Caught in the Middle of a Nightmare
Monica S. Lewinsky is a young woman in big trouble.
She has endangered President Clinton politically and perhaps legally. She says he had sex with her and urged her to deny it under oath.
She has seen Clinton clench his jaw, glare into TV cameras and say: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time--never. These allegations are false.”
She has placed Vernon E. Jordan Jr., an attorney and Clinton’s powerful confidant, go-between and fixer, in similar jeopardy by saying that he too had urged her to deny having presidential sex. She has seen Jordan glower into the cameras and say: “Ms. Lewinsky told me in no uncertain terms that she did not have a sexual relationship with the president. At no time did I ever say, suggest or intimate to her that she should lie.”
She has spoken with close friend Linda Tripp about having sex with the president and lying about it, and was secretly taped and betrayed. She has embarrassed a former lover and his wife. She has put her brother under media siege, gotten her father subpoenaed and placed her mother in legal peril by asking her for advice. She is the topic of jokes about calling the president “Schmucko” and “the creep” and of talk about phone sex, oral sex and semen on her dress, so tawdry that a television show warned the matter might not be suitable for young viewers. Predictably, she has gotten a $2-million offer from Penthouse magazine to tell all and bare much.
Monica Lewinsky, finally, is in big trouble because of this: If she is lying, her future will be a horror; if she is not lying, her future will be a horror. It is difficult to envision a tomorrow for Monica that will not be a nightmare. Not least, she could go to prison for perjury. She swore in an affidavit earlier this month, before Linda Tripp’s tapes went public, that she had never had a sexual relationship with the president. Monica is only 24. Her lawyer, William Ginsburg, describes her as devastated, crushed, fearful, emotionally shattered, scared out of her mind. She has been quoted as saying, “My life is ruined.”
Some friends believe she had sex with the president. Others do not. Still others are conflicted. Erin Lotz, a companion until high school, says: “I was like, ‘Oh, my God! I couldn’t believe it.” Danny Shabani, who knew her in elementary school and last talked with her a year ago, says: “Monica was never the type of girl that would ever lie.” Payson Lederman, who grew up with her as a youngster in Beverly Hills, says: “I would never imagine her ever being in trouble. For some political reason, someone has trumped up the story and taken advantage of a very kind, sweet, generous person.”
A friend from college asks himself whether he thinks that Monica had sex with the president and answers this way: “She is definitely capable of being with a married man, but she’s also capable of making it up.”
From the Tripp tapes, published by Newsweek magazine:
Linda Tripp: My fear is that they have information that we don’t know that they have . . . and they can nail us. . . .
Lewinsky: If I needed to, I would say . . . this did not happen [the sexual relationship]. . . . God forbid . . . somebody had a video camera of him and me.
Monica Samille Lewinsky was born to affluence.
Her father, Dr. Bernard Lewinsky, a radiation oncologist, owns part of Western Tumor Medical Group Inc., a string of California clinics for cancer patients who need radiation therapy. According to Dunn and Bradstreet, the corporation does about $1.7 million in business every year.
On July 23, 1973, when Monica was born, her mother, Marcia Lewis, was a housewife. She had an air of distinction, people who know her say, along with a sense of enthusiasm. Beautiful, pleasant, smart, savvy and cheerful, she had presence. Even on the phone, they could tell. It was her voice, “a well-bred voice,” in the words of an acquaintance.
Monica’s brother, Michael, was born 3 1/2 years later. The family lived in Beverly Hills. They joined Sinai Temple in Westwood. Popular with business and entertainment executives, it is one of the largest Conservative Jewish congregations in Los Angeles. But until Monica made news in Washington, active members say, they had never heard of her or her family.
The Lewinskys lived at 604 N. Hillcrest Road, which was, indeed, Beverly Hills, 90210. Some of Monica’s neighbors were entertainment executives. Kids got luxury cars for their 16th birthdays. It was a neighborhood of gardeners and maids, of protective walls and lush greenery. The Lewinskys owned a large, two-story, Spanish-tile house on a block lined with tall palm trees. Nine years ago, when Monica’s parents filed for divorce, they estimated its worth at $1.6 million.
Despite the exaggeration that divorce papers are famous for, the documents in Lewinsky vs. Lewinsky indicate Monica grew up in extraordinarily privileged circumstances. Dr. Lewinsky says he was making $37,000 a month, or nearly half a million dollars a year. Even at that, he says, the family was living beyond its means. The divorce papers quote Monica’s mother as saying: “I and my children have maintained an affluent lifestyle and have traveled first class extensively. We have always provided our children with expensive extracurricular lessons and tutoring to satisfy any desires that either they or we might have. I and the children have never had to worry about the cost of anything that we reasonably desired. I have always been able to buy whatever clothes either I, or the children, needed or desired.”
The family spent $20,000 a year on vacations. They drank from a wine cellar, ate off sterling silver and told time by a French clock. Monica’s father drove a Cadillac Allante, her mother a Mercedes-Benz 560 SEL. The family had a Dodge Caravan for outings. Monica and her family spent $2,400 a month for clothing and shoes; Monica and her brother spent $720 a month for tennis lessons, and Monica spent $100 a month on her own hair and grooming.
She attended John Thomas Dye School, where the annual tuition is $9,700. In the fourth grade, her parents switched her to tony Hawthorne Elementary, a neighborhood public school. Still, one classmate says, “she was not a snob.” She was quiet and shy, family friends say, and she got teased by her classmates for wearing thick eyeglasses. But she had corrective eye surgery, and she became more outgoing. She went to slumber parties and school dances, saw movies and hung out at the Beverly Center mall. She liked to sing in talent shows and organize fund-raisers.
“She was fun,” says Erin Lotz, who lived nearby and became a close friend. “She was always smiling. She liked everybody, and everybody liked her.” Payson Lederman, who grew up two doors down, says, “She was very nice, really, a genuine person--not a phony.” One year, Monica threw a party. Lederman says she was a warm hostess, quick to make sure he knew other kids and had fun. “I was kind of a wallflower then,” he says, “and I was so touched that she came over and introduced me around. A lot of people aren’t that considerate.”
Melissa Jacobs, who met Monica in kindergarten, says they became typical girlfriends: They played soccer together, took modern dance lessons together, tried on each other’s clothes and gossiped. They were part of a Hawthorne Elementary clique of five girls who wore matching pink sweatshirts and called themselves the One and Onlys. A rival clique, the Raving Radicals, wore either red or black, Jacobs cannot remember which. The impulse to form the groups came from “Grease,” the John Travolta-Olivia Newton-John musical about ‘50s teenagers.
Unlike the rival clique, Monica’s was “much more mellow,” says Maya Popkin, another member. “We were better students, less eccentric. We came from better homes--by that I mean homes where the family core was stronger. You have to understand, there were some pretty bizarre things going on in the families of kids going to Hawthorne. The ratio of divorce was about 1:3 [one set of married parents to three divorced]. There were parents doing drugs at home.
“We had great conflicts with the Raving Radicals,” Popkin remembers. “Monica was the kind of girl who talked to them, had a way with words, would calm everything down. She always seemed older than her age, more mature externally and internally. You sense these things about kids, even at that age. Monica’s core is that she is good-hearted. I was always in fights. She wasn’t. Monica could get along with basically everybody. She was very, very smart. She had language skills, a good vocabulary. There was nothing conniving about her. She wouldn’t step on anybody to get something she wanted.”
As Monica’s confidence grew, so did a political streak. In the eighth grade, she campaigned for student council vice president and won. Danny Shabani, who was elected president, says she often ran the student council meetings. They were at 7 a.m., and “I would never make them. So she would go in my place.”
A member of the Dudical Dudes, a boys’ clique, who dated her occasionally, says: “She was always a little chunky. That’s what kept her from being one of the girls that all the guys went after.” Shirin Mehdizadeh, a classmate, says: “She used to tell me she hated her body because she was too fat.” Monica had started dieting when she was only 8, says a neighbor who baby-sat. She did it with her mother, the neighbor says, who pressured her to worry about her looks. One evening, the neighbor found Monica staring into a mirror. She turned and asked, “Do you think I’m pretty?”
Like most girls, the One and Onlys talked about boys--"a lot,” says Melissa Jacobs. “Monica could have been a flirt, sure. But who wasn’t a flirt?” Her group sang in a talent show. Their song, “We Go Together,” was from “Grease.” For the performance, Monica and her friends wore matching Dolphin shorts, provocatively thin, tight and high.
Robert Wyshak, an attorney, lived next door to Monica’s family for about six years. His daughters baby-sat for the Lewinskys when Monica was 7 or 8. “They were quite surprised,” Wyshak says, “that the family would permit Monica to watch ‘Dynasty,’ ” a nighttime TV soap about bed-hopping rich people.
Wyshak noticed something else. Monica, he says, “was very well-dressed and made-up most of the time.” She was, he says, “a rather narcissistic child, in that she would preen herself in front of the mirror and [would] like to look at herself all the time.” Her weight, says her friend, Maya Popkin, “was always a problem. But Monica always had perfect skin. She always looked like she just came out of a beauty salon.”
There were troubles at home. Monica’s father was “a hard-working doctor” who would come in late at night, Wyshak says, and it upset Monica’s mother. On weekends, Wyshak often heard loud, angry discussions floating out of their open windows. “They did their fair share of arguing.”
Mary Popkin noticed it too. “Monica and her mother were extremely close,” she says. “Like best friends.” But when Dr. Lewinsky came home for dinner, it grew tense. Monica’s mother was animated, outgoing, but her father “always had a serious look. I could sense there were some problems in the house.”
Almost every day, Monica phoned Melissa Jacobs at about 7:15 p.m.--dinnertime. “Between the salad and the main course,” says Melissa’s brother, Matthew. “It was always my father’s impression that she kind of wanted to be [with the Jacobs] at dinner, because her family maybe didn’t have dinner all together.”
Melissa spent the night at Monica’s house quite often. “Her dad was pretty absent,” she says. “I didn’t see him much.”
As eighth-grade graduation approached, things between Monica’s mother and father turned rocky. “I know it was really hard for her,” Erin Lotz says. “She would talk to her friends about her parents breaking up. I remember she was very devastated.
“It was really sad.”
“Nice girl, very smart,” Matthew Jacobs says. “She got screwed up somewhere along there.”
Monica’s mother paid $760 a month to a psychiatrist for the children, according to the divorce papers, and $360 a month for herself. Later, the total psychiatric bill climbed to $1,800 a month.
Monica’s parents separated on Sept. 9, 1987. Monica was just starting high school. She was only 14.
Even discounting for exaggeration, in a declaration 15 days later, accompanying a petition for divorce, and in a subsequent response to that declaration, Monica’s mother and father revealed just how devastating their battle had become.
Monica’s mother hinted that her husband was having an affair. She said that she had learned of gifts he had given to “a third party” from Tiffany’s, Louis Vuitton and other stores, including a gift of clothing in Hawaii and a gift of cash that very month.
Monica’s father, she said, “has a violent temper and, although unprovoked, has and does scream obscenities at me, such as ‘You are f---ing crazy.’ ‘You are a f---ing moron,’ ‘a bitch’ and other similar names. In addition, respondent belittles the children and yells at them for no apparent reason whatsoever. On many occasions, [he] will tell the children, ‘Leave the dinner table,’ ‘Go to your room,’ ‘We don’t want your opinion,’ and other similar remarks, leaving the children totally inhibited and in fear of him.”
She asked a judge to restrain her husband from “threatening, sexually assaulting, battering or otherwise disturbing my peace and the peace of our children.”
Dr. Lewinsky responded: “I resent [her] allegations concerning my alleged ‘violent temper’ or the listing of the alleged obscenities. I do not in any manner ‘belittle’ the children. I am incensed at the suggestion that I would in any manner threaten, sexually assault or batter my wife and children. I have never at any time either threatened, assaulted or battered her or the children, nor threatened to do so.
“To place this as a matter of public record available to everyone, including my children,” he said, “is nothing more than vindictiveness.”
From the Tripp tapes, reported by Newsweek magazine:
Linda Tripp: I think down deep you don’t like having to lie.
Lewinsky: . . . I don’t think anybody likes to. . . . I would lie on the stand for my family. That is how I was raised.
Tripp: . . . I would do almost anything for my kids, but I don’t think I would lie on the stand for them.
Lewinsky: I was brought up with lies all the time . . . that’s how you got along. . . . I have lied my entire life.
After her parents’ divorce, Monica’s self-confidence and ebullient personality faded.
She went to Beverly Hills High School. She was still outgoing and friendly, but she gained weight, which often made her insecure around her more polished, fashionably attractive classmates.
“Where we went to high school, there were very good-looking girls, and clearly because of her size, she didn’t fit in,” one classmate says. “Her friends were very pretty, and it’s hard to compete with that. And at 15, 16 or 17 years old, that was very important to some young girls.”
Melissa Jacobs, her pal in the One and Onlys, says she noticed it. “Here’s this really pretty girl who’d gained a lot of weight, and I thought, ‘How sad.’ ”
Still, a boy in her class found Monica mature and poised. “She could talk about adult-type subjects, while other girls were interested in clothes.” She was not terribly brainy, but in class she knew her material. She avoided the fast crowd and offered lively opinions about politics or current events. She was well-liked.
She immersed herself in drama, a well-respected and popular activity. “In those years, that really was her identity,” the young man remembers. “It was the cool thing to do.”
The Performing Arts Department at Beverly Hills High School has an acclaimed program known for lavish productions and professional standards. The department uses elaborate sets and costumes and produces plays with casts and crews numbering as many as a hundred students. A number of alumni have gone on to prominent careers, including Nicolas Cage, Richard Dreyfuss and David Schwimmer.
With long hours of rehearsals, students had to juggle classes. They formed a close camaraderie, says the classmate, and because of the demands they had to meet, many were more mature and sophisticated than their peers. Winning a role was extremely competitive. Most of the important parts went to older students with significant drama experience. Monica’s friends were impressed when she got a speaking part in “The Music Man.” She was only a sophomore.
That spring, she and her friends suffered a serious blow. The popular head of the drama department committed suicide. It shook the entire school. Not long after performing “The Music Man” under his direction, Monica and her friends attended his funeral.
“That was a real bonding experience,” Monica’s classmate says. “He was much more than just a teacher. It made us grow up that much more.”
In the drama group at Beverly Hills High, Monica gained the acceptance and affection she craved. Monica, in turn, loved the group so much, her classmate says, that he was surprised when she switched schools in her junior year. She went to Bel Air Prep, now known as Pacific Hills School.
Others gasped too. In Monica’s circle, Bel Air Prep was considered more than a notch below exclusive private schools like Harvard-Westlake. “Anyone who goes to Bel Air Prep, there’s something definitely wrong,” says Matthew Jacobs. “Bel Air Prep was sort of a school of last resort. When news came out that she had gone there, it was sort of tragic.”
Partisans of Bel Air Prep think otherwise, of course, and Monica did well there. She became active in the school choir, and classmates remember her as happy. She kept in touch with her friends in the drama department at Beverly Hills High, and she helped design costumes for several of their plays.
She graduated from Bel Air Prep in 1991, one of a class of seven. She gave the salutatorian address. That fall, she registered at Santa Monica College, a two-year community college.
Monica continued to work as an assistant costume designer for several productions at Beverly Hills High, including “Oliver,” and by now the long hours and the close camaraderie had produced a predictable result. “It can often turn romantic,” says a Beverly Hills High student who worked on the plays with her.
Monica had started an affair.
It was with a member of the Beverly Hills High faculty. He was Andy Bleiler, a technical director in the drama department. Monica was 19. Bleiler was eight years older. He was handsome, married and had a daughter.
Bleiler was in charge of students who provided lighting, set design and costumes, and he often stayed late with the stage crew while they set up for plays and other school productions. Students on the crew say that Monica and Bleiler would leave the group, go into a nearby room and lock the door. They would come out “hot and flustered,” the crew member says. “Everyone knew what was going on.”
Students on the technical crew often stayed late in the school auditorium and were unsupervised. The late-night sessions turned into rowdy parties. “Monica was a nice girl,” one student says, “No one really cared what was going on because we were all getting away with so much.”
Monica’s old friend, Erin Lotz, heard several rumors about the affair. “It was Beverly Hills High,” she says, “so nothing comes as a surprise.”
In the spring of 1993, Monica transferred to Lewis & Clark College, a small liberal arts schoolin Portland, Ore., to study psychology. She returned to Los Angeles that summer. She took a course at UCLA, and she pursued her affair with Bleiler. By now a growing number of her friends knew about the liaison.
She returned to Lewis & Clark in the fall, and a year later, Bleiler moved to Portland too, along with his wife, Kathy, and their 5-year-old daughter. That year the Bleilers had a baby boy.
Bleiler insists that the move to Portland had nothing to do with Monica and that he wanted to end their affair, says Terry Giles, his attorney. But Monica would not let him. “Monica infiltrated their family and attempted to become good friends with Andy’s wife,” Giles says. “Quite honestly, Andy was petrified at the fact that she was becoming friends with his wife and was very fearful of the affair being exposed to his wife.”
Monica rented a four-bedroom house with two friends. The home was in a middle-class neighborhood on a street of large old houses with small, neatly trimmed yards, a place where young families raise their kids next door to older people who have owned their homes for decades. Neighbors say the actual number of residents in the house varied daily; often a friend would drop in with a sleeping bag and stay a day or two. “You lose count,” says Shirley Pape, a neighbor. Usually, Pape says, Monica and her two housemates would not even eat together. “Everybody would just go into the kitchen and do their own thing.”
When they hosted an occasional college party, Monica always would knock at the neighbors’ doors beforehand and alert them and invite them to telephone if the party got too noisy. They never did.
Monica and her housemates took up a tradition begun by a woman who had lived in the house before them--an annual Christmastime block party. “It was potluck,” says Dick Morgan, a retired firefighter who lived next door. “It was really very pleasant: good conversation, quiet, sedate.”
Monica hosted another neighborhood party the following June to celebrate both her 21st birthday and her graduation. Her father and mother came. They stayed at a hotel. Dr. Lewinsky barbecued chicken. “It was delicious,” Pape says. “We all brought a little something.” Monica, Pape says, “arrived as a kind of late hostess and looked lovely--beautiful black hair and lovely skin.”
Andy Bleiler and his family were there, the neighbors say. No one noticed anything unusual; Monica greeted Bleiler and his wife warmly, picked up their children and hugged them.
Monica and her housemates were problems, says the real estate property agent hired by the owners of the house. The owners wanted to sell the place. He says that the trio did not want anyone to look at it. Monica and her housemates delayed paying their rent, he says, and he posted a 24-hour pay-or-quit notice on the door. The house was “filthy,” he says, “really bad. It looked like it had been ransacked half the time by burglars.”
Monica held three jobs in Portland. The first was at the Knot Shop, a downtown concession stand that sold ties, scarves and boxer shorts.
The second was at the Southeast Mental Health Network, where she worked in an unpaid practicum for her degree. The agency works with people suffering from major psychotic disorders, says George Schall, a mental health counselor who shared an office with her. He says Monica seemed to be uncomfortable around the mentally troubled. “Her primary focus,” he says, “seemed like it was soliciting donated tickets for opera, symphony and special events that our clients could avail themselves of. Even at that, Schall says, “she missed a lot of time from work. It seemed like she missed more time than is normal for students.”
Monica’s third job was with Metropolitan Public Defenders, a nonprofit company that contracts with Multnomah County to provide low-cost legal services. For four months, Monica was a volunteer intern. She worked in an outreach group that looks for alternatives to incarceration. That year, says spokeswoman Christine Constans, the group was compiling a massive data base, listing community service and treatment alternatives. “We have nothing in the file,” Constans says, “to indicate anything other than good work.”
In their divorce, which had become final in 1988, Monica’s parents divided community property to give each about half a million dollars. In addition, Dr. Lewinsky was ordered to pay $6,000 a month in spousal support and $2,500 each for Monica and her brother every month until they turned 18.
Monica was older than that by now, but it was clear that her mother or father, or perhaps both, were sending her money. Most of the time she wore jeans or overalls. But occasionally she would go out for the evening in an elegant dress. “There was nothing shy about her,” Morgan, her neighbor, recalls. But she wasn’t coquettish or flirtatious that I saw. You know, people generally see what they expect to see, or project a part of themselves onto the object they’re looking at. But we generally saw a nice person.”
A friend at the college says his roommate, who was a close friend of hers, considered a sexual relationship with her, but thought better of it, “because she was a little too crazy. She was just a bit neurotic, you know? She was self-conscious about her looks and self-conscious about her weight.”
Besides, this student says, “she was just obsessed with that married guy.”
A fellow psychology major says Monica “was always dieting and always talking about it, and she was always breaking her diet and talking about it. She always talked about affairs. She was very open about it that she had affairs with married men. She was really friendly. She wasn’t a mean person. But she was definitely self-centered.”
At one point, say two friends, Monica wrote a letter on Lewis & Clark stationery seeking to have unemployment benefits extended for someone she knew. A college employee complained. Jane Kempe-Ware, a spokeswoman for the college, says that the school did not investigate but informed federal prosecutors about a possible forgery.
Monica received a bachelor of science degree in psychology in May of 1995. “She didn’t speak much about her friends or her intentions in life,” says Morgan, the firefighter. “She seemed to me, as many people around that age are, kind of directionless. It wasn’t like she was headed toward a certain goal.”
Bleiler, her drama teacher and later her lover, says through his attorney that she told him she was moving to Washington. The attorney says that Monica added: “I’m going to the White house to get my presidential knee pads.”
From the Tripp tapes, reported by the Washington Post:
Lewinsky, after her transfer out of the White House, wants to move back.
Tripp: In what capacity?
Lewinsky: Special assistant to the president for [oral sex].
By now, Monica’s mother had made connections.
She had secured them along a serpentine journey that took her through Hollywood to Washington and New York.
During her divorce from Monica’s father, she and her sister, Deborah, wrote freelance pieces for special issue magazines published by the Hollywood Reporter. Arthur Kassel, husband of Tichi Wilkerson Kassel, former owner of the entertainment daily, says the sisters tried without success to start a magazine of their own. It would have been about Beverly Hills society, shops and gossip.
Monica’s mother, Kassel says, “dressed like a lady, with elegance, style. The two sisters were quite an ensemble when they went to something. You would have noticed. Without being disrespectful, I used to call them Frick and Frack.”
As a freelancer, the divorce papers say, Monica’s mother made $175 a month. After the divorce, she lived in a series of upscale condos. One rented for $3,400 a month. She sued the owner. She had a long list of complaints, including: 1) a new post office blocked her view; 2) the exercise room was “completely inadequate”; and 3) most of the time, the whirlpool on the roof did not work.
Connections she had made working for the Hollywood Reporter helped her write a book, “The Private Lives of the Three Tenors: Behind the Scenes With Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti and Jose Carreras,” which Birch Lane Press published two years ago. Her editor says he had to tone down some of her purple prose and cut out a scene about fantasy sex with Domingo, now artistic director of the Washington Opera. To promote the book, her publisher says, she offered this blurb: “How did the reporter, a glamorous Beverly Hills writer formerly with the Hollywood Reporter, get all the inside dope? She denies rumors that she and Domingo were more than friends in the ‘80s, but read the book and see what you think.”
Nothing in the book suggested such a liaison, and the publisher rejected her blurb. Domingo says: “I know Marcia Lewis socially through the Los Angeles Opera, where she came to several of my performances over the years, but that is all. She never interviewed me for the book.”
Through other connections, she met widower R. Peter Straus, 74. He had been married for 45 years to Ellen Sulzberger Straus, a member of the family that controls the New York Times. Straus, the wealthy owner of radio stations and small newspapers in New York state, says he and Monica’s mother, 49, are engaged to be married. She moved to Park Avenue in New York City.
A fellow Park Avenue resident was Walter Kaye, a retired insurance magnate who was a close friend of Hillary Rodham Clinton; had given, along with his wife, nearly half a million dollars to Democratic candidates and the Democratic National Committee; was a contributor to Clinton’s legal defense fund; had donated to a legal defense fund for Susan McDougal, the Clintons’ former business partner, and had been an overnight guest at the White House.
He recommended Monica for a job as a White House intern. She did not have a sterling academic record. She had made the dean’s list during only one term at Lewis & Clark. Other applicants offered far higher GPAs, and they came from prestigious schools that were much more demanding. Monica’s timing, however, was fortuitous. The president had pledged to reduce the permanent White House staff by 25%. That, says a former member of the staff, was “one of the silliest campaign promises Clinton ever made.” It led to a significant expansion in the number of unpaid interns. “So about 1 in 2 got in.”
People running the evaluation process, the former staff member says, paid a lot less attention to grades and class standings. “In many cases, who recommended you is much more important than whether you’ve got a magna cum laude from an Ivy League school. We look at the resume, and if she looks OK, and she comes across as bubbly and enthusiastic and chipper, she’s in.”
Monica was in. She went to the White House in 1995 as a summer intern. She won an assignment to Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta’s office. At first, she worked in his correspondence section, in the basement of the Old Executive Office Building, across West Executive Avenue from the West Wing. By one account, she had trouble writing letters.
She heard the customary warnings. “They herd you into a big auditorium, tell you the safety procedures and tell you how you are expected to dress,” says Shannon Joyce, a fellow intern. “They orient you to the whole idea of working in the White House, of how it is different from other offices. They really discourage you from trying to follow the president, the vice president, assorted world leaders, down the hall, from trying to shake their hands. They wanted you to remember it was a place of business.”
Monica worked hard, but she was “very impressionable, a young 21,” says a former White House aide. “She answered the phone in a loud and theatrical manner. She could be flustered quite easily.”
In mid-August, Monica attended a White House birthday party for the president. He was 49. Singer Jimmy Buffet performed for him and the White House staff on the south portico steps. Monica met Clinton for what Joyce thinks was the first time. “She was very excited,” Joyce recalls. Monica told her “how it was just great to get to meet him and wish him a happy birthday.” But to Joyce, Monica seemed no more star-struck than any other intern. “Everybody feels that way. It is hard not to. I know I felt that way.”
Even earlier, on Aug. 1, however, fellow intern Michael Schneider remembers walking from the Old Executive Office Building to the White House for a tour of the presidential mansion. “We saw these Secret Service men and the president, and we stopped,” Schneider says. “I got to shake hands with the president. He shook all our hands. And Monica Lewinsky just happened to be there.”
Monica had a sought-after blue “hard pass.” It gave her access to the West Wing, where the Oval Office is. Only about 10% of the White House interns have such a pass.
“She was very friendly, very personable, very outgoing, very ambitious,” says Joyce, whom Monica instructed in White House routines. “She seemed bright and interested in politics. She was trying to find a full-time job. She was working very hard and putting in time, volunteering around the office.” Monica told her, Joyce says, that she wanted her full-time job to be at the White House.
She seemed happy there, says Danny Shabani, who attended elementary school with her and who encountered her again after she had gone to Washington. She showed up one day in the White House photo office, says a woman who worked there. The woman recalls Monica’s loopy, girlish handwriting and that she had several snapshots of herself with the president. She was in a hurry, the woman says, to get copies.
In November, Monica says on the surreptitiously recorded Linda Tripp tapes, she began having sex with the president.
She phoned Andy and Kathy Bleiler in Portland, sometimes four or five times a day, always from her desk, says the attorney representing the Bleilers, and “on numerous occasions [she] spoke of sexual activities, always oral sex, with some high-ranking person in the White House.” The calls had a startling immediacy, the attorney says. “When she was talking to the Bleilers, she was talking about something that happened yesterday.” Kathy Bleiler was one of Monica’s best friends, the attorney continues. Moreover, “when she’s talking to Andy about this, she’s talking to somebody she’s having an affair with. So she’s pretty graphic.”
A month later, Monica got her job. She landed an appointment as a staff assistant in the White House Office of Legislative Affairs, where she handled letters from Congress. Her office was still not in the West Wing, but now at least she was in the East Wing, part of the White House itself, and not the basement of an office building across the way. Sometimes she delivered letters to the Oval Office. Usually she left them with the president’s secretary, at a desk 20 feet from his door. Sometimes she ran into the president. “She dressed very stylishly,” says Shannon Joyce. “She would wear pants with a shirt, maybe a vest over it, nice clothes. She was attractive.”
Unlike most young people in Washington, Monica had an apartment at the Watergate, posh quarters overlooking the Potomac River. Bob and Elizabeth Dole live there. So do Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and former Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger. Next door was Mary Vincent. Monica always said “Good morning. Good afternoon. How are you doing?” when the two met in the hallway, and Vincent says Monica always wore tasteful business attire. But Michael Schneider, the fellow intern, says he noticed Monica because she wore more daring clothes than the conservative look favored by most of the other women interns. Schneider remembers: “She tended to wear low-cut dresses.”
Evelyn Lieberman, then the president’s deputy chief of staff, noticed Monica. Before coming to the West Wing, Lieberman had served on the first lady’s staff, so it was hardly surprising that she became a hall monitor on the president’s side of the White House. Indeed, says a former presidential aide, there was a general sensitivity among the senior White House staff regarding the president. “Given the history of his alleged relationships with women,” the former aide says, “people in the White House at a senior level were very careful and guarded, and if they saw potential sticky situations, they took steps to guard against them.”
“Evelyn was concerned that this girl was showing inappropriate attention, an infatuation, to the president,” says an official still in the administration. “She wore skirts that were too short. Evelyn did not like that in any woman in the office. Evelyn did not think they were having an affair; Evelyn was concerned about her having an infatuation.”
Another administration official puts it this way: “Evelyn enforced pretty strict codes of conduct on interns and staff. Evelyn yells at women for skirts that are three inches too short. She yells at guys for coming to work without neckties. And she had pet peeves. She didn’t like people to hang around the president or the West Wing for no particular reason. We have a term in the White House--'a clutch.’ It is a person who always wants to be in the same room as the president. It could be a contributor who won’t let go of him. This young woman was described as ‘a clutch.’ She was hanging around [presidential] events when she shouldn’t have been.”
“Evelyn was suspicious,” the former aide says. “There was chitchat in the hallways that this young woman was a bit too flirtatious in the presence of the president.” One administration official says that “when Evelyn found that Monica’s office was not functioning well, either, she did what she has done to about a hundred billion other people: She moved her out of there.”
A source close to Lieberman says she cannot remember whether she was the person who fired Monica, but she recalls yelling at her several times for inappropriately low-cut dresses and for being where she should not have been. Similarly, Lieberman cannot remember whether she ever sent Monica home for inappropriate attire, the source says, but that she did such a thing several times to both men and women interns.
Monica had become known at the White House, says one source, as “the Stalker.”
From the Tripp tapes, reported by Newsweek magazine:
Lewinsky: (on how hard it would be to tell the president she had been talking to others about the situation) I can’t. If I do that, I’m just going to f---ing kill myself.”
In the first week of April 1996, the Pentagon needed a confidential assistant in its public affairs office. Kenneth Bacon, the top Defense Department spokesman, asked the White House for suggestions. It sent over one name: Monica Lewinsky.
She was short on experience, Bacon says, but he hired her anyway because he wanted someone who was computer-savvy and could handle long hours and menial tasks. The job nonetheless required a top-secret clearance. Monica got one.
Bacon says her recommendation from the White House “was not a major part” of his decision to hire her. Instead, he says, he was looking for an assistant with youth and energy, because whoever got the job would travel with him when he accompanied Defense Secretary William S. Cohen overseas. “She performed competently,” Bacon says, “from her first day to her last.”
One co-worker remembers that Monica did not have the earnest, highly responsible air that permeates the Pentagon. Colleagues say she was industrious, brash, playful, talkative. “She was a woman-child,” a colleague recalls. “She wasn’t quite grown up yet.” Flighty, he says, would be a fair description. Willie Blacklow, a senior public affairs officer in Bacon’s office until his recent retirement, says she was “a hard worker, ebullient, effervescent. Is she young, and at times naive? Yes. Did I enjoy working with her? Yes.”
She was Bacon’s gatekeeper. She kept his schedule, took his calls, determined whom to put through to him. Her naivete bothered some of her co-workers. “Ditsy,” one says. Another says that when she arrived she gummed things up. Under her predecessor, who was an older woman, “getting stuff was no problem,” says still another. Monica “slowed the process.”
She melted down on tight deadlines. Pressure would cause her to begin issuing commands to others, including superiors and senior military people, one colleague says. She had an aggressiveness that was almost bossy, a senior officer says. “She could rub people the wrong way.” Another senior officer says, “She had to be calmed down.”
She talked about money and privilege and Beverly Hills and her father’s excellent reputation. Much of her talk was with friends at the White House. On one occasion, a boss chastened her for spending too much time on the phone. She complained about her struggle to lose weight. Sometimes she flirted with reporters.
Monica brought in her mother to meet her co-workers. Her brother sat in on a Pentagon news briefing. Bacon welcomed him from the podium, and Monica beamed. “I don’t think she had a barn-burning social life,” one of her co-workers remembers. She spoke frequently about how much she missed her friends at the White House, and one day Blacklow took pity on her.
In December 1996, he received an invitation to the annual White House Christmas party. “Monica had been hinting around to all of us for two or three days that she’d love to go and see all her old buddies.” Besides, she claimed, she knew the president.
“The day of the actual party, my wife couldn’t make it. I turned and said, ‘Hey, Monica, want to go with me?’ She was very excited. She got permission to go home early and change into her dress.” It was stunning, Blacklow remembers. Full length. Somewhat low cut.
As he and Monica filed along the reception line, the president recognized her. “Hi, Monica!” Clinton said, and he hugged her.
Blacklow was surprised. But, he says, the encounter substantiates nothing. “It wasn’t in any way, shape or form sexual. It proves nothing, except that Bill recalls names like a Rolodex.”
Monica’s claims that she actually knew the president appeared to have been true. “Monica, like any 24-year-old, has a tendency to exaggerate,” Blacklow says. “I just didn’t realize that he would, in fact, recognize her.”
Monica had strong views. “But she was not politically sophisticated,” Blacklow says. She fed her taste for politics by watching a large TV just outside Kenneth Bacon’s office, right across from her desk. “She tended to put things in black and white,” a colleague says: Clinton was good, the Republicans bad. Many of her fellow workers were Republicans and more conservative than she was. They teased her about it.
As Bacon’s assistant, Monica traveled abroad six times to 12 nations around the world. They included Russia, Bosnia and Australia. All were trips taken by the secretary of Defense. Her duties were to produce the instant transcripts that Bacon always demanded after press briefings and interviews. She was not an ace typist, and to her disappointment she ended up spending much of her time in exotic places sitting in hotels and struggling with Defense Secretary Cohen’s remarks. She laughed and asked reporters to stop talking to him so she could cease transcribing.
During one overseas trip, she had a fling with a senior military officer in his late 40s, say several of her colleagues. The officer was single.
There are reports of another relationship, this one with a civilian at the Pentagon. He too was older than Monica, and he too was single.
From her Pentagon desk, she continued to telephone Andy and Kathy Bleiler. Not long before her trip to Bosnia, in late June and early July 1996, Monica told Kathy Bleiler “that she was impregnated and had an abortion,” says Terry Giles, the Bleilers’ attorney. He adds, however, that they have no idea whether it was true.
Monica flew back to Portland occasionally. During those visits, Giles says, she and Andy Bleiler kept up their five-year affair. But Monica told so many others about it that early last year Bleiler broke it off. In April, Kathy Bleiler got wind of the affair, Giles says, and the Bleilers entered therapy to save their marriage.
“It’s been a very difficult time for my wife and I for the last year,” Bleiler says, “trying to mend this.”
Monica kept on telephoning.
“She called in December to see if she could send the children Christmas gifts,” Giles says, “and Kathy told her absolutely not. They told her to stop calling.”
One floor below at the Pentagon, in the basement of its prestigious E-ring, was another refugee from the White House, a 48-year-old woman, Linda Tripp. A holdover from the Bush administration, she had been a secretary in the White House counsel’s office and possibly the last person to see Vincent Foster, the deputy counsel, before he committed suicide in 1993.
To the Clinton administration’s displeasure, she later testified before Congress about the circumstances surrounding his death. She added to the annoyance by calling top White House officials “the three stooges” in an e-mail message to a colleague. Her message became public. She was passed over for promotion and transferred to the Pentagon in 1994.
She and Monica became close friends. A Pentagon official who knew both women says that their friendship was well known. “It was almost like a big sister-little sister relationship. Monica looked up to her like you’d look up to your older sister.”
Tripp was strong-willed, often brusque. “There was something in Linda that I think Monica wanted to be,” says a former colleague. “Linda knew what she was about, and Monica didn’t, quite.”
The two were drawn together by their White House experience. They went shopping, gossiped, had coffee. They talked about sex. Monica reportedly said she was having an affair with the president.
Shortly afterward, Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff contacted Tripp to ask questions about Kathleen E. Willey, a White House staffer who had told her that the president had kissed and fondled her. She passed along to Isikoff the woman’s account, which the magazine published in August 1997, along with a response from a Clinton lawyer, who said: “Linda Tripp is not to be believed.”
If the story brought a subpoena to testify in the sexual-harassment suit filed against the president by Arkansas state employee Paula Corbin Jones, Tripp would have to tell about Monica. She decided to secretly record her telephone conversations with her. She was encouraged by Lucianne Goldberg, a literary agent Tripp had sought out several years before about a possible White House book. Goldberg once spied on George S. McGovern for Richard Nixon, and her enmity toward Bill Clinton was well known.
Monica was working long hours at the Pentagon, often from 7:15 a.m. to 9 p.m., Bacon says. “She was never reluctant to put in the overtime that was needed,” says Lt. Comdr. James W. Graybeal, whose desk was only a few yards away.
It could be exhausting. She wanted to quit and find a job in New York to be near her mother, says Jack Tapper, a reporter for the Washington City Paper, who met her at a party and took her to dinner.
“My date with Monica was innocent, was sweet, was anything but tawdry,” Tapper says. She did not say a word about the president. “She was a sweetheart. She was almost childlike.”
Lawyers for Paula Jones had heard of Monica, and they subpoenaed her to testify in their lawsuit. She signed an affidavit swearing that she and the president never had sex.
The president swore the same thing during a deposition in the Jones case 10 days later.
Linda Tripp decided to supplement her telephone tapes of Monica with a recording made in person. She went to her lawyer and asked him to outfit her with a device called a body wire. He refused, and she fired him.
On Jan. 12, she took her request to someone who would listen: independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, who was investigating the president.
Tripp telephoned Starr’s office. She told about her conversations with Monica. His investigators went straight to Tripp’s house.
They listened to Tripp’s tapes.
Monica’s contradiction of the president’s deposition and her own affidavit was apparent.
At that moment, Monica Lewinsky’s big trouble began.
This story was reported by Edwin Chen, Mary Curtius, Ralph Frammolino, Josh Getlin, John M. Glionna, Matea Gold, John J. Goldman, Carla Hall, Nancy Hill-Holtzman, Janet Hook, Marc Lacey, Eric Lichtblau, Davan Maharaj, Eric Malnic, Elizabeth Mehren, John L. Mitchell, Doyle McManus, Alan C. Miller, Kim Murphy, Ann W. O’Neill, Kenneth Reich, Paul Richter, Richard A. Serrano, Julie Tamaki, Jodi Wilgoren and David Willman. Writer: Richard E. Meyer. Project coordinator: Lianne Hart. Research Librarian: Janet Lundblad.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
“She was just a nice, sweet girl"-- a high school friend.
July 23, 1973
Monica Samille Lewinsky born in San Francisco.
Attended John Thomas Dye School, a private elementary school in Bel Air
Attended Beverly Hills High School, where she is active in the drama department.
Dec. 20, 1988
Parents Marcia and Bernard divorce.
Lewinsky transfers to a private school, Bel-Air Prep in West Hollywood (now Pacific Hills School).
Graduates from Bel-Air Prep.
Attends Santa Monica College while working as a costume designer on school productions at Beverly Hills High. Late 1992, she starts a five-year affair with a married drama instructor eight years her senior.
Transfers to Lewis & Clark College, a small liberal arts college in Portland, Ore.
Graduates from Lewis & Clark with a degree in psychology.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
“She was very friendly, very personable, very outgoing, very ambitious..."-- former White House intern Shannon Joyce
Begins an unpaid White House internship in the office of then -Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta.
According to tapes made later, Lewinsky alleges a sexual relationship with President Clinton.
Lewinsky moved to a paid White House job handling correspondence in the Office of Legislative Affairs.
Following reported concerns about her seeming infatuation with the president, Lewinsky is reassigned to the Pentagon, where she works for spokesman Kenneth Bacon and Linda Tripp.
Tripp begins secretly taping her conversations with Lewinsky, who alleges a lengthy affair with Clinton.
Jan. 7, 1998
Lewinsky signs an affidavit in the Paula Corbin Jones sexual-harassment case stating she has never engaged in sex with the president.
Jan. 12, 1998
Tripp contacts the office of Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, saying she has information about Lewinsky’s alleged relationship with Clinton.
Jan. 13, 1998
Tripp, working with the FBI, meets Lewinsky at a Ritz-Carlton bar in Virginia and secretly tapes their conversation.
Jan. 14, 1998
Lewinsky gives Tripp typewritten tips on how to respond to questions from Paula Jones’ lawyers. The “talking points” suggest ways to skirt the truth.
Jan. 16, 1998
Lewinsky meets Tripp again at the Ritz-Carlton. She is intercepted by FBI agents who question her for hours.
Jan. 21, 1998
Clinton denies a sexual relationship with Lewinsky and insists he never told anyone to lie about it.
Researched by MATEA GOLD and LIANNE HART / Los Angeles Times
* HEADED HOME
William Ginsburg and Monica S. Lewinsky will return to L.A. A14
* FOCUS ON FACTS
The president’s legal case to revolve around perjury charges. A16
* COURT OF OPINION
In Taft, Calif., just as in Washington, Clinton is the talk of town. A3