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Thread: Oral history: The Monica Lewinsky scandal ten years on

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    Default Oral history: The Monica Lewinsky scandal ten years on

    Ten years after a young intern nearly brought down a president, the players in the Monica Lewinsky scandal talk to our correspondent

    On the evening of Saturday January 17, 1998, the internet gossip merchant Matt Drudge posted a story that opened the most sensational scandal season in the history of the American presidency. He reported that Newsweek magazine had killed a story about President Clinton’s sexual relationship with a former intern. The next day he had her name: Monica Lewinsky.
    The mainstream media were slow to catch up, but by the following Tuesday they were reporting that Clinton was being investigated for encouraging others to lie to cover up the affair.
    For the next year the story dominated the headlines as Clinton was investigated, impeached and eventually found not guilty of high crimes and misdemeanours in a Senate trial.
    Ten years on we know what happened to Bill Clinton. He is campaigning tirelessly for his wife as she seeks to win the second Clinton presidency. It is a curious twist of fate, and an indication of how deep were the repercussions of the scandal, that her campaign might not be happening if it weren’t for Monica Lewinsky.



    For it was in the wake of the scandal, in which Hillary was seen as the wronged wife, that she decided to run for the Senate from New York. Her shamed husband, anxious to try to make things up to her, eagerly threw his weight behind the move. A wave of sympathy helped to sweep her to victory. As soon as she was elected, talk began about her running for president.
    But what of the other dramatis personae from that sorry saga? Newt Gingrich, the Republican Speaker of the House, resigned when voters expressed their disapproval at the impeachment drive. Two years later, though, scandal fatigue severely complicated Al Gore’s presidential campaign. Now many of the Clinton aides intimately involved in the defence of the President are at his wife’s side. Many other supporting actors saw their lives changed for ever. Some are desperate to stay in the spotlight, others would love to be able to leave the stage, but few have been able to find the exit.
    Paula Jones: the woman who started it all
    Paula Jones was not the first of the Clinton women. There had been many before her and there were more after. But she was the trigger for the investigation of the President that nearly brought him down. Jones brought a sexual harassment case claiming that when she was a lowly state employee and he was Arkansas Governor a state trooper took her to Clinton’s hotel room, where he exposed himself.
    The case came tantalisingly close to being settled before Monica Lewinsky ever appeared on the radar. But when it became clear that Clinton would not apologise as part of the deal, Jones, spurred on by her angry husband, pressed ahead with it.
    Her lawyers wanted to establish a pattern of behaviour, and it was during the process of tracking down other women employed by the state or federal government who had been sexually involved with Clinton that the Lewinsky relationship was discovered. In November 1998, after admitting to the Lewinsky affair and facing a Senate trial, Clinton belatedly settled the case, agreeing to pay Jones $850,000 but not admitting any wrongdoing or apologising.
    Since then Jones and her husband have divorced. In posing nude for Penthouse she was denounced as “trailer-park trash” by one former high-profile conservative supporter and she lost a televised boxing match against Tonya Harding, the former figure skater notorious for her part in a plot to harm her fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan.
    Jones, 41, remarried and has a four-year-old son, as well as two older children, aged 15 and 11. She works for a real estate agent in Little Rock. She talks on the phone but declines to meet for an interview because “I’m kinda wanting to write a book. Nobody ever would have had books out there if it wasn’t for me in the first place and I’m the one who seems to be blackballed and not been able to tell my story.” Publishers are either “big-time liberal or they’re scared. Maybe they want to protect the up-coming election. Everybody who has been connected to the Clinton scandal has done a book, even Monica Lewinsky. If it wasn’t for me they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to line their pockets.”
    She says the settlement did not cover her huge legal fees and she still owes money to lawyers. How will she repay it? “I won’t. They know that.”
    Unsurprisingly, she says she won’t be voting for Hillary and is astonished that Bill and Hillary Clinton are still campaigning. “I just laugh, that’s all I do. Lord have mercy, I don’t know. Everybody had to have their part; they didn’t care what I ended up with. Have you got any book people you could send in my direction?”

    Kathleen Willey: the accuser from the Oval Office
    Kathleen Willey sits drinking teaon a balcony at the grand Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia. She talks softly, but that doesn’t diminish her anger at Bill Clinton and, more surprisingly, his wife.
    Willey and her late husband Ed, the son of a prominent Virginian politician, helped to form Virginians for Clinton when he ran for president in 1992. On one occasion during the campaign a sick Clinton tried to persuade Willey to bring him chicken soup in his hotel room when Hillary wasn’t around. She declined that and other invitations, but went to work as a volunteer in the White House after he was elected. Volunteers were amazed at how friendly he was towards her. Others called her flirtatious.
    One day in 1993, when her husband was in desperate financial difficulties of his own making, she went to see Clinton in the Oval Office to ask for a proper job. During their meeting, she says, he sexually assaulted her. He groped her and put her hand on his erect penis while aides were outside banging on the door because he was late for a meeting. She extricated herself and left.
    She says now that what he did was “wrong and slimy and predatory, but it was not devastating”. In any case, she had other things on her mind. Her husband did not come home that night: the next day he was found dead in remote woodland, having apparently shot himself. There was a report of a gunshot around 3pm, the time she had been in the Oval Office. “Almost at the exact moment,” she muses. “It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it.”
    Willey, 61, says she never wanted the story of what she claims happened in the Oval Office to become public. But she confided in people, including Linda Tripp, who would later befriend Lewinsky. Somebody tipped off Paula Jones’s lawyers (she says it was not her) and Willey was issued with a subpoena.
    Tripp, who encountered Willey shortly after the alleged incident, has given different accounts of what Willey told her, suggesting at first that Willey did not speak of an assault and that she seemed happy after the Oval Office encounter. Later, Tripp said that she believed Willey’s account.
    Willey was criticised in the final report of the independent prosecutor’s office for some contradictions in two different accounts of the incident that she gave. In the end it was a “he said-she said” and evidence was not available to charge Clinton with lying under oath about what had happened that day.
    Willey did not sell her story at the time or write a book. But now, just in time for the presidential primaries, a conservative publisher has released her memoir – Target: Caught in the Crosshairs of Bill and Hillary Clinton. She has done more than 160 radio interviews to promote the book but says it is not just about hitting Hillary’s campaign.
    “Is it just to get back at the Clintons? No, it’s not revenge, but I think that it’s a powerful story about what happened to an ordinary American woman who found herself involved in the biggest political scandal that ever happened in this country.”
    She says she expected Clinton to say that all he did at their meeting was give her a peck on the forehead – “he wasn’t going to admit it” – and was not surprised by his ungentlemanly comment to Monica Lewinsky that he would not go for Willey because she had small breasts.
    When people suggest that any sexual activity was consensual, “basically I just laugh”.
    Others have questioned her state of mind in the aftermath of her husband’s death. “You don’t misremember things like that. Women don’t misread a situation like that,” she says. “I was in a time of need, frightened, panicky, my world was crashing in on me. I went to see a friend for help, he took complete advantage of me.”
    Her credibility suffered a blow at the time of her original allegations, when the White House released friendly letters that she wrote to Clinton after the incident. She robustly defends this action, saying that she wrote them with her lawyer’s approval because she was desperate for a job to ease her parlous financial situation.
    She was subsequently given some assignments, including places on overseas delegations for which she lacked experience, but Clinton did not come up with a job for her.
    She believes that Clinton is a sex addict and Hillary is an enabler. “Rather than address the problem, it’s this ‘vast right-wing conspiracy’. Rather than give him an ultimatum and kick him out and say you are not coming back until you get well, she has enabled his behaviour and it hasn’t stopped.
    Really, how much public humiliation can one woman stand?”
    She goes as far as to call Hillary Clinton “evil” for what she believes was her role in trying to destroy the credibility of the women who claimed sexual relationships with her husband. “A lot of women out there are voting for the first time and are excited about voting for a woman. This country is certainly ready to be run by a woman. Just not this woman.”
    A few years ago Willey remarried, but that marriage has ended. She has two grown-up children who accept her decision to put herself back in the public eye, and three grandchildren.
    Some of her allegations seem wild. She believes that shadowy figures subjected her to a campaign of intimidation that included killing her cat.
    But some of her other claims, if true, are puzzling. For example, why should anyone break into her house, as she said someone did last year, and take only one thing: a copy of the manuscript for her book? Like many aspects of this scandal, the truth seems likely to remain shrouded in murk.

    Linda Tripp: the woman who was everyone’s friend
    I find Linda Tripp, 58, at the Christmas Sleigh, a year-round Christmas store that she runs with her husband in the twee town of Middleburg in affluent Virginia horse country, about an hour from Washington. At least, I think I find her. As I walk up the street I see a woman who looks like Linda Tripp entering the store. She disappears into a back room. I spend a few minutes admiring the pricey wooden German toys and traditional Austrian clothes. A stack of copies of a book about Christmas in the White House is prominently displayed.
    Then she emerges from the back room. “Linda,” I say, going to introduce myself. She looks at me for a moment and then corrects me: “Karen.”
    Linda Tripp, who had worked for and revered the first President Bush, was one of the few who stayed on to work for the Clinton Administration. She had an uncanny ability to turn up wherever scandal hit. She was possibly the last person to see Vince Foster, the Clinton lawyer who was found dead in what was officially suicide but has kept conspiracy theorists busy ever since. She was a colleague and sometime friend of Willey but later accused her, according to Willey, of taking her job and gossiped about Willey’s relationship with Clinton.
    She moved to the Pentagon, where she befriended Lewinsky, who had been moved out of the White House by aides concerned about her relationship with the President. Tripp became the younger woman’s confidante as she agonised about what Clinton really thought of her.
    Tripp has always maintained that she taped their phone calls because she feared that she was being pressured to say she would lie about Willey and Lewinsky in the event that she was ever subpoenaed. But it became clear that she was also out to get Clinton and manipulated the situation. She was in cahoots with Lucianne Goldberg, a literary agent with links to conservatives, and talked about a book deal. She led Lewinsky on to discuss Clinton while she was taping, she encouraged her to use a courier service to send her packages so that there would be a paper trail and she insisted that Lewinsky hold on to the famous blue Gap dress soiled with the President’s semen, which became crucial evidence that finally persuaded Clinton to admit to the affair.
    Tripp volunteered to give evidence in the Paula Jones case and then went to Kenneth Starr, the independent prosecutor, triggering his probe of the President. She participated in an FBI sting operation in which she wore a wire to record her friend and then arranged to meet Lewinsky again so that agents could apprehend her.
    She became a hate figure for many and was depicted as a villain of the piece. An odd twist was that she was one of the few players in the drama to be prosecuted, when she was charged with illegal wire tapping for secretly taping her calls with Lewinsky. The case was eventually dismissed. On the final day of the Clinton administration, she was dismissed from her job.
    In the intervening years she has survived breast cancer and married her childhood sweetheart, a German architect, Dieter Rausch. Together they opened the Christmas Sleigh. She has had extensive plastic surgery.
    I look at the woman who calls herself Karen and she looks back, her mouth twitching. She bears an uncanny resemblance to the pictures I have seen of Tripp, postplastic surgery. Could this be Linda’s sister? But her sister isn’t called Karen.
    I explain who I am and that I had heard Linda owns the shop. “She does actually – with her husband,” says the woman who calls herself Karen. That must have been the husband I had glimpsed going into the back of the store earlier wearing lederhosen, just as he is pictured in the leaflet advertising the store.
    But no, it cannot be him because, as Karen tells me when I ask if I can speak to them: “They are not here right now. They won’t be back until tomorrow.”
    But you are here. You are her, I want to say. But then I remember what Linda Tripp told Monica when discussing what she would say if she was asked under oath about the affair with Clinton: “I would do almost anything for my kids, but I don’t think I would lie on the stand for them.” Linda Tripp would not pretend to be someone else when a reporter came in.
    “She doesn’t speak to the press at all,” says the woman who calls herself Karen, but then adds: “I am told they are going to do one interview,” for the tenth anniversary. I wonder who told Karen. Linda?
    “They have a lot of media requests,” she says and heads to the back of the shop. “You are welcome to not take any pictures.”
    I thank her and remark to myself on the extraordinary coincidence of having two people in one small shop who both look exactly like Linda Tripp after she has had some work done.

    Monica Lewinsky: the world’s most famous intern
    Monica Lewinsky was 21when, as a White House intern, she delivered pizza to the President, flirted with him, flashed her thong and began an 18-month relationship that involved oral sex, phone sex, an infamous incident with a cigar, a great deal of soul-searching about what he really felt for her and then increasing fear and panic as it became clear that the relationship could become public.
    In the immediate aftermath of the scandal she wrote her account, with Andrew Morton, and promoted the book with interviews. She resented how Clinton had characterised the relationship: “He talked about it as though I had laid it all out there for the taking. I was the buffet and he just couldn’t resist the dessert. That’s not how it was. This was a mutual relationship, mutual on all levels.”
    She started a venture making handbags, appeared on Saturday Night Live and hosted a reality show, Mr Personality. Then she tried to go under the radar. She enrolled at the London School of Economics, and-graduated in December 2006 with a masters in social psychology.
    Apart from the occasional sighting of her in New York or Los Angeles, the 34-year-old has been invisible. “After she graduated we tried to keep a low profile,” says her friend and sometime publicist, Barbara Hutson. “She’s getting on with her life, she never wanted to be a public figure. She’s going to try and be as anonymous as possible. But she’s never going to be, especially if Hillary becomes President. The kids who didn’t know who she was will now know who she is because her name is constantly being brought up due to Hillary’s running. She was 21 years old, it was a stupid thing. She made a mistake. Look at all the girls who are doing crazy things now.”
    Hutson says the Clinton Administration tried to ruin Lewinsky’s reputation. “They destroyed her and never apologised. They ruined this girl’s life. Every major company here has somebody on the board who is friends with Bill. They are not going to give her a job no matter how smart she is.”
    Hutson says that when Nixon and Reagan were engulfed by scandal the stories were called Watergate and Iran-Contra, but the emphasis of the 1998 scandal was put on the intern rather than the President. She says the media were influenced by the White House to coin the phrases Monicagate and the Lewinsky scandal. It is hard to imagine that such nomenclature was uppermost in the minds of presidential aides at the time but Hutson believes “very simply they put it all on her and for ever that will haunt her. She is a private citizen and her name is mud, her family’s name. Why didn’t they call it Clintongate?”
    She will not say where Lewinsky is now, although when pressed admits that despite reports at the time of her graduation that she was job hunting in London, she is unlikely to be seen in the UK. Hutson jokes that Lewinsky could be in India or hiding on a farm in the Midwest, but says that she would not give an interview because “if she comes out now and says anything, if Hillary loses they will blame her. Probably if Hillary loses it will be the best thing for her.”

    Bob Bittman: the man with the awkward questions
    Bob Bittman had the job of asking almost certainly the most extraordinary questions ever put to a President of the United States. Questions such as: “Mr President, if there is a semen stain belonging to you on a dress of Ms Lewinsky’s, how would you explain that?” (Answer: “We met that night and talked. So that’s a question you already know the answer to.”) Bittman was deputy to the independent prosecutor Kenneth Starr, and ran the investigation into Monica Lewinsky. There was an early discussion in the Starr team about whether it was appropriate to proceed, but a unanimous decision was taken that there was ongoing criminal activity in the form of efforts to deny the relationship in the Paula Jones case and possible suborning perjury and obstruction of justice.
    Bittman was astonished by what he learnt from the tapes and interviews. For the President to carry on with a 21-year-old intern while facing a sexual harassment case was “crazy”. Amid a media feeding frenzy, the lawyers worked in a sealed building round the clock to check every fact to establish if Lewinsky was telling the truth about the relationship.
    “We just had to focus on the next stage of the investigation and check everything out to see if it fitted with Monica’s account. We could only do the best job we could.” Of the morning that he interrogated the President, Bittman says: “I was nervous.
    But I had been very well prepared. We all wished it had not got to that stage. If he had admitted it earlier he would have spared himself and the country that ordeal.”
    The line of questioning had been carefully prepared with a lawyer standing in for Clinton. Some episodes that appeared in evidence, such as whether the President had masturbated into a bin during one encounter, were not pursued because they were not relevant to the legal case. He was, however, asked about the cigar because the act of insertion could have constituted “sexual relations”, which Clinton had denied. Bittman didn’t balk. “They were questions that had to be asked. We only asked questions that had some direct relevance to the crimes we were investigating. I felt that Clinton did pretty well. Very sophisticated, very well prepared, and very experienced at misleading people.”
    The Starr team did not want much of the information they had uncovered to enter the public domain, because they believed it was too salacious and they wanted to preserve the dignity of the presidency. But when it was sent to Capitol Hill the House of Representatives decided to release it all before even reading it. “Our position was that it was not our job to tell the House what should or should not be made public. We believed that the House – especially because we had specifically warned them in the transmittal letter of the sensitive nature of the facts – would act responsibly and at least read the referral before releasing it.”
    He has no doubts that Clinton should have been impeached (charged with an offence). “Our job was to investigate and present our findings. It was up to the House to impeach. Personally if I had been in the House I would have voted to impeach and if I had been in the Senate I would have voted to convict. But it became a political decision, as it should be. I believe we presented a strong and compelling case. I think history bears out that Clinton did the things outlined in our referral.”
    One of his few regrets was the decision not to respond to the media campaign being waged by the White House against what they were doing. If they had done a better job of explaining to people that they weren’t just investigating sex but wrongdoing in a sexual harassment case, public sentiment might then have been less hostile and the politicians might have been more willing to convict of high crimes and misdemeanours.
    This might also have improved the image of Starr, who was popularly portrayed as a witch-finder, obsessed with sex. “Judge Starr is a very bright man. He was a great leader and very generous with his staff. He always tried to do the right thing. He always stayed within the law.” Starr is now the Dean of Pepperdine School of Law in California and busy in private practice, where he has raised eyebrows by working for convicts on death row, saving the life of one man the day before he was scheduled for execution.
    After the investigation was wound down the statute that allowed for independent prosecutors was not renewed. There was widespread agreement that this was right because it allowed parties to claim that the prosecutors were out of control and not accountable.
    Bittman is a career prosecutor who now works for a big Washington firm. The Lewinsky investigation helped his career because it made him well known. The downside is that he encounters people who resent him for his involvement in such a polarising case. The Starr team enjoy regular reunions. Working on that investigation was “like nothing else. You work long hours, all working on the same case and everyone is at the top of their game,” says Bittman. “In that sense it was great fun.”

    Mike Isikoff: reporter who lost the scoop of his life
    Michael Isikoff of Newsweek magazine was covering the Paula Jones story when he tracked down Kathleen Willey. She told him that there was somebody who would corroborate her story, who had seen her soon after she emerged from the Oval Office. That woman was Linda Tripp. When Tripp got talking she put the reporter on the trail of Monica Lewinsky.
    After Kenneth Starr’s agents brought Lewinsky in, Isikoff wrote a story about the investigation only for the scoop of his life to be spiked by nervous editors at Newsweek. Isikoff got much of the credit for unearthing the story and went on to write a successful book, Uncovering Clinton. He subsequently won awards for his reporting of President’s Bush’s War on Terror, but a story he wrote about a Koran being flushed down the toilet at Guantanamo Bay led to rioting in the Muslim world that caused at least 17 deaths, and Newsweek retracted it. He declined to comment about his role in the Lewinsky story or whether he still dreams of the glory that might have been.
    His name has been eclipsed by that of Matt Drudge, who leapt from obscurity to worldwide fame in a few million clicks. Today his bulletin board, which links to stories from other media and throws out titbits of gossip, often gets more than 20 million hits a day. Despite the disapproval of many in the mainstream media he is arguably the most influential figure in American news, and a jealous guardian of his own privacy.

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    Elite Member NicoleWasHere's Avatar
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    Happy anniversary?

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    Elite Member McJag's Avatar
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    But don't smoke any cigars...
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    Elite Member kingcap72's Avatar
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    "I did NOT have sexual relations with that woman...Miss Lewinsky. I just gave her a pap smear with my cigar."

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    Elite Member *DIVA!'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kingcap72 View Post
    "I did NOT have sexual relations with that woman...Miss Lewinsky. I just gave her a pap smear with my cigar."
    "THEN I SMOKED IT"
    Baltimore O's ​Fan!

    I don''t know if she really fucked the board though. Maybe just put the tip in. -Mrs. Dark

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    Hit By Ban Bus! AliceInWonderland's Avatar
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    o sweet jeebus; i thought i saw Linda Tripp driving out of a McDonalds drive thru yesterday morning no fucking joke! i almost crashed my car!

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    Whyd didn't you run the silly cow over? I still think the whole thing was a joke. Big fucking deal. He got a blow job or two. So important and really worth the whole hullabaloo that followed.
    'Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.' Ben Franklin

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    A*O
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    Oh errr, so a POTUS got a blow job from an intern. It's the first time that ever happened. zzzzzzzzzzzzzz
    I've never liked lesbianism - it leaves a bad taste in my mouth
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