SHE was the intern whose dalliance with the most powerful man in the world proved the White House was anything but whiter than white.
Now, nearly two decades after her notorious tryst with then-president Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky has decided to “burn the beret and bury the blue dress”.
The reference alludes to the outfit she wore during a sexual encounter with the president in 1997 that carried a stain containing Mr Clinton’s DNA.
Speaking in depth for the first time about the affair, the 40-year-old said the 42nd president of the United States “took advantage of me”, but stressed it was a “consensual relationship”.
The affair, which sent shockwaves through Washington, saw Mr Clinton impeached by the House of Representatives before he was acquitted in the Senate.
Although Mr Clinton has largely rehabilitated his standing on the world stage, Ms Lewinsky said the relationship harmed her career for years afterwards. Writing for Vanity Fair, she said she felt compelled to break her silence after the case of Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old who took his own life after secretly recorded video footage of him kissing another man was broadcast online.
Ms Lewinsky said she was the “first person whose global humiliation was driven by the internet”. By giving her account of events in the White House, Ms Lewinsky added, she hoped to help others in their “darkest moments of humiliation”.
In the essay, which will be published in full tomorrow on Vanity Fair’s website, Ms Lewinsky said her refusal to discuss the affair had led to speculation that the Clintons “must have paid me off”, but she insisted: “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
She wrote: “I, myself, deeply regret what happened between me and President Clinton. Let me say it again: I. Myself. Deeply. Regret. What. Happened.”
The time was right, she said, to stop “tiptoeing around my past – and other people’s futures. I am determined to have a different ending to my story”.
She wrote: “I’ve decided, finally, to stick my head above the parapet so that I can take back my narrative and give a purpose to my past. (What this will cost me, I will soon find out).”
The aftermath of the controversy, Ms Lewinsky wrote, was immeasurably more damaging than the affair itself.
She explained: “Sure, my boss took advantage of me, but I will always remain firm on this point: it was a consensual relationship. Any ‘abuse’ came in the aftermath, when I was made a scapegoat in order to protect his powerful position …
“The Clinton administration, the special prosecutor’s minions, the political operatives on both sides of the aisle, and the media were able to brand me. And that brand stuck, in part because it was imbued with power.”
Ms Lewinsky also responded to reports that Hillary Clinton, in correspondence with close friend Diane Blair, characterised her as a “narcissistic loony toon”. “If that’s the worst thing she said, I should be so lucky,” Ms Lewinsky explains. “Mrs Clinton, I read, had supposedly confided to Blair that, in part, she blamed herself for her husband’s affair (by being emotionally neglectful) and seemed to forgive him.
“Although she regarded Bill as having engaged in ‘gross inappropriate behaviour’, the affair was, nonetheless, ‘consensual (was not a power relationship)’.”
In the months that followed the scandal, Ms Lewinsky felt “suicidal” but turned down offers that could have made her nearly £6 million as “they didn’t feel like the right thing to do”.
After moving between London – where she got a master’s degree in social psychology at the London School of Economics – Los Angeles, New York, and Portland, Oregon, she was interviewed for numerous jobs in the communications industry, but potential employers decided she was “never ‘quite right’ for the position” because of her history.
Now, Ms Lewinsky added, she hopes her past can help forge a better future for others. Her current goal, she explained, “is to get involved with efforts on behalf of victims of online humiliation and harassment and to start speaking on this topic in public forums”.