If Monica Lewinsky were ever to come face to face with Hillary Clinton, she knows exactly what she would do: apologize.
“I know that I would summon up whatever force I needed to again acknowledge to her — sincerely — how very sorry I am,” Lewinsky wrote in an essay published by Vanity Fair on Tuesday.
Apologizing to Clinton again — the first time was in a 1999 interview with Barbara Walters — was one of several topics Lewinsky addressed in an essay that went beyond explaining her decision to participate in a new A&E documentary series, “The Clinton Affair,” which delves into the events leading up to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Lewinsky, 45, also discussed the power dynamics that protected Clinton and led to her public excoriation as well as whether she believes he owes her a personal apology.
The series, Lewinsky wrote, is titled “The Clinton Affair” for a reason.
“Bye-bye, Lewinsky scandal. . . . I think 20 years is enough time to carry that mantle,” she wrote.
The first episode will air Sunday.
Lewinsky, then a 22-year-old White House intern, became the center of global attention for her affair with Clinton that nearly ended his presidency. He lied about it before a grand jury led by special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, an act that led to impeachment proceedings. Widely vilified and slapped by Clinton and his supporters with the unforgiving moniker of “That Woman,” just one of many unflattering epithets, Lewinsky took herself out of the public eye, reemerging only just a few years ago.
Because of the taunting Lewinsky endured, she has since taken on the cause of anti-bullying. In the past, she has been reluctant to publicly address questions about the scandal, but now she is opening up about the infamous relationship in what may be her most expansive interview.
“Throughout history, women have been traduced and silenced,” she wrote. “Now, it’s our time to tell our own stories in our own words.”
Lewinsky continued: “Yes, the process of filming has been exceedingly painful. But I hope that by participating, by telling the truth about a time in my life — a time in our history — I can help ensure that what happened to me never happens to another young person in our country again.”
Lewinsky wrote that she was interviewed for the documentary for more than 20 hours, a process that required her to recall memories she wishes she could erase.
“Filming the documentary forced me to acknowledge to myself past behavior that I still regret and feel ashamed of,” she wrote. “There were many, many moments when I questioned not just the decision to participate but my sanity itself.”
In one teaser clip released Tuesday, Lewinsky said she still feels “uncomfortable” talking about the affair, which didn’t stop her from doing so.
“It’s not as if it didn’t register with me that he was the president,” she said. “Obviously it did. But I think in one way, the moment we were actually in the back office for the first time, the truth is that I think it meant more to me that someone who other people desired, desired me. However wrong it was, however misguided, for who I was in that very moment at 22 years old, that was how it felt.”
In the series, Lewinsky recounted the crush she began developing on Clinton and how “flirtatious encounters” soon escalated, Fox News Channel reported.
At a birthday party for a staff member in November 1995, Lewinsky said, she realized that the top of her underwear had been showing, according to People.
“I thought, ‘Well, I’ll up the game,' " she said. “I knew [Clinton] was walking out of a room, and instead of putting my trousers up, like I would have done in any other instance, I didn’t. It was unnoticeable to everybody else in the room, but he noticed.”
Then, Lewinsky said she remembered Clinton talking to her and asking her questions, adding, “I don’t think at that point in my life my heart had ever beat as fast.”
“I blurted out, ‘You know, I have a crush on you,’ ” she said. “And he laughed and smiled and then asked me if I wanted to go to the back office. And I did.”
The office, Lewinsky recalled, was dark and Clinton “eventually asked” to kiss her. She said yes.
Later that evening, Lewinsky said she was the only person in the office when Clinton came in and told her if she wanted to meet him in the “back study,” she could. Lewinsky did, “and it became more intimate from there,” she said.
The rest of the story was described in what has been called a lurid report to the House that led to Clinton’s impeachment on two articles: lying under oath to a federal grand jury and obstructing justice. After a trial, the Senate acquitted him on Feb. 12, 1999.
In the aftermath of the affair, facing questions from the FBI and unable to escape public scrutiny, Lewinsky contemplated suicide.
“There was a point for me somewhere in this sort of first several hours [of being interviewed by the FBI] where I would be hysterically crying and then I would just shut down,” Lewinsky said in another clip released Tuesday. “I remember looking out the window and thinking that the only way to fix this was to kill myself, was to jump out the window.”
Crying again as she spoke in the documentary, she added that she felt “terrible.”
“I was scared, and I was just mortified and afraid of what this was going to do to my family,” she said. “I know I was still in love with Bill at the time, so I felt really responsible.”
Being part of the series led Lewinsky to “new rooms of shame” and delivered her to “Grief’s doorstep,” she wrote in the Vanity Fair essay.
But, despite the challenges that came with reliving the “most painful and traumatic” parts of her life, Lewinsky wrote that she knew this would be a chance for her to offer her perspective on a narrative that men have largely controlled for years. She noted that the new series is helmed by Emmy Award-winning director Blair Foster and four out of five of its executive producers are women.
“I may not like everything that has been put in the series or left out, but I like that the perspective is being shaped by women,” she wrote.
Lewinsky also criticized the power disparity that contributed to her public humiliation, suggesting that Clinton emerged from the scandal relatively unscathed.
Take, for example, Clinton’s famed Oval Office address in which he declared, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”
In that moment, akin to a “sports coach signposting the playbook for the big game,” Clinton “threw down the gauntlet,” Lewinsky wrote.
“With that, the demonization of Monica Lewinsky began,” she wrote. “As it so often does, power throws a protective cape around the shoulders of the man, and he dictates the spin by denigrating the less powerful woman.”
Clinton’s position of power continued to benefit him, Lewinsky said, pointing out how the former president was rarely asked in interviews to directly address the scandal.
“If you want to know what power looks like, watch a man safely, even smugly, do interviews for decades, without ever worrying whether he will be asked the questions he doesn’t want to answer,” she wrote.
But now, in the #MeToo era, things appear to be changing. Clinton faced widespread backlash earlier this year when he said in a June interview with NBC News “Today” correspondent Craig Melvin that he did not think he owed Lewinsky an apology. Clinton said he had already given multiple public apologies and would not handle the accusations any differently today.
In the essay, Lewinsky wrote that she, too, had publicly apologized at the time — directly to Hillary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton. The apology, made during the 1999 interview, contained her “first public words after the scandal.”
Beyond whether she thinks she is “owed or deserving” of a personal apology from Bill Clinton, Lewinsky wrote that she thinks he “should want to apologize.”
“I’m less disappointed by him, and more disappointed for him,” she wrote. “He would be a better man for it . . . and we, in turn, a better society."
On social media, Lewinsky’s essay and news of the forthcoming documentary series were met with mixed reactions.
“This is a beautiful reflection on victimhood, apologies and the innate power of women narrating their own stories,” HuffPost reporter Emma Gray tweeted about the essay.
New York Magazine writer Rebecca Traister called it “a smart and compassionate piece.”
Others, however, were more critical.
“Why is Monica Lewinsky on national television crying over Bill Clinton in 2018?” one Twitter user wrote.