Cheryl Mills made headlines this week in 1999 when she addressed the U.S. Senate during President Bill Clinton’s explosive impeachment trial. Mills, a young attorney at the time, also made history by becoming the first Black person to address the Senate during an impeachment hearing.

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Mills, born in 1965, was a military brat with some ties to the Washington, D.C. area. She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia in 1987. The Phi Beta Kappa honors student then obtained her law degree from the University of Stanford in 1990. She joined Clinton’s staff as Associate Counsel in 1993 but kept a relatively low profile until the impeachment hearings.

In December 1998, Clinton was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives on two charges: obstruction of justice and perjury. Independent Counsel Ken Starr investigated a series of mishaps during Clinton’s presidency, including the sexual harassment case brought by Paula Jones, the misuse of FBI files and the revelation of the clandestine relationship with White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.

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impeachment hearing began January 7, 1999. By the 19th of the month, the defense began making its presentations, with Mills speaking on the second day. From the moment she took the floor, Mills’ opening statements humanized Clinton as a flawed person but stopped short of calling him a criminal. Mills also praised Clinton for his record on civil rights and his support of minorities and women, nothing the fact she was his deputy counsel for the case.

The media reaction to Mills’ opening statements was frenzied, as many wanted to learn more about the young Stanford-educated attorney. Some observers even stated that she might have swayed the Senate to acquittal behind her words although it appeared that was the direction of the case the entire time.

Mills, true to form, has kept out of the spotlight for much of her career. In 2009, she was Counsel and Chief of Staff for former First Lady Hillary Clinton during her State Department secretarial appointment. She turned down Clinton’s offer to join her campaign team and instead runs her own company, BlackIvy, building businesses in Africa.

PHOTO: U.S. Department of State, Public Domain

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