has never really become a part of Bill Clinton’s?
This is the season finale of Slow Burn. I’m your host Leon Neyfakh.
LISA ADAMS: All our reporting found things that tended to support her story, not undermine it.
SPEAKER: Someone is going to get this woman on the record saying what this president did to her years ago.
PETER BAKER: How do you look at the person who’s your president of the United States and think that he’s capable of something like that?
Episode 8: Move On.
JUANITA BROADDRICK: I have a dear friend. Her name is Susan Lewis. And about a week after the rape, she called me and she says, “I need to talk to you, it’s real important. Can we meet down in the city park?”
This is Juanita Broaddrick. In April of 1978, she was 35 years old. She operated a nursing home in the tiny city of Van Buren, Arkansas. Susan Lewis was a close friend; Broaddrick was her kids’ godmother.
JUANITA BROADDRICK: So we both went in our cars to the city park and she started saying, “There’s some really bad rumors going around.” And I thought, oh my god she knows what happened with Bill Clinton. And so I just started talking about it, I said, “It was horrific.” And she said, “What are you talking about?”
It turned out that Lewis did not know anything about what happened with Bill Clinton. She’d heard a completely unrelated rumor that Broaddrick was cheating on her husband. That happened to be true—but as Broaddrick told Lewis in the car that day, the affair was the last thing on her mind. Broaddrick told her friend that one week earlier, Clinton had violently raped her in a hotel room.
What follows is Broaddrick’s story, as she recounted it to me in an interview and in her 2017 memoir. It’s important to note upfront that Clinton has consistently denied Broaddrick’s allegations.
Broaddrick had met Clinton while he was running for governor of Arkansas. At the time, he was 31 years old and Broaddrick had recently started volunteering for his campaign.
JUANITA BROADDRICK: I would leave my nursing home after my office hours and I would pick up my son and we would go around—he was 8 years old at the time—and we would go around and put up yard signs. About three weeks after I began to volunteer, the state office called and asked if Bill Clinton could come by my nursing home, meet the residents, meet the families on a campaign tour and we were so excited. I mean, I’d seen these commercials on TV. I thought he was absolutely going to be the best thing in the world for Arkansas.
When Clinton visited Broaddrick’s nursing home in Van Buren, she seized the opportunity and approached him. Her purpose wasn’t social—what Broaddrick wanted was to tell Clinton that the state wasn’t providing enough money for elder care.
JUANITA BROADDRICK: We were struggling in 1978. I mean, we were struggling tremendously. So I started to go into this, and he sort of stopped me and he said, “Are you ever in Little Rock?” I said, “Yes, I’ll be there in three weeks.” And he said, “Well, call my campaign office when you get there and we’ll sit down and talk about this.” And I was so excited. I worked for probably two or three days on graphs and information, gathering what all was needed, what it cost me to care for one patient versus what the state reimbursement was on Medicaid.
Broaddrick and a colleague, Norma Rogers, had plans to go to Little Rock for a conference of the Arkansas State Nursing Home Association. On April 24, 1978, they checked into the Camelot Hotel, and early the next morning, Broaddrick called Clinton’s campaign office. A woman there gave Broaddrick a number for Clinton, and said that he was expecting her call. Sure enough, when Broaddrick dialed the number, Clinton picked up. She proposed they meet at his campaign headquarters during her lunch hour. But Clinton said he preferred to see her right away.
JUANITA BROADDRICK: He said, “Why don’t I just come to your hotel now?” This is about 8 or 8:30 in the morning, and I said, “Oh that will be great.” He said, “Good, I’ll meet you down in the Camelot coffee shop and I’ll call you when I get there.”
While Norma Rogers went to check out a seminar at the nursing home conference, Broaddrick stayed in the hotel room and waited for Clinton to call.
JUANITA BROADDRICK: Finally the phone rings and it’s him. And he said, “You know, it’s so crowded down here and there’s also some reporters.” He said, “Could we just talk about this in your room?” Well I immediately said yes—I mean I wasn’t frightened. I’d never been alone in a hotel room with any man that I didn’t know before, but I mean, you’re talking about the attorney general of the state of Arkansas.
After about 20 minutes, Broaddrick heard someone knocking.
JUANITA BROADDRICK: I opened the door and there stands Bill Clinton with these dark sunglasses on. And I can remember back thinking, my God, what’s he doing standing in the hallway with sunglasses on? And he just comes right in and walks over to the table where the coffee was and takes off his suit coat and lays it over the chair. So I walk over and I start pouring coffee. And as I’m starting to pour the coffee, he says, “Come over here a minute. I want to show you this building down here.”
Broaddrick walked over to Clinton to see what he was talking about. Clinton then put his arm around her, pointed at the building, and said that it was an old jailhouse that he wanted to restore when he became governor.
JUANITA BROADDRICK: And I think, OK that’s interesting. And I start to go back around to the other side, of course removed his arm from my shoulder. And that’s when he grabs me and that’s when things turned really bad.
According to Broaddrick, Clinton started kissing her, and when she pulled away and told him she was married, he continued. Broaddrick remembered resisting as Clinton pushed her onto the hotel-room bed. When she yelled out, he bit her, hard, on the upper lip, and then he forced himself on her. Broaddrick writes in her memoir that after a few minutes, it ended—then, 10 or 15 seconds later, Clinton mumbled, “I’m going to do it again” and resumed.
Afterwards, Broaddrick remembers, Clinton put on his sunglasses and told her that she should put some ice on her lip. Then he walked out the door.
JUANITA BROADDRICK: When Norma came back to the room and found me within 45 minutes after the rape and after he had left the room, you know, I told her all about this. And we both agreed at the time, I did not want to share it.
Norma Rogers is one of five people who say they talked to Broaddrick about the alleged assault in the days and weeks after it happened. Susan Lewis, the friend Broaddrick spoke to in her car, is another. But Broaddrick never reported her allegation to law enforcement, or tried to tell the press about it.
JUANITA BROADDRICK: I was ashamed. I was ashamed, and at the time I thought it was my fault. I accepted that blame that I was stupid. I just didn’t—I was embarrassed. I didn’t want anyone to know.
Broaddrick says she doesn’t know how exactly the story got out. But in 1992, a local businessman, allied with an old Clinton rival, tried unsuccessfully to convince Broaddrick to go public. As Clinton entered national politics, the rumor spread and reporters from around the country started calling. But Broaddrick always rebuffed them, and for years, she managed to keep her name out of the media.
Then, an Arkansas state worker named Paula Jones filed a sexual harassment suit alleging that Clinton had exposed himself to her in a Little Rock hotel room. Broaddrick believed Jones right away.
JUANITA BROADDRICK: When I heard about it, I thought that’s a lucky girl. You know, she’s a lucky woman that something worse didn’t happen to her.
On Nov. 13, 1997, a pair of private investigators called on Broaddrick at her home in Van Buren. Rick and Beverly Lambert were a husband and wife duo from Dallas. They’d been hired by Paula Jones’ lawyers for a very specific purpose: to find women who could help establish Bill Clinton’s pattern of inappropriate sexual behavior. When the Lamberts stepped onto Broaddrick’s front porch, she told them that she was not interested in talking.
JUANITA BROADDRICK: I said, “I’m not coming forward. I’ve been quiet for this length of time, and there’s no way you’re going to get me to come forward at all.”
For all of Broaddrick’s resolve to stay silent, she did not deny that something had happened to her. When the Lamberts asked why she didn’t want to be interviewed, Broaddrick replied, “It’s just that it was a long time ago and I don’t want to relive it.”
The Lamberts, who, incidentally, are the parents of Grammy-winning country singer Miranda Lambert, applied some polite pressure. They warned Broaddrick that the lawyers they were working for would probably serve her with a subpoena whether she liked it or not. They assured her that the lawyers meant well, and were pursuing the case for the right reasons. Rick Lambert said, “All of the attorneys we are working for are good strong Christian men.”
If you’re wondering how I know exactly who said what during this conversation, it’s because the Lamberts secretly recorded it, and later, a transcript was leaked to reporters. The conversation ended with Broaddrick referring the Lamberts to her lawyer. Rick Lambert responded by asking if the lawyer was a Democrat or a Republican. When Broaddrick said Republican, Lambert said, “Good.”
JUANITA BROADDRICK: And then it was just a few weeks before I got the letter that I was going to be subpoenaed as Jane Doe No. 5 in the Paula Jones suit. I told my son, who was an attorney by that time, I said, “I’m not going to go.” He said, “Mom, you have to go. You’re subpoenaed.” And I said OK. I said, “Well I’m not going to tell them what happened. There’s no way.” I was so upset, and I did not want to talk about it. I just wanted to forget it. How they could subpoena me for their own good? I mean just for their own case? I was mad. And that’s why I said, no, nothing happened.
On Jan. 2, 1998, Broaddrick submitted a sworn statement denying that Bill Clinton had ever raped her. “These allegations are untrue,” the statement said. “I had hoped they would no longer haunt me or cause further disruption to my family.”
A few months later, with the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal in full swing, the Paula Jones lawyers did something extraordinary: They went to a 24-hour drop box in front of the federal courthouse in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and submitted a legal filing indicating there was “significant evidence” that Clinton had “forcibly raped and sexually assaulted” Juanita Broaddrick in 1978. Nowhere in the filing did the Jones lawyers mention that Broaddrick had said in a sworn statement that the rape never occurred. But they did accuse Clinton of bribing and intimidating her to remain silent—something Broaddrick never claimed.
Broaddrick was just one of several women mentioned in the Paula Jones filing—but hers was by far the most alarming story of the lot. Journalists started looking into it, as the Jones lawyers had surely hoped they would.
REPORTER: Now to a new allegation against the president by lawyers representing Paula Jones in her sexual harassment suit. They claim to have found a woman who was sexually assaulted by Bill Clinton back in the 1970s.
Broaddrick’s name had circulated among reporters and anti-Clinton activists for years. Now that it had appeared in an official court filing, it was fair game for the press to air her allegation.
REPORTER: It involves an alleged encounter at this Little Rock hotel in the late 1970s, between then–Attorney General Bill Clinton and a campaign worker, Juanita Broaddrick. In court documents today, Jones’s lawyers claim …
Bob Bennett, the president’s personal lawyer, called the Jones lawyers’ allegation reckless and outrageous.
REPORTER: Bennett wrote late today that it was an act of desperation for the Jones team.
REPORTER: The White House also noted that Broaddrick herself already denied the allegation under oath. Tonight, Broaddrick had no comment.
Peter Baker, who was covering the Clinton White House for the Washington Post, did not know what to think.
PETER BAKER: We were left trying to figure out, what do you do about this? She denied it in those papers. Do we publish something about it? Do we mention it? So what I wrote that night in a journal was …
Here’s Baker reading aloud from a journal entry dated March 28, 1998.
PETER BAKER: What to do? Do we print a seemingly wild story alleging that the president of the United States raped a woman two decades ago? Or do we ignore it and cover up an important, albeit hard-to-fathom, development in the most important lawsuit in the country?
Baker and his colleague Lois Romano tried calling Broaddrick, but she refused to comment.
PETER BAKER: It was a sensational, extraordinary allegation and not the kind of thing you put in the paper very easily. It seems almost quaint today, because almost anything seems to be a subject of public discussion, but at the time the idea that you would air a rape allegation against a sitting president of the United States was so beyond imagination that as a journalist you were like, oh my gosh. Well how on Earth could we come up with enough that would feel that we had a story that we could publish and that would be fair and reasonable and truthful and accurate and all those things?
The most obvious red flag about the Broaddrick story was that she herself had said under oath that the rape allegation wasn’t true. But when Baker reached out to Norma Rogers, the colleague who had accompanied Broaddrick to Little Rock for the nursing conference, he heard something very different.
PETER BAKER: I tracked this woman down in Oklahoma where she was living, and she seemed surprised when I told her that Juanita Broaddrick had denied it in the affidavit. She said that basically she felt now she had been put in the middle and she didn’t want to be forced testify. She didn’t want to conflict with Juanita. But what she had recalled was obviously different than this affidavit. And her conversation to me made very clear that she was an after-the-fact witness to this event, that she had been told by Juanita Broaddrick 20 years earlier. And in my journal that night, I wrote the words My God. Exclamation point. I mean it was just, how do you look at the person who’s your president of the United States and think that he’s capable of something like that?
Baker and other reporters tried to confirm whatever they could, but without Broaddrick’s cooperation, the story quickly fizzled out. In the meantime, Ken Starr’s office had approached Broaddrick as a potential witness in the independent counsel’s investigation.
JUANITA BROADDRICK: My son said, “Mom, you’re going to have to tell them the truth.” I had told my son about it when he was about 19 and he knew everything. And he said, “Mom.” He said, “The Paula Jones lawsuit was a civil lawsuit.” He said, “This is so much more serious.” And he said, “You’ve got to go tell the truth.”
FBI agents working on behalf of the independent counsel’s office conducted an interview with Juanita Broaddrick on April 8, 1998. Through her attorney, Broaddrick made a deal with the Starr team that would protect her from being charged with perjury. Then, she told the agents that she had lied in her Paula Jones affidavit. The truth, she said, was that Bill Clinton had raped her.
JUANITA BROADDRICK: I did finally start to tell the truth. And so I did finish. I told everything and then I left.
After the interview, Starr and his team had a decision to make: Did Juanita Broaddrick’s story fall within the independent counsel’s jurisdiction? An allegation of rape, on its own, was outside the scope of the investigation: What Starr had been looking into was perjury, witness tampering, and obstruction of justice. That had been the common ground between the Whitewater probe and the Monica Lewinsky matter: In both situations, Starr suspected Clinton and his associates of lying under oath and pressuring others to lie under oath for them.
JUANITA BROADDRICK: And what they were wanting from me was to find if there was if I had been bought off by the Clinton people. Had I received any money and had I received any threats from the Clintons? And there was nothing, you know. There was no obstruction of justice. I had stayed quiet because that’s what I wanted to do.
Since Juanita Broaddrick wasn’t accusing anyone of pressuring her to lie, her story didn’t fit into the case Starr’s prosecutors were building against the president. So, they decided not to pursue it.
It was about five months later that Starr delivered his impeachment referral to Congress. Records of Broaddrick’s FBI interview were tucked away in those twin sets of 18 boxes that Starr had shared with the House Judiciary Committee. As Republicans on the committee laid the ground work for impeachment, those records remained under seal.
Then, one day in December, a Republican congressman showed up at the Ford Office Building and signed in. He had been told there was something he needed to see.
Congressman Christopher Shays was a moderate Republican from a swing district in Connecticut. He had voted with Bill Clinton on the assault weapons ban and he had worked with him to balance the budget.
CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: I had a pretty good relationship with the Democratic president, Bill Clinton, because he was kind of drawn into the middle and that’s where I was happy to find him.
The congressional district Shays represented was split down the middle on whether Clinton should be impeached. And though Shays was leaning toward no, he was sincerely conflicted about which side was right. All through the summer and fall of 1998, Shays maintained a stance of quiet ambivalence.
CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: Controversy is the enemy of the incumbent. You don’t jump up and down to be involved in controversial issues where half your constituents feel one way and half of your constituents feel the other way.
Shays was forced to find clarity in December, when after months of negotiations, the House Judiciary Committee voted to formally propose four articles of impeachment against Bill Clinton: one for perjuring himself in the Jones lawsuit, one for perjuring himself in front of Starr’s grand jury, one for obstructing justice by asking Monica Lewinsky to lie under oath, and one for abusing his power by failing to respond to questions from Congress during the impeachment inquiry.
The full House would soon have to vote yes or no on each of these articles of impeachment. As the day of the vote approached, Shays became more resolved in his opposition to impeachment.
CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: The basic premise was that the president lied. And I thought, my God, every president lies. Every president has said something they wouldn’t do that they ultimately did. And so I just felt like if impeachment was based on lying, then every president could be impeached.
What was interesting about the stance Shays was taking was that he had previously called on Clinton to resign.
CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: He should have resigned. The question is: Should I as an elected official override the election of the American people? And I said no. I didn’t think there was any inconsistency. I felt it was very logical the president did something so terrible, he should have resigned. He should have allowed the country to move on, and he didn’t do it. We were stuck with two years of a mess. Now I blame Republicans for, once they got into this impeachment thing, they just didn’t know how to get out.
Plenty of other House Republicans thought impeachment was the wrong move. That included members in leadership roles, like Bob Livingston from Louisiana, who had been tapped to replace Newt Gingrich as speaker of the House after the Republicans’ disastrous showing in the November midterms.
Given the election results, and the fact that most Americans opposed impeachment, Livingston was not enthusiastic about trying to remove the president from office. But the hard-liners in the House were not about to put down their weapons.
As the impeachment vote neared, those hard-liners did their best to bring the wavering moderates over to their side. Their ace in the hole was the Juanita Broaddrick file.
CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: They were saying, Chris you need to see this. And I think they were influenced by it themselves. I think they thought this is true and he shouldn’t be president even if it’s not part of the articles of impeachment.
The next day, Shays went to the Ford Office Building to look at the file for himself. As he went through it, he was horrified.
CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: I just found the description obscene. He was being accused of raping this woman and biting her lip so she couldn’t resist as he raped her and then doing it again.
Shays was introduced to an investigator who had been sent to Arkansas by the House Republicans to speak with Broaddrick.
CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: I just remember listening to this woman point-by-point describe what had happened and totally convinced that it was true. And I didn’t feel that she had a bias against the president or that she had a hidden agenda. I felt she was just a professional female. Listening to this Ms. Broaddrick tell her story and being totally convinced.
While Shays processed this new information, the impeachment hard-liners continued to press their case. At a closed-door meeting of the entire Republican conference on the night of Dec. 16, one of them gave a fiery speech in which he told his colleagues that if they were undecided on impeachment, they had an obligation to themselves and to their country to go to the Ford Office Building and look at the secret evidence. Over the next three days, more than 40 Republicans did just that.
PETER BAKER: You began to see a pilgrimage particularly among House Republicans down to the Ford Office Building, sign into this sealed room to read this file.
Here’s journalist Peter Baker again.
PETER BAKER: And they didn’t know what to make of it. I mean, it was a horrific allegation but one that had no definitive proof and probably couldn’t be proved. How would you prove 20 years later this without any kind of physical evidence?
Some Democrats on the Judiciary Committee were incensed at their colleagues for circulating Broaddrick’s story. Among them was Barney Frank of Massachusetts, who felt that the Republicans were trotting Broaddrick out as a last-ditch effort at taking down the president.
BARNEY FRANK: Our anger was, you’ve been trying like hell to nail the guy. You have been unable to name him on any of the things you were supposed to look at. You get a Monica Lewinsky but even you now realize that’s not good enough. So now you’re trying to bring in other stuff. And it was in that context that we were so furious that they went to Broaddrick.
According to this line of thinking Broaddrick’s credibility was beside the point—the Republicans were reaching for something that was outside the parameters of the impeachment inquiry. That was the issue Christopher Shays kept coming back to. Shays believed Juanita Broaddrick—but he wasn’t sure what that had to do with the four counts of impeachment he was supposed to be voting on.
CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: And there was a point where I thought, my gosh, I might vote for impeachment. But then I had to step back after I’d heard what I was being told and say, it’s not part of the articles. So how can I vote for it?
The day before the House vote, Shays went to go see Bill Clinton in the White House. His mind was made up, but he hadn’t yet announced his decision.
REPORTER: Mr. Clinton will meet with undecided congressman Christopher Shays, Republican of Connecticut. He is expected to tell Shays that he does not believe his alleged crimes rise to the level of impeachment.
Looking back, Shays says he’s not totally sure why he requested the meeting. But in any event, he took the opportunity to inform Clinton that he and other Republicans had seen the Broaddrick file.
CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: I told him that we and our side of the aisle had been exposed to Juanita Broaddrick’s claim that he had raped her and that I felt that that had some influence on how some people would vote. I think I said it to them because I didn’t have much to tell him much to say to him. I was there, now what? I’m not voting for impeachment. And yet, I felt I was talking to someone who had raped someone violently and he was my president. And I think I said it just because I couldn’t think of anything else to say. And also I think there was a part of me that wanted to know how he would react, so my recollection of how he reacted was to be angry, to look fearful. And I think I thought that it might have given him some insight that he definitely was going to be impeached.
It’s hard to say how much of a difference the Broaddrick file ended up making, or how many no votes it changed into yeses. But without it, as Peter Baker has reported, the incoming speaker of the House, Bob Livingston, might never have even brought the articles of impeachment to a vote.
PETER BAKER: In the last hours before the impeachment debate was getting underway, he had second thoughts. He says, “I can’t believe we’re about to do this. Maybe this is too far.” And one of his aides, who knew about the Jane Doe No. 5 file, said, “Boss you can’t do that, you have to go look at the evidence. Boss, we have a rapist in the White House.” And Livingston was very troubled by this and the idea of not holding Bill Clinton accountable if in fact he was credibly charged with something as horrific as that, ultimate seemed untenable to him and he said, fine, we’ll go forward with the debate and the vote.
Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill the day before debate was to begin, Livingston made a full-throated argument for bringing impeachment to the House floor.
BOB LIVINGSTON: That’s what the Constitution and our laws demand. To do anything else would be a violation of our oath of office as members of the United States House of Representatives. And so we must go forward, thank you.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Good evening, it has been a day for the history books here in the nation’s capital, though historians may not look kindly on what transpired behind me here today.
On the day of the impeachment vote, Dec. 19, 1998, the drama on the House floor had nothing to do with Juanita Broaddrick. Instead, it was about Bob Livingston. The incoming House speaker had been ensnared in a high-profile stunt carried out by Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler magazine. Flynt had taken out a full-page ad in the Washington Post offering $1 million to anyone who could prove they’d had an affair with a high-ranking government official.
LARRY FLYNT: If these people are going to pass judgment on the president, they should not have any skeletons in their closet.
The pornographer’s bounty was meant to add to the growing list of Republican lawmakers who had been exposed for having affairs since the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal broke.
ANDREA MITCHELL: Most are still stunned by Livingston’s admission that he committed adultery more than once. Flynt says four different women provided tips about Livingston in response to this ad.
When Bob Livingston learned that Larry Flynt had found multiple women with whom he’d had extra-marital affairs, he decided he could not credibly call for Clinton’s impeachment.
BOB LIVINGSTON: So I must set the example that I hope President Clinton will follow.
And so, he stood in front of his colleagues and announced that he was resigning.
BOB LIVINGSTON: I will not stand for Speaker of the House on Jan. 6. I shall vacate my seat and ask my governor to call a special election to take my place.
PETER BAKER: And it just sent this wave through the room. Dick Gephardt wasn’t on the floor at the time; he heard what had happened he comes rushing out to the floor and begs Bob Livingston to change his mind. He says, “This is wrong. This is mindless cannibalism. We’re falling apart here.” And it just rocked the room because nobody saw it coming.
Livingston’s resignation dominated coverage of the impeachment proceedings.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: The nation tonight is without a speaker of the House designate. Bob Livingston is resigning.
But if Livingston’s adultery was the subject of loud, public discussion, the whispers in Congress about Juanita Broaddrick may have had a greater effect on the vote.
PETER BAKER: It had a real impact. Hard to measure, but many House members knew in the back of their minds—a thought in the back of their minds—that Bill Clinton was capable of things that were much worse than a consensual affair with an intern at the White House and therefore, how could they simply let him off the hook?
On the afternoon of Dec. 19, Congress voted to approve two of the four articles of impeachment: perjury, because Clinton had lied to a grand jury about Monica Lewinsky …
TOM BROKAW: By a substantial margin, 22 votes all together. Five Democrats crossed over to vote with the Republicans.
… And obstruction of justice, because he had encouraged her to lie under oath as well.
TOM BROKAW: The electronic scoreboard spells out the fate of William Jefferson Clinton. Therefore, his name now will go down in the history books as only the second president in the history of this republic to have been impeached.
Now it would be up to the Senate to decide whether Clinton would be removed from office.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Members of the Senate will be jurors in what history may record as the real trial of the century that could result in the end in Bill Clinton’s removal from office.
Juanita Broaddrick had been corresponding with Lisa Myers for about a year when she finally agreed to sit for an interview. Myers was a reporter at NBC News where she covered the Starr investigation. She had gotten in touch with Broaddrick a few weeks after the Lewinsky story broke.
LISA MYERS: And I just called her, you know, out of the blue, and tried to get her to speak to me off the record. And you know, she said, No, no, no, no I just couldn’t do it. I don’t want to talk about it. Blah, blah blah. Well the way she said “No” made me believe that there was something worth pursuing. That something had happened.
Eventually, Broaddrick agreed to talk to Myers, but only off the record. Myers found her credible, and when the Paula Jones lawyers filed that brief in which they accused Clinton of raping Broaddrick, Myers did a story on it for NBC.
LISA MYERS ON NBC NEWS: NBC News has talked to four people from Arkansas who say Broaddrick told them of such an assault years ago.
But even after that, Broaddrick continued to refuse Myers’ invitation to go on camera. Until one day …
JUANITA BROADDRICK: She wrote me a letter, and she kept saying in this letter, she said, “You need for this to come out where you tell it, not where other people spin it.” And I thought, you know, that’s right. That’s exactly what I need to do. So that’s what I did. Finally the crew came on Jan. 20, 1999.
Broaddrick had been following the impeachment process closely. She knew the Senate trial was coming up and she knew that it was likely to result in an acquittal. For Broaddrick’s purposes, the Senate vote served as a kind of deadline—the last moment when her story could make a difference.
LISA MYERS: I have no doubt that she would like to have had bad things happen to Bill Clinton. She’s pretty straightforward about that and she knew that the impeachment process was nearing an end. And it got to that point she just didn’t feel like she could sit silently by and not say something.
Broaddrick remembers Myers telling her that the interview would be broadcast within a few weeks. Myers says she never gave her a date. Regardless, the process of getting the story to air turned out to be bumpier than Myers had hoped.
JUANITA BROADDRICK: And then here’s the impeachment going on and on, and I’ll never forget, one day when Lisa Myers called me before the 29th and she said, “We’re still investigating. We’re still investigating.” And she said, “I have good news and bad news,” and I said OK. And she said, “The good news is you’re credible.” She said, “The bad news is you’re very credible.”
About a week after Broaddrick taped her interview with Myers, the bomb-throwing blogger Matt Drudge ran an item declaring that “Network executives at NBC had come under enormous pressure from the White House not to air” the Broaddrick footage.
REPORTER: Word of the Myers interview with the Arkansas woman has spread in recent days on Matt Drudge’s website. But an NBC spokeswoman flatly denied that the White House has pressured the network over the story.
REPORTER: NBC is still trying to corroborate the woman’s allegations and has not made a final decision on whether to air the Myers report.
Drudge quoted a “network insider” saying, “There is a civil war developing between those pushing for the interview to air and those who think it is completely reckless.” Here’s Drudge speaking in early 1999.
MATT DRUDGE: I think it’s news value to report that a network like NBC that aggressively covered Anita Hill is holding back a woman after they already did a story a year ago outlining the charges and the details.
There were a few specific aspects of Broaddrick’s story that made executives at NBC nervous. She didn’t know the date of the encounter until reporters found a record of her attending a nursing conference in Little Rock on April 25, 1978. Also, her husband never noticed her with a hurt lip. Strangest of all, two of the people who said Broaddrick had told them about the rape, Norma Rogers and her sister, turned out to have a possible grudge against Clinton: In 1980, while governor of Arkansas, he had commuted the life sentence of a man who had murdered their father.
But Lisa Myers was confident that Broaddrick was telling her the truth.
LISA MYERS: I tested her story every way I could, again and again and again. And no detail ever changed—it never got better, it never got worse. It was always the same. But understand, there were some at NBC headquarters in New York who wanted to just kill the interview without ever looking at the tape.
NBC’s internal struggle over the interview became its own story on Capitol Hill. On Jan. 22, 1999, a reporter asked Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott if anything could change the momentum toward acquittal. Lott replied, “That depends on what NBC broadcasts on Sunday.”
The implication was that if NBC aired its interview with Broaddrick, it would make it much harder for Democrats in the Senate to continue standing by Clinton. They were already walking a fine line, saying that Clinton had behaved dishonorably, but that his misdeeds didn’t rise to the level of impeachable offenses. It was conceivable that if the president was credibly accused of rape on national television, some Democrats would decide that he was no longer worth defending.
LISA MYERS: There’s no doubt that NBC News was concerned about throwing this interview out in the middle of impeachment proceedings and, as a result, having an impact on the outcome.
On the right, a full-fledged activist campaign sprouted up around Myers’s story.
REPORTER: NBC is being flooded with calls. Rush Limbaugh is talking about NBC. The Rev. Jerry Falwell is telling his followers to call NBC to complain. What the ruckus about? A story by NBC’s Lisa Myers that has not been aired.
Sen. Chuck Grassley wore a button that said, “Free Lisa Myers.” Fox News anchor Brit Hume and two of his colleagues wore the same button on air. The conservative website Free Republic chartered a plane to fly over NBC headquarters in New York and skywrite a message demanding the release of the Broaddrick interview.
Meanwhile, journalists pushed White House press secretary Joe Lockhart to acknowledge the elephant in the room and to address reports that the White House had tried to pressure Fox News into not airing anything about the Broaddrick allegations.
REPORTER: There are reports today that you pressured one TV network not to run a story that another network had investigated. My question is, is that appropriate behavior for spin control or is it kind of heavy-handed for the White House press secretary?
JOE LOCKHART: If this is your way to get into writing the story, go ahead and write the story. I’m not going to help you. You’ve already written it, so next.
The pressure campaign did not succeed. As the Senate vote approached, NBC was still holding off on airing Lisa Myers’ story. And no senator was standing up to demand that more evidence be presented about Jane Doe No. 5, or that she be called to testify in the Senate trial as a witness.
LISA MYERS: There were times over that month that I did not think it would make air and I couldn’t imagine how I would explain it to Juanita after she had put her life in our hands to tell her story. I mean, it’s one thing if you find things that aren’t true and you say, “Well look, she isn’t credible, we don’t put it on the air.” But all do all our reporting found things that tended to support her story, not undermine it. We didn’t find a single fact that led us to believe that she wasn’t truthful with us.
On Feb. 12, 1999, the Senate trial reached its anticlimactic conclusion.
TOM BROKAW: The second impeachment trial of an American president ended today, and the vote wasn’t even close on perjury or obstruction of justice.
Forty-five out of 100 senators voted to convict Clinton on the perjury charge. On obstruction of justice, there was an even 50-50 split.
TOM BROKAW: Well short of the two-thirds needed for conviction.
SPEAKER: Not having found him guilty of the charges contained therein: It is, therefore, ordered and adjudged that the said William Jefferson Clinton be, and he hereby is, acquitted of the charges in these said articles.
As expected, Clinton would serve out the remainder of his term.
REPORTER: Both sides can see that impeachment has hurt both the White House and Congress, but even with all of the anger and resentment that remains, they know this much: They have to find a way to work with this president for the next two ye
After Clinton’s acquittal, Juanita Broaddrick grew impatient with NBC and gave an interview to a conservative columnist from the Wall Street Journal op-ed page. She also spoke to the Washington Post. Finally, after both those pieces ran, Lisa Myers’ interview aired on NBC’s Dateline at the end of February. Broaddrick spoke with anguish in her voice.
JUANITA BROADDRICK ON DATELINE: And then he forces me down on the bed, and I was just very frightened. I tried to get away from him and I told him no. That I didn’t want this to happen. And he wouldn’t listen to me.
Clinton’s lawyer, David Kendall, responded to the new round of coverage categorically: “Any allegation that the president assaulted Ms. Broaddrick more than 20 years ago is absolutely false,” he said.
REPORTER: And the president himself was asked about it at a press conference yesterday.
REPORTER AT PRESS CONFERENCE: What is your reaction to recent allegations by an Arkansas woman apparently of something she claims happened many years ago?
BILL CLINTON: Well, my counsel has made a statement about the first issue and I have nothing to add to it.
And that was pretty much that. Within a few weeks, Broaddrick’s interview on Dateline had been overshadowed by Monica Lewinsky’s interview on 20/20, as well as the release of Lewinsky’s authorized biography, Monica’s Story. In March, a CNN poll found that 66 percent of respondents thought the media should drop the Broaddrick story and stop covering it.
As Juanita Broaddrick retreated into silence, her name became associated with the most disreputable elements of the anti-Clinton fringe. To many, that’s where Broaddrick’s old, nightmarish story seemed to belong—just one more unverifiable lie told about Clinton by his enemies.
Peter Baker remembers trying to evaluate Broaddrick’s credibility against the backdrop of everything that had been said about Clinton during the previous six years by people who truly hated him.
PETER BAKER: Was Vince Foster really not a suicide—he was actually he actually murdered and rolled up in a carpet the way some people said? Was there really this drug ring that Clinton was involved in? There are so many fanciful far-fetched conspiracy theories out there about Clinton, that you never knew how to sort truth from fiction and you didn’t want to be part of spreading nonsense, spreading lies. You also didn’t want to overlook things that were true, and in Clintonworld, the border between true and crazy was kind of murky at times.
Why did Juanita Broaddrick’s story never get traction? In many ways, she was the perfect accuser: She had volunteered for Clinton’s campaign. She had told people about the alleged incident right after it happened. For years, she had passed up and actively resisted opportunities to go public. And when she finally did, it wasn’t because she was being coached by some shady intermediary; it was because Ken Starr had sent FBI agents to Arkansas to talk to her.
There’s also this: If Broaddrick was some kind of right-wing activist, carrying out a mission to take down Bill Clinton by any means necessary, why didn’t she just make something up when Starr’s team asked her if Clinton had pressured her into denying the rape in her affidavit to the Jones lawyers? That would have made her allegation directly relevant to the impeachment inquiry. If the story of the rape was an elaborate lie, why didn’t Broaddrick just go that extra mile and make it really count?
At the beginning of this season, I mentioned that growing up in a Democratic household, I absorbed a lasting affection for Bill Clinton—a sense that he had been unfairly hounded and framed by hypocrites who opposed his liberal policies.
Having reached the end of this story, having spoken to Juanita Broaddrick, I’m left wondering if it’s possible to be framed and be guilty at the same time.
I find myself struggling to incorporate Broaddrick’s story into my image of Clinton, and reaching for reasons to disbelieve her. And to be honest, it helps that ever since the 2016 election, Broaddrick has been a very public, very belligerent supporter of Donald Trump. It helps that she tweets about how some of the parents separated from their children at the border are probably rapists, and posts links to conspiracy theories about the Department of Justice and Benghazi. It helps that a few weeks ago, when Christine Blasey Ford accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, Broaddrick tweeted, “I don’t believe her. She has cast a dark shadow on real victims.”
I look at all that and I can almost convince myself to wave Broaddrick away, to shut her out of my assessment of who Bill Clinton is. I mean, who knows what happened, right? It was such a long time ago.
One side effect of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal was that Hillary Clinton became more popular than she had ever been.
REPORTER: Today, many American women see her in a different light: not simply the first lady, but the first defender, first protector of her family.
As soon as the story broke, her favorability ratings started going up …
TOM BROKAW: She seems to be winning more admirers than detractors during this crisis.
… And by the end of 1998, Gallup had her polling at an all-time high of 67 percent.
REPORTER: For now, Hillary Clinton’s public face projects a quiet dignity, while many women who support her say that speaks volumes.
During that year’s midterms, Democrats used Hillary on the campaign trail more than they used the president himself. And after Bill Clinton’s acquittal in the Senate, talk turned swiftly to what was next for the first lady.
TOM BROKAW: Hillary Clinton is looking to her future, and she may be seeing a run for the U.S. Senate for New York. That’s been the hot political buzz here and in New York in recent days and it got even louder today when the president spoke openly about the possibility.
CROWD: Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!
Clinton was elected to the Senate the following November.
HILLARY CLINTON: Wow! This is amazing, thank you all. Thank you.
And on the night of her victory—the official beginning of her new political career—she gave a speech to her supporters while the lame-duck president stood behind her on stage.
HILLARY CLINTON: I know I would not be here without my family, and I want to thank my mother and my brothers, and I want to thank my husband and my daughter.
That night, Hillary Clinton’s victory in New York was one of the biggest news stories of the 11 o’clock hour. The other was that all the major networks had made a mistake.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: What the networks give us, the networks taketh away. NBC News is now taking Florida out of Vice President Gore’s column.
Al Gore was no longer projected to win Florida over George W. Bush. It was too close to call.
Slow Burn is a production of Slate Plus, Slate’s membership program. You can sign up for Slate Plus to hear bonus episodes of the show. In this week’s bonus episode, you’ll hear a roundtable with longtime Slatesters David Plotz, Emily Yoffe, and Seth Stevenson about their memories of covering the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal for Slate.
SETH STEVENSON: And Kinsley had this obsession with the fact that because we were on the web, we could post audio! Which is a big deal. We could actually play the audio, and that was like mind-blowing to Mike. And Mike had said, “Seth, it’s your job. Convince him to give us those tapes so that we can put them up on Slate.”
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This episode of Slow Burn was produced by me and Andrew Parsons, with editorial direction by Josh Levin and Gabriel Roth. Our researcher is Madeline Kaplan. Our theme song is by Spatial Relations, and this episode featured music by Nick Sylvester of Godmode. Our artwork is by Teddy Blanks at Chips N.Y. Steve Lickteig is the executive producer of Slate Podcasts. T. J. Raphael is the senior producer for the Slate Podcast Network.
Thanks to the NBC news archive, C-SPAN, and CNN for the archival audio you heard in this episode. For a full bibliography of all the works we consulted while making this episode, check out our show page at Slate.com/slowburn.
For script notes and other help with this episode, we’d like to thank Justin Levine, Ava Lubell, Peter Baker, Steve Kornacki, Allison Benedikt, Andrew Wetzel, Ben Kawaller, Benjamin Frisch, Lisa Locascio, Elizabeth Gumport, and Camilla Hammer.
Now that we’ve reached the end of the season, we’d like to thank a few other people as well: Carrie Baker, Alice Gregory, Ljuba Lyass, Debbie Lipson, Sam Kaplan, Nick Sylvester, Tod Lippy, Peter Silberman, Kelly Zutrau, Joe Valle, Jeff Toobin, Michael Isikoff, Peter Boyer, Lulu Miller, Bruce Wallace, Eric Mennel, Ellen Horne, Joe Coscarelli, Carrie Battan, Beau Rutland, Matthew Edelstein, David Sandyk and Sophie Hasse, Molly Young, Teddy Blanks, Steve Fisher, and last but not least, Slow Burn’s secret weapon, the aforementioned Camilla Hammer.
From Slate, we’d like to like to thank Jeff Friedrich and Mary Wilson for making all the Slate Plus episodes so good, as well as T. J. Raphael, Dan Check, Chau Tu, Sofie Werthan, Mike Pesca, Taylor Palmer and the sales team, Faith Smith, Katie O’Brien, Kristen Meinzer, Evan Viola and Jason Gambrell, and everyone in the pod. Finally, we’d like to thank Jacob Weisberg and Julia Turner—we’ll miss you both and will always be grateful to you for allowing this show to happen.
Speaking for myself, I’d like to thank the whole Slow burn team: Josh Levin and Gabriel Roth for their wise and attentive editing; Andrew Parsons for his peerless production and impeccable instincts; and Madeline Kaplan, for her great taste in information and her meticulous fact-checking.