Monica Lewinsky (Monica Samille Lewinsky) was born in San Francisco, California, on July 23, 1973. She was raised in the affluent neighborhoods of Brentwood and Beverly Hills, in Southern California. Her father, Bernard Lewinsky, is an oncologist, and her mother, Marcia Kaye Vilensky, is an author who publishes under the name Marcia Lewis. The Lewinskys divorced in 1988.
Monica Lewinsky was raised Jewish and attended Sinai Akiba Academy and the John Thomas Dye School in her younger years. She graduated from Bel Air Prep (now Pacific Hills School) in 1991 and attended Santa Monica College while working for the drama department at Beverly Hills High School. She also began an affair with Andy Bleiler, her married high school drama instructor, around this time. Lewinsky enrolled at Lewis & Clark College after completing her two-year degree. She graduated with a degree in psychology in 1995.
The Monica Lewinsky scandal began in the late 1990s, when America was rocked by a political sex scandal involving President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern in her early 20s. In 1995, the two began a sexual relationship that continued sporadically until 1997. During that time, Lewinsky was transferred to a job at the Pentagon, where she confided in coworker Linda Tripp about her affair with the president. Tripp went on to secretly tape some of her conversations with Lewinsky. In 1998, when news of his extramarital affair became public, Clinton denied the relationship before later admitting to “inappropriate intimate physical contact” with Lewinsky. The House of Representatives impeached the president for perjury and obstruction of justice, but he was acquitted by the Senate. Lewinsky said she was bullied and slut-shamed by the media for years after the affair was made public. She was portrayed as a ditz on Saturday Night Live, while late-night hosts made sexual jokes at her expense. The New York Times’ columnist Maureen Dowd called her “a ditsy, predatory White House intern who might have lied under oath for a job at Revlon.” The Wall Street Journal labeled her a “little tart,” while the New York Post opted for “portly pepperpot.” Fox News ran a poll asking whether Lewinsky was an “average girl” or “young tramp looking for thrills,” with 54% rating her as a tramp.
White House Career and Relationship with Bill Clinton
Through a family friend, Monica Lewinsky secured an internship in the White House office of Chief of Staff Leon Panetta. After her internship ended, she accepted a paid position in the White House Office of Legislative Affairs.
According to her later testimony, Lewinsky was involved in a sexual relationship with President Bill Clinton between the winter of 1995 and March 1997. The relationship involved nine encounters, some in the Oval Office. Lewinsky was transferred to the Pentagon in 1997. She confided in an older coworker, Linda Tripp, about her relationship with President Clinton. Shortly thereafter, Tripp began secretly recording Lewinsky’s conversations with her about the president.
Clinton was already burdened with a history of sexual misconduct allegations, and in 1997, lawyers working on the civil lawsuit filed by Arkansas state employee Paula Jones heard rumors of Lewinsky’s relationship with the president. Lewinsky submitted a false affidavit denying the affair. It was at this point that Linda Tripp handed over her tapes to Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr. Clinton denied the affair under oath.
News of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair broke in January 1998 and immediately dominated the media. Lewinsky spent weeks in hiding. She later reported that she had spent much of this stressful period knitting. After Kenneth Starr obtained a blue dress of Lewinsky’s stained with Clinton’s semen, the president admitted to an inappropriate relationship.
Linda Tripp and Paula Jones
At the Pentagon, Lewinsky became friends with a coworker, Linda Tripp, in whom she confided details of her affair with the president. Tripp in turn shared the story with a literary agent she knew, Lucianne Goldberg, an anti-Clinton conservative. At Goldberg’s urging, Tripp secretly—and in violation of taping laws in Maryland where she lived—recorded hours of her phone conversations with Lewinsky.
Through Goldberg’s connections, word of Tripp’s tapes made it to lawyers working on behalf of Paula Jones, a former government employee who’d filed a lawsuit against the president for alleged sexual misconduct in 1991 when he was governor of Arkansas.
In December 1997, Lewinsky was subpoenaed by Jones’ attorneys and, after the president allegedly suggested she be evasive, the former intern denied in a sworn affidavit that she’d had a sexual relationship with Clinton.
Around the same time, independent counsel Kenneth Starr, who’d been investigating Clinton and his wife Hillary’s involvement in a failed business venture called Whitewater, found out about Tripp’s recordings. Soon afterward, FBI agents fitted Tripp with a hidden microphone so she could tape her conversations with Lewinsky.
Additionally, Starr expanded his investigation to include the president’s relationship with the former intern, and federal officials told Lewinsky if she didn’t cooperate with the investigation she’d be charged with perjury. When Clinton was deposed that January by Jones’ legal team, he claimed he’d never had sexual relations with Lewinsky.
The Media Frenzy and Grand Jury Testimony
On January 17, 1998, the Drudge Report, a conservative online news aggregator founded in 1995, published an item accusing the president of having a sexual relationship with a former White House intern. The next day, the site revealed Lewinsky’s identity.
The mainstream media picked up the story a few days later, and a national scandal erupted. Clinton refuted the allegations against him, famously stating at a press conference, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”
Monica Lewinsky’s Blue Dress
That July, Lewinsky’s lawyers announced she’d been granted immunity in exchange for her testimony. She also gave Starr’s team physical evidence of her dalliances with Clinton: a blue dress with an incriminating stain containing the president’s DNA. At the suggestion of Tripp, Lewinsky had never laundered the garment.
On August 17, 1998, Clinton testified before a grand jury and confessed he’d engaged in “inappropriate intimate physical contact” with Lewinsky. However, the president contended his actions with the former intern didn’t meet the definition of sexual relations used by Jones’ attorneys—so he hadn’t perjured himself.
That night, he appeared on national TV and apologized for his behavior, but maintained he’d never asked anyone involved to lie or do anything illegal.
Starr Report and Clinton’s Impeachment
In September 1998, Starr gave Congress a 445-page report describing Clinton and Lewinsky’s encounters in explicit detail, and putting forth 11 possible grounds for impeachment. The Starr Report, as it became known, was soon made public by Congress and published in book form, becoming a best-seller.
That October, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to proceed with impeachment hearings against Clinton. In December, the House approved two articles of impeachment against him: perjury and obstruction of justice. He was only the second president in U.S. history to be impeached (after President Andrew Johnson in 1868).
On February 12, 1999, following a five-week trial in the Senate, Clinton was acquitted.
Aftermath of the Scandal
Clinton went on to finish his second term in the White House and left office with strong public approval ratings, despite the scandal. During his impeachment proceedings, he agreed to settle the Paula Jones lawsuit for $850,000, but admitted no wrongdoing.
Lewinsky became a household name after the affair was revealed, and endured intense public scrutiny. In 1999, she sat for a TV interview with Barbara Walters that was watched by about 70 million Americans.
“It was an unbearably tragic event, and while hearing of it brought me to tears, too, I couldn’t quite grasp why my mom was so distraught. And then it dawned on me: she was reliving 1998, when she wouldn’t let me out of her sight. She was replaying those weeks when she stayed by my bed, night after night, because I, too, was suicidal. The shame, the scorn, and the fear that had been thrown at her daughter left her afraid that I would take my own life—a fear that I would be literally humiliated to death. (I have never actually attempted suicide, but I had strong suicidal temptations several times during the investigations and during one or two periods after.)”Monica Samille Lewinsky
Following stints as a handbag designer and spokesperson for the Jenny Craig weight-loss program, among other pursuits, she attended graduate school in London then avoided the spotlight for years. In 2014, Lewinsky, who maintains that her relationship with Clinton was consensual, became an anti-bullying advocate.
Lewinsky said, “I know I’m not alone when it comes to public humiliation. No one, it seems, can escape the unforgiving gaze of the Internet, where gossip, half-truths, and lies take root and fester. We have created, to borrow a term from historian Nicolaus Mills, a “culture of humiliation” that not only encourages and revels in Schadenfreude but also rewards those who humiliate others, from the ranks of the paparazzi to the gossip bloggers, the late-night comedians, and the Web “entrepreneurs” who profit from clandestine videos.”
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