A New Chapter for Lewinsky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 6, 1998; Page A01
She likes antiques, but what Monica S. Lewinsky wanted for her 25th birthday was not so simple. "My freedom," she told friends and relatives. "My life back." And so she got a special treat as she celebrated two weeks ago: A pair of old friends secretly visited her at her father's Brentwood, Calif., home.
For the central figure in a salacious presidential scandal, it was a rare gift. Over the last six months, she could not so much as call up a girlfriend for fear that her phone might be tapped or the friend subpoenaed. Once when she tried, a former schoolmate soon found herself talking with the grand jury.
Today may mark the beginning of the end of her life of surreal seclusion.
Exactly 202 days after investigators confronted her at the Ritz-Carlton at Pentagon City, Monica Samille Lewinsky is scheduled to arrive at the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse here this morning to tell her story under oath, to answer the questions that at times have paralyzed the White House and perplexed the country: Did she have an affair with the president of the United States? Did he try to cover it up illegally during the Paula Jones case? Was she telling the truth when she denied it in January or is she telling the truth now?
The event promises the investigation's biggest media spectacle yet, with hundreds of reporters and photographers from as far away as Sweden clustered outside the courthouse trying to spot the alleged presidential paramour. As marshals prepared security, news organizations began lining up at 5:45 p.m. yesterday to wait overnight for the precious 10 spaces available for journalists simply to stand on the same floor as the grand jury. By 6:50 p.m., they were all taken.
In the end, only two dozen or so people will personally hear what she has to say, the 23 grand jurors and independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's prosecutors. Even Lewinsky's lawyers will have to wait outside the hearing room. Yet if she says what sources say she has told prosecutors, she in effect will contradict President Clinton, who denied under oath having a sexual relationship with her.
At the White House yesterday, Clinton's aides maintained an air of defiant indifference. "I don't think anybody here knows what anybody's testimony is going to be," said deputy press secretary Barry Toiv. "So how can anybody have a view on it?"
Lewinsky's appearance before the grand jury comes after a half-year odyssey that made her the nation's most famous former intern and exposed virtually every corner of her life to public examination, from her purported sexual habits to her troubled family history to her youthful indiscretions. It has been a journey that some might say was of her own making, but one that she certainly never fully anticipated.
She has been called a tart, a bimbo, a stalker, a femme fatale. Her own lawyer, since dumped, told anyone who would listen that she was immature and would "tend to embellish." Some people who once were her friends have gone public disclosing her confidences.
While much of her daily life during the investigation has been shrouded from the public, six months of interviews with people close to her provide a glimpse into what for Lewinsky has been an almost out-of-body experience at the heart of a political scandal.
Holed up in her Watergate apartment for days at a time, Lewinsky has read scores of newspapers and watched hours of television as people who have never met her speculated endlessly about who she is, what she did and why she may have done it. The urge to fight back had to be suppressed, although she still chafes at the constant references to the "Monica Lewinsky investigation," and the anger at the friend who turned her in to Starr, Linda R. Tripp, has only grown. Her mother, Marcia K. Lewis, kept advising her to turn off the set, and she has cut back.
Friends from high school, college and Washington were paraded through the grand jury, including one flown in all the way from Japan. Her mother broke off her own testimony in February, saying she was too distraught to continue. Investigators in the meantime left little unscrutinized. They scoured her phone bills, rummaged through her closets, read her letters and e-mail, obtained her bookstore purchases and searched every possible file on her computer.
What Lewinsky kept from them, as it turned out, was the one item that may yet become the most important piece of evidence -- the navy blue dress now being tested by the FBI for semen that could be linked to Clinton. The dress, described by sources familiar with it more as something worn to a job interview than the cocktail frock often reported, was brought to New York late last year by Lewinsky as she was job hunting and left -- never unpacked -- in Lewis's Manhattan apartment.
Lewinsky finally turned it over to Starr last week as part of an immunity deal that provided full protection from prosecution for not only herself but also for Lewis and -- in a previously undisclosed development -- her father, Bernard Lewinsky.
Since the day her name became public in January, Lewinsky has lived an odd double life, according to people close to her -- at once exceedingly public yet also achingly lonely.
With a relentless composure, she smiled for the news cameras that staked her out everywhere as she slipped out for dinner at pricey Washington restaurants, leading some to suspect she was enjoying all the attention. She vamped it up for Vanity Fair with feather boa and Marilyn Monroe poses for a glamour photo shoot arranged by her then-lawyer, William H. Ginsburg, to free her imprisoned "libido," as he put it.
But that belied the depressing isolation imposed on her first by Ginsburg and then by her new legal team, Washington veterans Plato Cacheris and Jacob A. Stein, who instructed her not to talk with virtually anyone other than lawyers and relatives. She has no job and so -- until she struck her deal with Starr and spent the last eight straight days being debriefed -- she spent long days in the apartment she shared with her mother itching to go for a walk or a swim or to a movie.
She was advised not to use the gymnasium at the Watergate because people might take photos and sell them to tabloids. Although she escapes at times in a blond wig, sunglasses and baseball cap, she leaves it to friends and surrogates to buy her groceries or personal items.
While her lawyers were negotiating to save her from possible perjury or obstruction-of-justice charges, Lewinsky took up knitting scarves, taught by her father's wife, Barbara. Having learned to sew while making costumes for high school plays, she made her own knitting bag, and then made more as gifts.
But she was not able to attend her mother's secret wedding to R. Peter Straus in New York last spring because the family feared that she would be spotted and media cameras would crash the small, private affair.
Money has been reported as a surprising issue for a woman whose father is a Beverly Hills radiation oncologist and whose new stepfather owns newspapers and radio stations in New York. Out of work herself, Lewinsky is described as reluctant to ask for cash from parents already footing her six-figure legal bills.
One day, after taking taxicabs to her lawyers' office so often, she decided to start taking the subway instead to save money, only to change her mind after 20 paces when so many people were staring. The cabs are not necessarily safer. Once the taxi she was riding in got into a close encounter with another car containing gawkers who sped up to try to take her picture.
With Washington so caught up in the scandal, Lewinsky escaped several times to her father's place near Los Angeles, where the media coverage has been less intense. Traveling, though, is still an adventure. In addition to the disguises, Lewinsky's camp usually consults with airline special service officials, makes reservations under false names and then switches them just before boarding to comply with federal regulations.
After her meeting with prosecutors in New York last week that led to her immunity agreement, she and family spokeswoman Judy Smith drove all night to Washington to ink the deal the next day because airports and train stations were reported to be staked out by camera crews.
This was not the glamorous Washington life she imagined when she first got her coveted White House internship at age 21 with the help of wealthy Democratic contributor Walter S. Kaye. Taken with the proximity to power, she parlayed her summer stint in 1995 into the fall and finally into a paying job in the legislative affairs office, helping to deal with mail from members of Congress.
According to Tripp, Lewinsky has said she began an intimate relationship with Clinton in November 1995 and carried it on even after suspicious White House aides banished her to the Pentagon in April 1996. After 18 months, though, Clinton called it off, according to Tripp, leaving an angry Lewinsky to dub him "the big creep" during the conversations Tripp recorded.
When she takes the oath today, Lewinsky will have plenty of questions to answer. Why did she sign a sworn affidavit in January denying a sexual relationship that she now says she had? Did she consider the job interviews arranged by Clinton's friend, Vernon E. Jordan, to be part of a trade-off for silence? Did she return gifts from Clinton to his secretary at his suggestion to avoid complying with a subpoena in the Jones lawsuit? And the latest question of the hour: Why would she keep a dress purportedly containing the president's semen?
It is not at all clear that all of those questions necessarily will be asked today, however. Starr's office may question her for only a day or two, possibly limiting topics at first, then bring her back after Clinton testifies via closed-circuit hookup from the White House on Aug. 17.
Either way, friends now tell Lewinsky the end is in sight. In a matter of days or weeks, she can begin what surely will be the long and arduous task of rebuilding her life. One option she toys with: graduate school. Maybe in sociology or political science. What a paper she could write.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company