Season 3 of ‘American Crime Story’ focuses on the key women involved in the presidential scandal.
Impeachment: American Crime Story, the third season of the FX true-crime anthology series, turns back time once again to re-examine the events leading up to and surrounding the 1998 trial of President Bill Clinton. This time around, the real-life events are told from the perspective of Linda Tripp, Monica Lewinsky and Paula Jones, the key women at the center of the political scandal.
“This is the first time this story has been told from the point of view of the women who were involved during this time,” says Elizabeth Reaser, who portrays White House volunteer Kathleen Willey, another overlooked figure from this time. “It was pretty fascinating to see it from that point of view.”
As the 10-episode unfolds, here’s what to remember about Tripp, Lewinsky and Jones as well as other key women involved, including Willey, Ann Coulter, Lucianne Goldberg and Susan Carpenter-McMillan as well as Hillary Clinton.
At the center of the scandal is the 22-year-old former White House intern, who engaged in a sexual relationship with the president between 1995 and 1997 and whose world was turned upside down once it became public. While her name quickly became a joke in the press, she lost her job at Revlon, was sequestered in a hotel room for 12 hours by the FBI, vilified by the left and manipulated by those closest to her.
For many, this is the first time they’re learning about Lewinsky after decades of thinking they knew what she was all about. “They only knew a late-night joke or a caricature or a voice on a tape,” says Beanie Feldstein, who embodies Lewinsky’s wide-eyed innocence and heartbreak, before revealing that one of the reasons her side was never shared was because she was silenced by the government. “Monica was not permitted to speak due to her immunity deal with Kenneth Starr.”
As a result, “The trauma and the pain that she had to go through during those two years is completely unknown to the public,” the actress explains. “They don’t understand the deep humanity behind it. And so watching this woman go through what she had to go through, particularly the hours that she was with the FBI in the Pentagon City Mall, I think it will really shock people and I hope really illuminate what she was going through.”
“It’s an incredible reality to see Monica Lewinsky herself be such a formidable strong independent woman,” says Sarah Paulson, who portrays Tripp. “It is a very wonderful thing to see, especially when you take a deeper dive and realize all she had to endure is pretty intense and pretty harrowing.”
A key player in the scandal is Tripp, who was previously an appointee in the White House before she worked alongside Lewinsky at the Pentagon. She became known as the whistleblower -- and a hero to some and a villain to others -- after she started recording her conversations with Lewinsky, who confided in Tripp about her relationship with the president.
While she had plans to use them for a book, those tapes were eventually turned over to the FBI when she found herself in the crosshairs of Jones’ lawsuit. She also informed Starr about Lewinsky’s infamous blue dress, which she encouraged her friend not to clean in case it could be used as evidence of a sexual relationship.
Tripp was also a source for Newsweek’s coverage of the scandal, responding to allegations made by Willey, who claimed that Clinton sexually harassed her in the White House.
Paulson’s stunning transformation follows several memorable parodies on Saturday Night Live featuring John Goodman as Lewinsky’s former confidante. While most of the key players involved are still alive, Tripp died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 70 in 2020.
Jones is a former Arkansas state employee who sued Clinton for sexual harassment over an alleged incident that took place in 1991. At the time, she claimed, the president invited her to his hotel room where he asked her to kiss him and then exposed himself.
While she initially kept quiet, Jones began speaking out in 1994 after a magazine ran a story about her account. From there, lawyers, politically motivated legal aides and advisers got involved, hoping to use the lawsuit as a way to force Clinton to resign from office.
It was during the case’s deposition that counsel believed Clinton perjured himself, which led to his impeachment. As the scandal became national news, Jones was mocked for her looks and makeover while Penthouse published semi-nude photos originally taken by her boyfriend.
Portrayed by Annaleigh Ashford onscreen, the actress hopes that Jones “feels validated and vindicated” by the series “and that she feels like her story has been told?
At the time of the scandal, Willey was a White House volunteer aide, who befriended Tripp and worked under Clinton. She alleged that years prior, in 1993, the president sexually assaulted her when she visited him in the Oval Office about being appointed to a bigger position in the White House. She, too, had been subpoenaed to testify in the Jones case alongside Lewinsky and Tripp.
While she spoke out to Newsweek in 1997, it wasn’t until she appeared on 60 Minutes in 1998 that her story was fully heard.
Susan Carpenter-McMillan, Ann Coulter, and Lucianne Goldberg
Carpenter-McMillan, who is portrayed by Judith Light, was a senior adviser to Jones and headed the Paula Jones Legal Defense Fund. Despite being willing to settle with Jones for $700,000, Carpenter-McMillan pushed her to reject it because it did not include the apology Jones had asked for.
Coulter is a conservative media pundit who authored the 1998 book High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton, which covers controversies surrounding Lewinsky, Jones and others. Prior to her career on cable news, she served as a legal adviser for Jones’ attorneys in her sexual harassment suit against Clinton and was determined to find a reason for him to resign from office. She’s portrayed by Cobie Smulders, who took over the role for Betty Gilpin.
After rising to prominence as the founder of the Pussycat League, which was created in opposition to the women’s liberation movement, Goldberg became entangled in the impeachment scandal after advising Tripp to record her phone calls with Lewinsky. At the time, Goldberg was a literary agent, known for promoting right-wing agendas, who was helping Tripp work on a book proposal about the death of Clinton aide Vince Foster. Ironically enough, Goldberg is played by Margo Martindale, who was last seen on TV in Mrs. America as Bella Abzug.
Portrayed by Edie Falco, Clinton famously weathered the scandal and stood by her husband at the most trying time in their marriage and respective political careers. While not featured prominently on the scripted series, she most recently went into more detail about that time in her life in the Hulu docuseries Hillary. “I was just devastated,” Clinton said. “I could not believe it. I was so personally just hurt.”
After the scandal broke, the Clinton family retreated to Martha’s Vineyard. While leaving the White House, Chelsea was seen putting herself between her parents, holding both of their hands as they walked toward Marine One. This moment is recreated in Impeachment, with Falco and Clive Owen as the president.
“That was not anything other than her trying to keep us together. And when she did that, oh my gosh, I just thought, ‘That’s just so incredible. So strong and so wise,’” Clinton recalled at the time, with her husband adding that Chelsea “was filling in our empty space there. That picture is worth a million words.”
When it comes to what audiences get out of the series, executive producer Nina Simpson is hopeful this season will force people to re-examine how they treated these women and hold a mirror up to themselves, much like they were forced to in season 1, with the O.J. Simpson trial.
“I hope that what people will take away from this is an opportunity to look at these characters, and these women in particular, as fully dimensional human beings with hopes and aspirations, most of which end up largely crushed by the systems of power,” Simpson says, adding that she hopes “people come out of this having a different conversation than the last time.”
Impeachment: American Crime Story airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX.