Sideswiped by scandal, trapped by the past
Monday, November 23, 2009; 9:53 AM
Emily Miller says she's nervous.
"Everything that's ever been written about me is horrible," she announces, twisting her pulled-back hair after a sleepless night.
She wants to be understood. She doesn't want to be defined by her past. It is a uniquely Washington sort of past in which an ambitious young political aide falls in love and is indirectly brushed by scandal. But her history has become a box, a trap, a prison from which there is seemingly no escape. It adheres to her like Velcro, infects her Facebook page, and will soon, despite her protests, be a Hollywood movie.
Miller blames "the Googlization of America" as she sips her coffee at Starbucks, dressed simply in black sweater, bluejeans and brown boots. "It's just been so hard to get past this narrative."
Once she spoke for Tom DeLay, traveled the world with Colin Powell. Now she's forced to get by with freelance writing, retail jobs, babysitting -- and her latest incarnation as gossip columnist for the Web site Politics Daily. The 38-year-old woman who has borne the brunt of endless gossip is trying her hand at dishing about others.
"She was already a source for all the gossip columnists in town -- it seemed like a no-brainer," says Politics Daily Editor-in-Chief Melinda Henneberger. "She's been through a lot, and that's something a lot of people can relate to."
Miller is chatty and candid and impassioned and disarming and, understandably, a bit self-absorbed. A one-time journalist who became a Republican spokeswoman, she knows her tale has been reduced to one tantalizing phrase: Jilted fiancee seeks revenge. It's not true, she insists, but she gets why that doesn't matter. She went underground for years, spurned the spotlight, even turned down Stone Phillips when he flew her to New York to woo her for a "Dateline" special.
"At the end of the day, what do I get?" Miller asks. "I get to be known as the woman scorned, forever?"
She claims to be well past the events that turned her into a pawn in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, but as she talks about each twist and turn, the words pouring out in torrents, it is clear that the wounds remain raw.
"She thinks everyone's always out to get her," says longtime friend Shanti Stanton, a Democratic lobbyist. "It's hard for her to trust people. She's been screwed over by her friends. She feels that when she goes out, all anyone wants to talk about is the scandal."
In 2002, while Miller was DeLay's press secretary, she got engaged to Michael Scanlon, an athletic, charismatic operative who also had worked for the congressman, then the House majority whip. "It was a bad relationship," Miller says. "It was so tumultuous." But, she says, "he was the first person I ever fell in love with."
To say that both were hard-charging staffers is an understatement. After Washington Post reporter Peter Perl questioned some of DeLay's relatives for a profile, Miller called with what Perl described as a "scathing tirade": "You lied! . . . You betrayed him! You twisted his words! . . . We don't know you. You don't exist. . . . You are dead to us."