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How Accurate Is Impeachment: American Crime Story Episode 8?

"Impeachment" is the third season of the FX series "American Crime Story," which dramatizes a prominent scandal in recent American memory. After Season 1 chronicled the O.J. Simpson murder trial, and Season 2 covered the killing of Gianni Versace, Season 3 deals with the impeachment of President Bill Clinton (Clive Owen) for obstruction and perjury related to his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky (Beanie Feldstein), which stemmed from his deposition in Paula Jones's (Annaleigh Ashford) sexual harassment lawsuit against him.

Episode 8, "Stand By Your Man," aired on October 26, 2021, and includes some of the most memorable moments from the entire ordeal. After Monica's lawyer Bill Ginsburg (Fred Melamed) has failed to obtain an immunity agreement with independent counsel Kenneth Starr (Bob Bakkedahl), Lewinsky's father Bernard (Rob Brownstein) switches lawyers and a deal is made.

In flashbacks to 1992, Gennifer Flowers goes public with her 12-year affair with Bill Clinton, and Hillary Clinton (Edie Falco) encourages her husband's presidential campaign team to aggressively deny it. In 1998, Hillary initially takes the same approach, appearing on The Today Show and accusing Republicans of a "vast right-wing conspiracy" to destroy her husband. But when Bill is forced to finally admit his affair, Hillary is shattered. After Bill gives his infamous grand jury testimony that includes a debate over the meaning of the word "is," he and Hillary spend an uncomfortable vacation on Martha's Vineyard, where they have an explosive fight. While all of this is happening, Osama bin Laden organizes simultaneous bombings on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Here's what's fact and what's fiction in Episode 8. 

Monica Lewinsky switches lawyers: oversimplified

Picking up from last week's episode, Monica Lewinsky's lawyer Bill Ginsburg and independent counsel Kenneth Starr are still negotiating over an immunity deal that would allow Lewinsky to testify, including handing over the infamous blue dress. "Impeachment" indicates that the one thing holding up the deal is Starr's personal dislike of Ginsburg, the coarse and media-hungry medical malpractice attorney whom Starr describes as "outside the public discourse."

Starr and his legal team decide to put public pressure on Lewinsky by requesting fingerprints and a handwriting sample. This convinces Monica's father Bernard to replace Ginsburg with well-known Washington D.C. lawyer Plato Cacheris (Warren Sweeney), who immediately makes a deal with Starr. At one point, Monica has to wear a blonde wig as a disguise to get into Cacheris's office. 

"Impeachment" gives a somewhat simplified version of this situation. It wasn't just Starr's personal dislike of Ginsburg that made him veto the deal. According to Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker, the majority of Starr's staff felt that Ginsburg was unprofessional. This was also the view of the Washington D.C. legal community, who viewed Ginsburg as an amateur. "I think Mr. Ginsburg was out of his league," D.C. defense attorney Kenneth Robinson told The Washington Post in 1998. "She's in a horrible spot because of Ginsburg."

The Lewinskys ultimately fired Ginsburg for several reasons, not just his failure to secure an immunity deal. These included making contradictory statements about her relationship with the president, and questionable decisions like setting up a photoshoot for Monica in Vanity Fair (via The Washington Post).

But Monica's disguise is definitely accurate. Several newspapers reported that Lewinsky wore a blonde wig and sunglasses when she had to go out in public during this period (via Time).

Bill's Martha's Vineyard birthday party: mostly accurate

After delivering his grand jury testimony and subsequent address to the nation, Bill decamps to Martha's Vineyard with Hillary. There, they have a small and very awkward celebration of Bill's 52nd birthday at the home of his close friend and advisor Vernon Jordan (Blair Underwood), along with his wife Ann (Diahnna Nicole Baxter).

This celebration actually did happen, and it was widely documented at the time. The Clintons (and the Jordans) were well-known in the Martha's Vineyard social scene, but the ongoing Lewinsky scandal made the Clintons seek privacy that summer. As for what actually happened at the party, that's not part of the public record. The New York Times speculated at the time that it was unlikely Bill and Vernon talked about the Lewinsky scandal, which is obviously different than the show's version. But the only people who really know are Bill, Vernon, Hillary, Ann, and Chelsea Clinton.

This brings us to the one minor detail that "Impeachment" left out: Chelsea Clinton (Anastasia Barkow) was also present at the birthday celebration, although she does appear in another scene in this episode.

Another small detail the show left out was that the Jordans gave Bill a sweater made from wool from the sheep on their property. Clinton's press secretary Mike McCurry wasn't able to confirm whether Hillary and Chelsea gave him a birthday gift (via The American Presidency Project).

Operation Infinite Reach and the political fallout: accurate

While all of this is going on, Osama bin Laden launches two attacks on U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, killing American civilians. While bin Laden had been known to U.S. intelligence before 1998, this was the moment he "crossed the Rubicon." Bill Clinton decides to retaliate by launching missile strikes on multiple targets connected with bin Laden: a factory in Sudan that's allegedly making chemical weapons, and a training camp in Afghanistan. Clinton authorizes the strike hoping to kill bin Laden in Afghanistan, based on shaky intelligence reports. As we all know, the attacks failed to kill the terrorist leader.

This is all an accurate depiction of the bombings and the American response, which was named Operation Infinite Reach. Clinton really did order the missile strike on his birthday, August 20, and it obviously missed bin Laden, who would go on to orchestrate the September 11, 2001 attacks (via the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks in the United States).

At the time in 1998, many questioned whether the Lewinsky scandal compromised Clinton's ability to govern effectively (via The American Presidency Project). "Impeachment" includes a moment when an advisor warns Clinton that the attacks might be seen as an attempt to distract from the Lewinsky scandal. Republican observers actually did accuse Clinton of this, including Senators Dan Coats and Arlen Specter (via CNN).

Hillary's reaction: accurate

Earlier in "Impeachment," we saw Bill reassure Hillary that nothing had happened between himself and Monica, and Hillary believed him. This appears to follow what actually happened. In her 2003 memoir "Living Memory," Hillary wrote that she thought the Lewinsky scandal "seemed like just another vicious scandal manufactured by political opponents." However, in the Hulu docuseries "Hillary," Hillary's friend Nancy Gertner said she thought Hillary was just in denial at the time (via The LA Times). 

In this episode, Bill finally told Hillary that was a lie — after she had already gone on The Today Show to defend him. Hillary feels betrayed. This also tracks with what Hillary has said about her reaction. "'[I was] dumbfounded, heartbroken and outraged that I'd believed him at all," she wrote in her memoir, adding that she "wanted to wring his neck" (via The LA Times).

Like it happens on the show, the vacation at Martha's Vineyard was a tense time for everyone, and when Hillary did speak to Bill, it was explosive. Even the line when she calls Lewinsky a "narcissistic loony toon" is verbatim (via CBS News).

This passionate depiction of their relationship is at odds with how many have perceived the Clintons' marriage, as a political arrangement and not an actual loving relationship. In Episode 8, Hillary even begins to realize that might be an accurate characterization. But "Impeachment" appears to side with Hillary's version of events: she felt betrayed, and it changed their relationship forever.

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).