The Monica Lewinsky scandal began in the late 1990s, when America was rocked by a political sex scandal involving President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern in her early 20s. In 1995, the two began a sexual relationship that continued sporadically until 1997. During that time, Lewinsky was transferred to a job at the Pentagon, where she confided in coworker Linda Tripp about her affair with the president. Tripp went on to secretly tape some of her conversations with Lewinsky. In 1998, when news of his extramarital affair became public, Clinton denied the relationship before later admitting to “inappropriate intimate physical contact” with Lewinsky. The House of Representatives impeached the president for perjury and obstruction of justice, but he was acquitted by the Senate.
A Presidential Affair
Born in San Francisco in 1973, Monica Lewinsky was raised in a well-off family in the Los Angeles area. In the summer of 1995, after graduating from Lewis and Clark College, she landed an unpaid internship in the White House chief of staff’s office, working out of the Old Executive Office Building.
That November, when many White House staffers were furloughed during a federal government shutdown, Lewinsky and other interns (who were allowed to keep working since they weren’t on the payroll), were moved into the West Wing to answer phones and run errands.
During this time, Lewinsky flirted with the president and the two had their first sexual encounter on the night of November 15 in the White House. Later that month, she took a paying job in the Office of Legislative Affairs.
According to Lewinsky, in the months that followed she and Bill Clinton had seven more sexual liaisons in the White House. Lewinsky’s visits to the Oval Office drew notice from people in the administration, and in April 1996 a deputy chief of staff had her transferred to a job at the Pentagon.
The president and Lewinsky had two more trysts, the last in spring 1997, and afterward remained in touch by phone.
Linda Tripp and Paula Jones
At the Pentagon, Lewinsky became friends with a coworker, Linda Tripp, in whom she confided details of her affair with the president. Tripp in turn shared the story with a literary agent she knew, Lucianne Goldberg, an anti-Clinton conservative. At Goldberg’s urging, Tripp secretly—and in violation of taping laws in Maryland where she lived—recorded hours of her phone conversations with Lewinsky.
Through Goldberg’s connections, word of Tripp’s tapes made it to lawyers working on behalf of Paula Jones, a former government employee who’d filed a lawsuit against the president for alleged sexual misconduct in 1991 when he was governor of Arkansas.
In December 1997, Lewinsky was subpoenaed by Jones’ attorneys and, after the president allegedly suggested she be evasive, the former intern denied in a sworn affidavit that she’d had a sexual relationship with Clinton.
Around the same time, independent counsel Kenneth Starr, who’d been investigating Clinton and his wife Hillary’s involvement in a failed business venture called Whitewater, found out about Tripp’s recordings. Soon afterward, FBI agents fitted Tripp with a hidden microphone so she could tape her conversations with Lewinsky.
Additionally, Starr expanded his investigation to include the president’s relationship with the former intern, and federal officials told Lewinsky if she didn’t cooperate with the investigation she’d be charged with perjury. When Clinton was deposed that January by Jones’ legal team, he claimed he’d never had sexual relations with Lewinsky.
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The Media Frenzy and Grand Jury Testimony
On January 17, 1998, the Drudge Report, a conservative online news aggregator founded in 1995, published an item accusing the president of having a sexual relationship with a former White House intern. The next day, the site revealed Lewinsky’s identity.
The mainstream media picked up the story a few days later, and a national scandal erupted. Clinton refuted the allegations against him, famously stating at a press conference, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”
Monica Lewinsky’s Blue Dress
That July, Lewinsky’s lawyers announced she’d been granted immunity in exchange for her testimony. She also gave Starr’s team physical evidence of her dalliances with Clinton: a blue dress with an incriminating stain containing the president’s DNA. At the suggestion of Tripp, Lewinsky had never laundered the garment.
On August 17, 1998, Clinton testified before a grand jury and confessed he’d engaged in “inappropriate intimate physical contact” with Lewinsky. However, the president contended his actions with the former intern didn’t meet the definition of sexual relations used by Jones’ attorneys—so he hadn’t perjured himself.
That night, he appeared on national TV and apologized for his behavior, but maintained he’d never asked anyone involved to lie or do anything illegal.
Starr Report and Clinton’s Impeachment
In September 1998, Starr gave Congress a 445-page report describing Clinton and Lewinsky’s encounters in explicit detail, and putting forth 11 possible grounds for impeachment. The Starr Report, as it became known, was soon made public by Congress and published in book form, becoming a best-seller.
That October, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to proceed with impeachment hearings against Clinton. In December, the House approved two articles of impeachment against him: perjury and obstruction of justice. He was only the second president in U.S. history to be impeached (after President Andrew Johnson in 1868).
On February 12, 1999, following a five-week trial in the Senate, Clinton was acquitted.
Aftermath of the Scandal
Clinton went on to finish his second term in the White House and left office with strong public approval ratings, despite the scandal. During his impeachment proceedings, he agreed to settle the Paula Jones lawsuit for $850,000, but admitted no wrongdoing.
Lewinsky became a household name after the affair was revealed, and endured intense public scrutiny. In 1999, she sat for a TV interview with Barbara Walters that was watched by about 70 million Americans.
Following stints as a handbag designer and spokesperson for the Jenny Craig weight-loss program, among other pursuits, she attended graduate school in London then avoided the spotlight for years. In 2014, Lewinsky, who maintains that her relationship with Clinton was consensual, became an anti-bullying advocate.
Clinton Admits to Lewinsky Relationship, Challenges Starr to End Personal ‘Prying.’ Washington Post.
Where Are They Now: The Clinton Impeachment. Time Magazine.
Clinton on Lewinsky scandal: ‘I did not have sexual relations.’New York Daily News
The President’s Trial: The Betrayal; Tripp Says Her Betrayal Aimed To Get Lewinsky Out of Affair. The New York Times.
The Starr Report. Washington Post.