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Lewinsky Apologizes to Nation for Ordeal

Lewinsky and Walters ABC's Barbara Walters interviewed Monica S. Lewinsky in New York last weekend. (AFP)
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 25, 1999; Page A1

Monica Lewinsky says she wants to apologize to the country for the yearlong political ordeal triggered by her affair with President Clinton.

In an interview with ABC's Barbara Walters last Saturday, Lewinsky was asked whether she is still in love with Clinton. No, she said, but there are times I still feel kind of warm toward him, according to a source who was there. At other times, she said, she realized that this was not the person she was in love with. It was another person. It was a politician.

Highlights of Lewinsky's three-hour session with Walters were provided to The Washington Post by a source who was present during the interview at ABC's Manhattan studios. The former White House intern was described as candid, direct and at times emotional and teary-eyed, part of a compelling performance that persuaded ABC executives to expand next Wednesday's "20/20" broadcast to two hours. The source provided a detailed reconstruction that stopped short of a verbatim account.

At one point, Walters asked about Kenneth W. Starr, the independent counsel whose agents confronted Lewinsky with their investigation 13 months ago and then struck an immunity deal with her. Lewinsky didn't know Starr, had never met him. How did she feel about him?

Lewinsky looked at her hands, then off to the side. She looked up and then down again, clearly anguished over the question. According to the source, she replied:

I'm afraid to tell you what I think. I'm not allowed to.

Starr gave Lewinsky approval for the interview last week he could have blocked it under her immunity agreement but directed her not to discuss some details of the probe.

Until now, the 25-year-old Lewinsky has been heard only on the tapes secretly recorded by Linda Tripp and in the structured environment of a videotaped Senate deposition during Clinton's impeachment trial. The ABC interview is her first public attempt to describe her feelings about the failed romance, betrayal and investigation that plunged her into a political hurricane and made her one of the world's most famous women. Her book, "Monica's Story," will be released the day after the interview is broadcast.

Walters asked a number of questions about sex, about Lewinsky's initial flirtation with Clinton, about how the relationship became intimate almost immediately. She also asked if the president was comfortable with his sexuality.

He struggles with it, Lewinsky said. He tries to hold himself back. His behavior is in conflict with his own background. For her, it is a lot less complex.

Lewinsky was asked about the instances, documented in Starr's report to Congress, when the president spoke on the phone while she performed oral sex on him. Walters did not use that phrase, asking instead about the two being close together during the phone calls. Did the element of danger appeal to her?

Danger does not appeal to her, Lewinsky said, but there was excitement in it. She didn't feel "cheap."

Walters's first question was how Lewinsky managed to survive the trauma and the ridicule and the unrelenting media scrutiny. Lewinsky credited the support of her friends and family and her sense of humor.

You've been described as a bimbo, a seductress, Walters said. How would you describe yourself?

As a loyal person, Lewinsky said. She said she feels mischaracterized.

Lewinsky turned wistful when asked to describe her relationship with the president. It was good, she said. Some of it was genuine, some of it was not. But part of it was very painful.

The interview turned to her Beverly Hills upbringing. Walters asked about the divorce of her parents, Bernard Lewinsky, a doctor whose relationship with his daughter has been strained, and Marcia Lewis, who knew of the affair with Clinton and had to testify before Starr's grand jury. How did the divorce affect her?

Lewinsky said that her youthful, "Brady Bunch" view of things had been shattered by her parents' breakup. She emphasized the word "shattered."

Was that why she clung to Clinton? The source said Lewinsky gave this response:

I need a lot of attention, a lot of love. Her dad was not able to share that love with her as much as she would have liked, because of his Germanic upbringing. But she was not sure that had any connection to her relationship with Clinton.

Walters pressed further: Do you take complete responsibility for what happened?

Not completely, Lewinsky said. But she shares a lot of the responsibility. She shares it with other people.

Why does she keep having affairs with married men?

On this point, Lewinsky was firm. First, she said, she promises never to have an affair with a married man again.

Lewinsky appeared determined to convey her public apology. She says she has waited a long time to tell America she is sorry.

ABC did not pay Lewinsky for the interview, but on Sunday, she spoke with Britain's Channel 4, a session for which she is receiving $660,000 and 75 percent of the distribution sales. In that interview, Channel 4's Jon Snow told TV Guide, "she sees Linda Tripp as contributing to the very specific moment when she did feel suicidal. . . . She literally runs out of damnation for Tripp."

Snow also said Lewinsky is "angry, very angry at Starr. . . . She feels completely let down and violated." Snow's interview airs next Thursday in Britain and 32 other countries.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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