Magazine article The New Yorker

Still Here

Magazine article The New Yorker

Still Here

Article excerpt


--Amy Davidson

"You want me out of your life," Monica Lewinsky wrote in a draft of a letter to President Bill Clinton in December, 1997. At that point, their sexual encounters in his Oval Office study, which had begun two years earlier during a government shutdown and were facilitated by a pizza delivery, were still secret. "I will never forget what you said that night we fought on the phone--if you had known what I was really like you would never have gotten involved with me. I'm sure you're not the first person to have felt that way about me. I am sorry that this has been such a bad experience." But, she wrote, she had some Christmas presents for him.

In what remains, sixteen years later, a remarkable story of sub-tabloid Presidential behavior, they met twice more in the White House, and in one of those meetings she gave him an antique cigar holder, a tie, a mug, a book, and a "Hugs and Kisses" box. He reciprocated with a stash of tourist swag--a Rockettes blanket, a pin with a New York skyline, a stuffed animal from the Black Dog restaurant, in Martha's Vineyard--and what Lewinsky described as a "physically intimate" kiss. By then, she had been subpoenaed in a sexual-harassment suit that an Arkansas woman named Paula Jones had filed against the President. Lewinsky soon came to the attention of Kenneth Starr, who had been appointed to investigate the Clintons' connection to a land deal and ended up looking into everything he could find. The Monica experience was just beginning.

Last week, Lewinsky published an essay in Vanity Fair about her life as an object of extreme mass voyeurism. She is recognized, she writes, "every day," and has found that "traditional employment" is not an option; she gets by with "projects," and money from family and friends. And, lately, she has found herself in the news again. In January, Senator Rand Paul said that Democrats had a lot of "gall" to talk about a Republican war on women, given that Clinton "took advantage of a girl that was twenty years old and an intern in his office," adding, "That is predatory behavior." A few weeks later, the Washington Free Beacon published excerpts from the papers of Diane Blair, a confidante of the Clintons, in which she recounts Hillary's anger at Bill's infidelity and her belief that he had "tried to manage someone who was clearly a 'narcissistic loony toon.' "

Not long after the dalliance began, Lewinsky was transferred to the Pentagon, where she met an employee named Linda Tripp, in whom she confided, and who began taping their phone calls. Tripp, in turn, got involved with a jumble of conservative media figures, Paula Jones's lawyers, and, as all the agendas melted together, Ken Starr.

The Clintons may not see it this way, but there is a sense in which they were lucky that Lewinsky, of all people, was the woman to whom Bill had effectively entrusted his political career. A clutch of F.B.I. agents accosted her in a Virginia mall on January 16, 1998, and brought her to a hotel room, where they confronted her with Tripp's tapes. They told Lewinsky that she was facing more than twenty-five years in prison, mostly for submitting a false affidavit in the Jones case. (She'd sworn that she had no evidence to offer about Clinton and sex in the workplace.) Her only hope of having a normal life was, she later recounted, to "place monitored calls" and "wear a wire," to get the President on tape. …

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