What Happened & What American Crime Story Changes

In recounting the events of the events surrounding President Bill Clinton’s impeachment and the Clinton scandal, Impeachment: American Crime Story stays close to the true story, while changing a few details for dramatic effect along the way. This is the third season of American Crime Story, and Impeachment connects with O.J. Simpson’s and Gianni Versace’s murder stories. Each American Crime Story installment focuses on important concepts like racism, homophobia, or sexism at the core of recent real-life, highly publicized American events, typically at the intersection of media treatment and public response to the associated controversies.

Occurring a little over two decades ago, the impeachment trial and Clinton scandal are still quite fresh in the American cultural conscience. In Ryan Murphy’s television series, the events are depicted from a new perspective, focusing more on the point of view of the women who were key players in the lead-up to the impeachment rather than the men. Primarily following Monica Lewinsky, Paula Jones, and Linda Tripp, Impeachment: American Crime Story offers a deep-dive on one of the most significant events in American history from the last few decades, culminating in the first impeachment of an American president in over a century.

Related: Every Returning American Crime Story Actor In Impeachment

With Monica Lewinsky serving as a producer on the series, American Crime Story is able to more accurately depict many of the more personal events and reactions that may not have come out in the various depositions or testimonies that have taken place since. At the same time, it’s a television series—not a documentary. While telling the real-life story of the Clinton impeachment, sexual harassment lawsuits, and scandal surrounding the sexual relationship with Lewinsky, American Crime Story does still fictionalize some of the events for dramatic effect. Here’s a guide to what Impeachment gets right about the events and what the season changes or omits.

Impeachment Episode 1, “Exiles”

The opening scene of Impeachment shows Monica Lewinsky (Beanie Feldstein) going to meet Linda Tripp (Sarah Paulson) at a food court in the mall for lunch. As Monica waits to meet her coworker, she sees Linda coming down the escalator, signaling two FBI agents who follow close behind. Once they reach Monica, they inform her they need her to come with them to answer some questions. The way this particular situation is portrayed in the comparable American Crime Story is actually quite true to life in how both Lewinsky and Tripp explained it in their statements. Monica even explicitly stated that the two agents flashed their badges at her before mentioning she was under investigation for the Paula Jones case. She’s then brought to a hotel room at the Ritz Carlton, where she was infamously interrogated by the FBI and independent counsel with Linda in the next room. All the events depicted thus far are accurate, showing the real moment Monica’s world came crashing down.

Impeachment episode 1 then skips back to 1993, detailing the last few key events leading up to Linda Tripp’s transfer from the White House counsel’s office to the Pentagon—which was considered a demotion despite the higher pay. Without going into the details, the now-released American Crime Stories episode 1, “Exiles” shows the circumstances of Vincent Foster’s death by suicide, with all depicted events coming from official statements and testimonies by those present. Linda Tripp, who worked under Foster, was, as far as it’s known, the last person to see him alive. As depicted in Impeachment, she brought him his lunch – Coke, fries, cheeseburger, and a pack of M&Ms – and he left the office, offering her the rest of his M&Ms before leaving and saying he’d be back. After Foster’s death, Tripp sees White House employees taking boxes of files relating to Whitewater from Foster’s office, which really did occur, though several others witnessed the event.

The drama of Impeachment’s premiere episode then switches to Paula and Steve Jones in 1994, who are living in Venice Beach, CA. Steve becomes angry reading an article in The American Spectator, a right-wing magazine, that notes Paula had a sexual encounter with President Bill Clinton in 1991. Impeachment’s presentation of Jones’ accusation of sexual harassment comes directly from Jones’ statements in her deposition, including her seeking $700,000 and an apology from the president. Paula then speaks at a conservative conference to publicize her lawsuit, where the men chastise her for even going into the room. The speech can still be seen online, and the dialogue, including inappropriate jests by the reporters, parallels that from American Crime Story.

Related: ACS: How Many Presidents Have Been Impeached (& What Happened To Them)

American Crime Story then follows another notable harassment controversy that will reappear as evidence in the lead-up to his impeachment. Linda Tripp and a volunteer aide, donor’s wife Kathleen Willey (Elizabeth Reaser), discuss how Willey wants a full-time job in the department. Linda then encourages her to talk to Bill Clinton, and by the time she comes back, she explains he kissed her in his office until another aide tried to come through the door. American Crime Story’s depiction of this scene is up for debate about how completely accurate it is, with both women’s real-life accounts being different. Linda Tripp explained that Willey was a bit excited about the encounter when asking for her lipstick, whereas Willey claims in real life that Clinton groped her and the incident was a nonconsensual assault, leaving her shaken as she meets Tripp afterward – as shown in the series. The White House counsel then sees a change in personnel the following March, where Tripp is transferred to the Pentagon while Willey is hired in Tripp’s old White House position, albeit in an “entry-level” role. Regarding Impeachment’s divisively reviewed portrayal, it doesn’t appear that Tripp or Willey ever actually claimed an aide interrupted the assault, and while Willey did end up taking a role in the White House counsel’s office for a few months, it wasn’t Linda’s old position—Linda was replaced by the new deputy White House counsel’s own secretary.

When Monica and Linda finally meet as coworkers at the Department of Defense in 1996, the ways in which Linda catches on to her having a sexual relationship with an important figure are a bit different in real life than shown in Impeachment. When they first become friendly in American Crime Story, Linda notices that Monica has a calendar counting down the days until the election, which leads her to surmise that her mystery boyfriend is an important White House official. While the real-life Monica Lewinsky, who is a producer on Impeachment, did admit that she had such a calendar in real life, it isn’t clear if Tripp ever saw it or not. According to The Washington Post, Tripp and Lewinsky first sparked a coworker friendship when Lewinsky walked by her desk and noticed Tripp had pictures of Clinton up on her wall. Tripp noticed that Lewinsky was a big Clinton supporter, though hadn’t connected that he was the man she was in a relationship with until several months later. While Impeachment episode 1 is mostly used as background to set up what’s in store with the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, it’s quite accurate in depicting what really happened, which isn’t too difficult when all of the testimony from the real-life case is easily accessible online.

Impeachment Episode 2, “The President Kissed Me”

Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton Hugging in Impeachment

Much of the drama from “The President Kissed Me” comes from what Monica Lewinsky herself has written about and declared, as she primarily recounts how her relationship with President Clinton really began. Yes, Lewinsky was only 21 years old and a White House intern at the time when they officially met in his office, only a few days into the government shutdown. After Clinton vetoed cuts to Medicare, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich shut down the government for a total of fives days, which meant the interns were sent to the east wing of the White House to answer phone calls. Just as how American Crime Story dramatically tells it, Clinton motioned Lewinsky into the empty office of George Stephanopoulos where their flirtation truly began. Per Lewinsky herself in The Clinton Affair documentary, Clinton then invited her into his own private office.

Once American Crime Story’s episode returns to the 1996 timeline with Monica working in the Pentagon, she relents how she has had no physical contact with the president and barely any phone calls during his election campaign. This is true, The Starr Report detailed that they had no private meetings from April-December 1996, where most of their relationship involved infrequent telephone calls—nearly all while Hillary Clinton was away. Additionally, Monica mentions that 6 days before the election she and Bill Clinton hadn’t spoken for 22 days, which is false since The Starr Report explains they had a sexual phone conversation on October 22, only two weeks before the election. Monica also reveals the president has been faxing his daily campaign schedule to her, though The Starr Report nor any major outlets confirmed this bit of contact in real life. It’s possible this happened and Impeachment producer Monica Lewinsky never publicly mentioned it, or it’s just one part of their distant relationship that American Crime Story fabricated.

Related: Every Upcoming Ryan Murphy Movie & TV Show

Another aspect of the Clinton scandal that American Crime Story gets right is that their physical meetings were more than often on the weekends when most of the staff was gone. In the beginning, it was flirtations where they would just look at each other without actually saying anything. Once they had begun seeing each other, Clinton would find ways to bring Lewinsky alone to his office, such as how the Impeachment episode shows her bringing a pizza, which was a real occurrence. Even the clip where Monica shows off a pink thong to President Clinton walking by notably happened in real life, showing just how intense and obvious the flirtation was within the workplace. 

Episode 2 of Impeachment also details how Clinton’s scandal was physically revamped after the election, such as how she would bring him gifts, including a frog toy that Lewinsky actually did give him in real life. It’s not clear whether Clinton actually did tell Lewinsky she was like The Face from Mike Hammer, but it definitely sounds like something that Ryan Murphy’s team would have plugged in for an analogy. While it may seem like something completely fabricated for the show, in real life Linda Tripp did actually convince Lewinsky to make an Excel spreadsheet of all her interactions with the president, which is quite convenient for the office of Independent Counsel.

One of the final moments of Impeachment episode 2 is extremely important for what’s to come in the series – and real life – with the evidence used during Clinton’s impeachment trial. In order to finally get Monica alone, Clinton invites her to his radio address about keeping drugs out of neighborhoods. In one of their final meetings, before everything went public, Clinton showered Monica with notable gifts, including a Walt Whitman book and a hatpin, both of which were revealed in his later trial. This January meeting was also the time where the infamous blue dress was stained, which became an unfortunate staple in popular culture for sex scandals. It seems American Crime Story’s writers went through every article and report possible, being extremely accurate in their recollection of the beginning of the Clinton affair.

Next: Impeachment: American Crime Story – The Controversy Around Vince Foster’s Death Explained

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About The Author

Jordan Williams
(286 Articles Published)

Jordan Williams is a Movie/TV Feature Senior Staff Writer for Screen Rant. She graduated from the University of Oregon in 2020 with a B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Media Studies.

Jordan is based in Seattle, Washington and enjoys exploring the natural beauty the PNW has to offer. She runs on coffee and classic movies, taking pride in having watched every film on AFI’s 100 Greatest Films list and every Best Picture Oscar winner.

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