A Tale of Two Scandals

Gwynn Magnan, Writer on American Affairs

14 March, 2019

Trump and Clinton shaking hands in the 1990s

Trump and Clinton shaking hands in the 1990s


As President Donald Trump's’ former lawyer Michael Cohen testified to Congress on March 6th regarding proof of $130, 000 worth of hush-money payments, one could not  help but feel as though we have seen this all before. Rife with scandal, both Bill Clinton and Donald Trump share a similar legacy, however, it seems as though Trump will not suffer to the same extent as Clinton had. In 1998, the Republican-led House of Representatives voted to impeach President Bill Clinton on one charge of perjury and one charge of obstruction of justice. The articles of impeachment had their origin in the relationship between Clinton and a 21-year-old White House Intern, Monica Lewinsky which allegedly began in 1995. The intimate details of the affair had consumed the country for 11 months, which led to one of the most memorable quotes of American politics: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”. However, not only was this an odd turn of phrase, but it was also untrue. It was later proven that Clinton did have “relations” with Lewinsky, which he had denied under oath and subjected him to charges of perjury. The scandal would resolve as the Senate acquitted Clinton on both articles of impeachment, however, the memory of his disgrace would become one of the most defining moments of Clinton's presidency.

The paradox of the Bill Clinton impeachment saga, however, was that it made it easier for Donald Trump to become president. Twenty years after his acquittal, it is clear to see how the seismic scandal shaped U.S. politics and culture today. Clinton’s reckless behaviour and mendacious efforts to cover it up, handed his opponents grounds to prove his unworthiness as President, thus allowing Trump to benefit from another aspect of Clinton’s legacy: the redefinition of what actions were disqualifying for presidential candidates. Clinton effectively normalized errant behaviour and helped desensitize the public to philandering politicians. This event created a political climate that began to expect scandal, thereby rendering it obsolete when it came down to subsequent elections. As Cohen’s testimony remains a striking piece in the Democrats impeachment case against Trump, it becomes impossible to deny the similarities of the two cases.

Adult film star Stormy Daniels filed a lawsuit against President Trump over the “hush agreement” that was intended to conceal an affair that occurred in 2006, just four months after the birth of Trump’s youngest child, Barron. In January 2016 the Wall Street Journal published an article claiming Michael Cohen had made a $130,000 payment to Daniels one month before the election. Initially, Cohen denied the payment, calling the allegations “outlandish”, however, in February he announced that he did, in fact, pay Daniels on behalf of the President. The importance of this scandal relies on whether the payments were reflected in the 2016 campaign funds, which is a direct violation of federal law. Cohen claims Trump himself, while president, signed various cheques to repay him for the hush money paid on his behalf, and was able to provide such documents to support his testimony. Furthermore, Democrats are asking for documents from the Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, former chief strategist Steve Bannon, former press secretary Sean Spicer, sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, and from son-in-law Jared Kushner. These documents are required in the investigation to present the case to the American people of obstruction of justice, corruption, and abuse of power.

Two decades on, the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton continues to live on, manifested in the various political scandals that have followed suit from other big-name politicians. In the Clinton case, although you cannot impeach for cheating on your spouse, people argued that if the President was willing to lie about this under oath, he could also lie about other things. Similarly, in the Trump scandal, critics have raised concerns about trust, and believe that the hush-money payments indicated the President would be easily susceptible to blackmail. However, a divergence occurs in the reactions expressed towards either scandal. To this day, many consider Clinton’s affair as the most memorable aspect of his presidency. Nonetheless, the Trump presidency has provided so much scandal that the Stormy Daniels affair is rendering a subplot, thus allowing Trump to breathe where Clinton had been choked.