By Peter Baker
Lewinsky rushed to the White House, as she had every other time the call came over the last 18 months. Even a year later, she remembered in grand jury testimony what she wore -- a straw hat with a hat pin Clinton had given her. She brought him gifts, too, a puzzle and a Banana Republic shirt. But the president had bad news for her. Their affair, he said determinedly, was over.
Although he had hundreds of adulterous liaisons early in his marriage, he told her, he had been trying to be more faithful since turning 40. Lewinsky burst into tears. In despair, she later drafted a note he may never have seen: "Please do not do this to me. I feel disposable, used and insignificant."
Finally, after she threatened to tell her parents about their trysts, he agreed to see her again on the Fourth of July. Soothing and affectionate, he toyed with her hair and hinted that things might change after he left office. As Lewinsky left that day, she said later, "I just knew that he was in love with me."
While the nation's attention has focused primarily on the tawdry sexual details of their West Wing assignations, the affair between the married president and the onetime intern depicted in independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's impeachment report was a far more complex relationship, punctuated by moments of tenderness and times of turmoil. It was a cycle of pursuit and resistance, perpetuated by a president succumbing to desire despite better instincts, then resolving not to do so again.
This was hardly an affair to remember, and yet no one will ever forget it. As presented by prosecutors relying extensively on Lewinsky's own account, it involved two often troubled people wrestling with insecurities and misgivings, long before public disclosure hurled Clinton into the gravest political crisis any president has faced since Watergate.
And there was something of an adolescent quality to it, from the cloak-and-dagger attempts to hide it from presidential aides to the sexual encounters that sounded more like teenagers thrashing around in the back seats of their parents' cars.
He gave away the first present he ever received from her, a matted poem he turned over to the National Archives. Twice he refused to give her a tour of the White House residence for fear of exposure. Once after phone sex, he fell asleep in mid-conversation. As for her, she alternated between sending "mushy" love notes to yelling at him for not seeing her enough.
The public version is an incomplete picture told mainly through Lewinsky's lens since Clinton has declined to elaborate much beyond admitting they had a physical relationship. During his grand jury testimony, the president recalled fewer sexual episodes and suggested they started later, after she was no longer an intern. He also insisted he never so much as touched her in any erogenous zone, an important point in the debate over whether he committed perjury.
But for now, until he decides to tell more, this is Monica's story.
Sensing Some Chemistry
It began shortly after she got her White House internship in July 1995. Lewinsky tried to make eye contact and told friends the president seemed to notice her. She sensed some chemistry. Then a budget fight with the Republican Congress shut down the government and interns like Lewinsky were enlisted to virtually run the White House while regular employees were furloughed.
On the night of Nov. 15, she was helping out in the West Wing office of Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta. Clinton came by for an aide's birthday party and Lewinsky flirted with him. He seemed attentive in return. At one point, when they were alone, she lifted her jacket to show him the straps of her thong underwear.
Later in the evening, she was heading to a restroom when she passed the office of senior adviser George Stephanopoulos. Inside was the president, alone. He invited her in and she confessed to harboring a crush on him. Clinton laughed and took her into the hallway adjoining the private study attached to the Oval Office. He asked if he could kiss her. She said yes. And he did.
A couple hours later, he returned to Panetta's suite and suggested they meet again. This time the lights in the private study were off. They began fumbling around and she performed oral sex on him -- while he took calls from two members of Congress. Even at the time, Clinton knew this was dangerous territory, tugging on the pink intern pass hanging around the 22-year-old's neck to make the point.
Just two days later, Clinton and Lewinsky got together again when she brought him some pizza. They retreated to the study, never fully undressing and leaving the door slightly ajar, as they would each time after that -- both to hear if someone approached, he said, and to make it seem as if there was nothing to hide. On this occasion, too, he took a call from a congressman, but unzipped his pants and Lewinsky again performed sex on him while he talked.
When the government reopened, Lewinsky lost the prized access to the West Wing and never heard from Clinton. She figured maybe that was the end, "that maybe had some regular girlfriend who was furloughed." Then, on New Year's Eve, she came across him again. When he called her "kiddo," she assumed he had forgotten her name. Clinton assured her he did remember and they again engaged in sex, just hours before he left for South Carolina with Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Over the next few weeks, they arranged several rendezvous. By now, they had come up with a cover story -- she would carry a folder and tell anyone who asked that she was delivering papers.
"I asked him why he doesn't ask me any questions about myself and . . . 'Is this just about sex. . . or do you have some interest in trying to get to know me as a person?' " Lewinsky recalled. Clinton replied that he "cherishes the time that he had with me."
But it was not until Feb. 4, after their sixth sexual encounter, that they had their first extended conversation. They talked for 45 minutes -- "pillow talk," she called it -- and, whether it was true or not, she began to sense that he might really care; that Clinton might be looking for something more than instant gratification.
When the president told her he would call, she challenged him. "Yeah? Well, what's my phone number?"
He rattled off both her home and office numbers from the top of his head.
Soon, they were regularly talking on the phone. All told, they had perhaps 50 phone conversations. During about a third of them, Lewinsky recalled, they talked dirty to arouse each other. But they also chatted like friends. She even ventured opinions on public policy.
"We would tell jokes," Lewinsky testified. "We would talk about our childhoods. Talk about current events. I was always giving him my stupid ideas about what I thought should be done in the administration of different views on things."
Clinton, though, was nursing doubts. He did not feel right about their relationship and on President's Day, Feb. 19, summoned her to the Oval Office and called off their affair. The breakup didn't last long. Soon he began calling again.
Aides Had Suspicions
All of this had not gone unnoticed. The president's personal secretary Betty Currie, other aides and Secret Service officers suspected what was going on, according to the testimony Starr collected in painstaking detail. Evelyn S. Lieberman, then the deputy White House chief of staff and a friend of the first lady's, had chided Lewinsky for showing up near the Oval Office. After a Secret Service officer complained, Lieberman "decided to get rid of her," and exiled her to a job at the Pentagon.
A sobbing Lewinsky told Clinton by telephone about the transfer on Easter Sunday and asked to come see him. In the Oval Office later, she believed he was upset at her departure. "Why do they have to take you away from me?" she recalled him saying. "I trust you."
He promised to bring her back after the election and soon they began fooling around again. This time, Clinton took a call from political adviser Dick Morris while she performed oral sex on him.
Morris said Friday he had no idea what was happening on the other end of the line, but there were others who almost discovered the illicit pair. While the president and Lewinsky were in the study, suddenly they heard Harold M. Ickes, the other deputy White House chief of staff, call out, "Mr. President." Clinton quickly rushed into the Oval Office to talk with Ickes and Lewinsky slipped out the back door.
That was their last sexual encounter in 1996. Clinton, after all, was busy barnstorming the country seeking reelection and Lewinsky was biding her time unhappily at the Pentagon. She could not see him alone, so she went to public events and pushed her way to the front of rope lines. "I'm an insecure person . . . and I was insecure about the relationship at times and thought that he would come to forget me easily and if I hadn't heard from him . . . it was very difficult for me," she testified.
She became so frustrated that during a September telephone conversation they argued heatedly. Still, when he asked if he should stop calling, she said no. Letting go was not an option.
The election did not bring the relief she expected. Clinton won handily, but Lewinsky's hoped-for White House job did not materialize. Neither did any more sex. "I was so sure that the weekend after the election you would call me to come visit and you would kiss me passionately and tell me you couldn't wait to have me back," she wrote in a plaintive letter she never sent.
In an e-mail to a friend, she moaned, "How could he do this to me?"
Increasingly desperate, she finally decided to get his attention by placing a coded Valentine's Day ad in The Washington Post, addressed to "Handsome" and quoting Romeo and Juliet. It seemed to work. On Feb. 28, they got together after Clinton taped his weekly radio address for their first sexual encounter in nearly a year -- and, although they did not know at the time, their most fateful. Lewinsky showed up for the radio address wearing a navy blue dress she had bought at the Gap.
Clinton gave her belated Christmas gifts, including a special edition of Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" that she cherished. As they began engaging in sex, Clinton said "he didn't want to get addicted to me and he didn't want me to get addicted to him," Lewinsky recalled. But it was too late. Clearly, she already was addicted. And he had left his semen on the dress; later, that would give Starr the DNA match he needed to prove the affair.
The president was pained after their encounter. He had vowed not to resume their sexual activities again, but gave in anyway. "I was sick after it was over," he testified. "I never should have started it and I certainly shouldn't have started it back after I resolved not to in 1996."
Yet they got together for sex one last time, according to Lewinsky, on March 29. Clinton was on crutches from a knee injury. Lewinsky wore no underwear. Hillary Clinton was half a world away wrapping up a two-week trip through Africa.
After that, Clinton stood firm in his resistance to any more liaisons with Lewinsky. On May 24, the president called Lewinsky to the Oval Office and broke off their relationship again but told her he thought she was great and wanted to stay friends.
Lewinsky still wanted a job, thinking a return to the White House would make a difference, and Clinton agreed to assign an aide to look into it. But it seemed to lead nowhere. Perhaps his aides were protecting him from himself. Perhaps he did not really want her back. On July 3, Lewinsky wrote a "peevish letter" saying if she did not return to the White House, she would "need to explain to my parents exactly why that wasn't happening." She wasn't being honest with the president in her warning, though: Lewinsky, according to the Starr report, had already told her mother about the affair by then.
Although at times it seemed that Lewinsky treated Clinton more like an errant boyfriend than the nation's commander-in-chief, she was about to be reminded who exactly she was making demands on.
Clinton saw her the next day and lectured her that "it's illegal to threaten the president of the United States." Lewinsky began to cry and so he comforted her, stroking her arm, kissing her neck. He told her he wished he had more time for her and she suggested perhaps he would after leaving the White House.
"I don't know, I might be alone in three years," she recalled him replying.
"I think we'd be a good team," she said.
"What are we going to do when I'm 75 and I have to pee 25 times a day?" he joked.
She left that day "emotionally stunned," taking that to mean that he might leave his wife and marry her once his presidency was over.
Keeping a Resolution
The most they ever did after that was kiss. They met several more times through 1997, but he stuck to his resolution not to continue a sexual affair.
Through much of this period, Lewinsky swung wildly from resentful anger to lovesick hope for the future. She was livid that he would resist seeing her, yet saw signs that made her think it might change.
Once when she had trouble getting in contact with him, she wrote Currie, "Does he really not want me back in the complex? He has not responded to my note, nor has he called me." But several weeks after that, Currie gave her several items Clinton had bought for her from the Black Dog restaurant while on vacation at Martha's Vineyard. In an e-mail to a friend, she sounded like a kid on Christmas: "He not only brought me a T-shirt, he got me 2 T-shirts, a hat and a dress!!!! Even though he's a big schmuck, that is surprisingly sweet -- even that he remembered!"
That did not last long. Disconsolate, she wrote him in November: "I asked you three weeks ago to please be sensitive to what I am going through right now and to keep in contact with me, and yet I'm still left writing notes in vain. I am not a moron. I know that what is going on in the world takes precedence, but I don't think what I have asked you for is unreasonable."
He invited her to the White House the next day, but she was kept waiting in the rain. Yet when she entered the study, Lewinsky noticed several presents she had given him. She was confused by conflicting signals. When he came in, she tried again to interest him in oral sex, but he said he had to go to a state dinner.
"I don't want you to think that I am not grateful for what you are doing for me now -- I'd probably be in a mental institute without it -- but I am consumed with this disappointment, frustration and anger," she wrote in a draft letter to him after that. "All you ever have to do to pacify me is see me and hold me."
The president grew angry at times at her persistent attentions. They fought on the telephone late at night -- for more than an hour -- and he told her if he had known what she was really like he never would have gotten involved with her.
She wrote him a letter that concluded, "I knew it would hurt to say goodbye to you. I just never thought it would have to be on paper. Take care."
But she did not want to say goodbye. On Dec. 6, she went to the White House to deliver the letter even as she brought several gifts -- not knowing that just the day before Paula Jones's lawyers had faxed a witness list to Clinton's lawyers with her name on it. Lewinsky was forced to wait for 40 minutes at the northwest gate and finally was told by a Secret Service officer that television personality Eleanor Mondale was in the White House.
Lewinsky erupted. He was meeting with another woman? She stormed off and called Currie to berate her. Eventually, Clinton told her by phone it was none of her business, but invited her back to the White House anyway. That seemed to soften her anger. She wrote a friend that while "things have been crazy with the creep . . . I did have a wonderful visit with him on Saturday. When he doesn't put his walls up, it is always heavenly."
The next time they met was the last. That was the infamous Dec. 28 meeting when he gave her several Christmas gifts, but shortly afterward Currie showed up at the Watergate to take possession of them. What Lewinsky remembered was the good-bye kiss. She caught him with his eyes open.
"I got mad because it wasn't very romantic," she recalled. He told her, "Well, I was just looking to see to make sure no one was out there."
By that time it was much too late. The last phone call was on Jan. 5, just before Lewinsky would sign an affidavit denying any sexual relationship with Clinton. She had written him a love note inspired by the movie, "Titanic." She did not know the legal iceberg they were both heading toward.
"I never expected to fall in love with the president," she would say later. "I was surprised that I did."
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