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How Accurate Is Impeachment: American Crime Story Episode 1?

"Impeachment" is the long-awaited third season of Ryan Murphy's FX anthology series, "American Crime Story," which dramatizes the events of famous scandals. Season 3 focuses on one of the biggest scandals of the past 30 years: the impeachment of President Bill Clinton and the multiple extramarital relationships he pursued both before and after he became president.

Like any TV show or movie that dramatizes real events, even ones that have been thoroughly documented, some elements of "Impeachment: American Crime Story" are fictionalized. There's also the fact that the actual "truth" of these events is nearly impossible to determine, since so much of it relies on conflicting firsthand accounts.

But "Impeachment: American Crime Story" is more truthful than it might appear. Overall, the show is an adaptation of Jeffrey Toobin's 1999 book, "A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President." But it also uses many other sources, from the Starr Report to interviews with all the subjects involved. Monica Lewinsky herself served as a producer on the project, and many scenes were written with Lewinsky's input (via Vanity Fair).

The first episode, "Exiles," premiered on September 7, 2021. It begins with the moment Lewinsky (Beanie Feldstein) discovers the betrayal of her "friend" Linda Tripp (Sarah Paulson) and is subjected to an FBI interview. The episode then jumps back in time and follows Tripp from her days as an assistant to deputy White House counsel Vince Foster, and her subsequent transfer to the Pentagon. The episode also chronicles the beginning of Paula Jones' (Annaleigh Ashford) lawsuit against Bill Clinton (Clive Owen) for sexual harassment. 

Here's what's fact and what's fiction.

The food court betrayal: accurate

The episode begins in 1998 when Linda Tripp lures Monica Lewinsky to the food court at the Pentagon City Mall. There, FBI agents working on behalf of independent counsel Ken Starr surprise Lewinsky and take her to the nearby Ritz-Carlton hotel, where they proceed to interrogate her for the next 11 hours. Tripp accompanies them, but when the FBI tries to remove Tripp from the hotel room, Lewinsky says, "No, make her stay. I want that treacherous bitch to see what she's done to me." 

That's pretty much how this moment happened in real life. Tripp had been cooperating with the independent counsel's office and did lure Lewinsky to a mall food court. The FBI did interview Lewinsky for the next 11 hours (via The LA Times). Lewinsky really did demand that Tripp stay and watch, in those exact words (via Famous-Trials.com).

However, there was one moment that the show left out. According to The New York Post, when the FBI agents first accosted Lewinsky she told one agent to "go f*ck yourself."

Vince Foster: accurate as possible

After the cold open, the show then delves into Linda Tripp's backstory, giving context for how she came to be involved in the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. The show portrays her as a Bush administration holdover who disapproved of both Bill and Hillary Clinton but continued working under the new administration anyway.

At the time, Tripp was working for White House counsel Bernie Nussbaum, the supervisor of Vince Foster. Foster was a longtime friend of the Clintons who had become implicated in the Whitewater real-estate scandal. When the show introduces him, Foster is having an emotional breakdown. After Tripp brings him lunch — including a cheeseburger and a box of M&Ms — Foster left the office and drove to a nearby park, where he committed suicide.

Tripp's dislike of the Clintons is apparently accurate, according to Madeleine Kaplan, researcher for the Clinton-Lewinsky season of the "Slate" podcast "Slow Burn" (via Vulture). Tripp actually did bring Foster his last meal, which really was a cheeseburger and M&Ms (via The Washington Post). Although it was a scoop of M&Ms, not a box of White House-branded ones like the show depicts.

Foster's suicide has been one of the most disputed events in the entire Clinton scandal. Almost immediately after his death, right-wing conspiracy theorists have suggested the Clintons murdered him. These allegations have never been proven, and multiple investigations into Foster's death ruled it a suicide — even one by Ken Starr himself. While it's true that nobody knows what really happened in that park except Foster, the show's version of events is as accurate as possible (via Slate).

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Paula Jones: disputed

Finally, Episode 1 explores the beginnings of Paula Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit against President Bill Clinton. It starts when her husband Steve (Taran Killiam) reads a magazine article in which an Arkansas state trooper mentions Paula going up to Clinton's hotel room, where an illicit affair takes place. Paula tells an outraged Steve that Clinton's advances were non-consensual. After a press conference in which reporters pester Jones for details about the incident, Ann Coulter (Cobie Smulders) sets her up with high-powered Washington lawyers. Among their demands, Jones says she wants an apology, as well as a part on "Designing Women" for Steve, who's an aspiring actor. Also during this meeting, Jones convinces the skeptical attorneys to take her case by drawing a picture of Bill Clinton's genitalia, which Jones depicts as "curved."

Many of the humiliating questions the reporters ask Paula during the press conference are verbatim (via Vulture). But two details appear to be fudged. First, it's not clear whether Steve actually asked for a role on "Designing Women." According to Kaplan, in reality, the Jones' first lawyer, Daniel Traylor, made the connection that the Clintons knew the showrunners for "Designing Women," but there's no evidence Steve actually tried to bargain for a part (via Vulture).

And then there's the drawing. Jones did actually describe Clinton this way, but not by a drawing — that happened later when Clinton's lawyer Bob Bennett deposed her (via Vulture). But is her characterization of the First Penis accurate? Various other sources have disputed her characterization, including Lewinsky herself (via Slate). Most likely, we'll never know the truth on that one. 

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).