Monica Lewinsky was famous for her love affair with former President Bill Clinton. However, her first impression of him was less than flattering.
In The Clinton Affair, an upcoming A&E special, the anti-bullying activist reveals she originally viewed the president, who is 27 years her senior, as an “old guy with wiry, gray hair.”
“Early on, there was this period where I had these strange encounters with these other interns, one in particular, of this girl gushing about the president, talking about how handsome he was,” the former White House intern, now 45, says in the special, which delves into their courtship in the 1990s and how Clinton became mired in scandals during his presidency. “I just remember thinking to myself, ‘Ew, he is this old guy with wiry, gray hair! How could she find him attractive?’
“I didn’t get it until the first time I was really in his presence. I was struck by the way that he had this ability to hold everybody who was there… everybody was sort of starry-eyed in his presence,” she continues. “I kind of have to laugh at my younger self. But that was when my crush started.”
In an essay for Vanity Fair, Lewinsky explains her reasons for participating in the six-part docuseries — even though reliving the particulars of the affair, and the nation’s brutal criticism of her after the news surfaced, was agonizing. (Beyond the Whitewater investigation, Bill Clinton was entangled in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Paula Jones. It was during this lawsuit that details of his liaison with Lewinsky were leaked by Lewinsky’s supposed friend Linda Tripp, according to The Clinton Affair. Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice for the Lewinsky affair in December 1998, but acquitted by the Senate in February 1999.)
“Filming the documentary forced me to acknowledge to myself past behavior that I still regret and feel ashamed of,” she writes. “There were many, many moments when I questioned not just the decision to participate, but my sanity itself. Despite all of the ways I tried to protect my mental health, it was still challenging.”
She explains in the docuseries that during their first encounters she was overwhelmed by “the full Bill Clinton” effect (“It feels as if you’re the only person standing there,” she explains).
Her crush developed and during November 1995, at a staff birthday party during the government shut down, her crush turned into something more.
“I realized the top inch or two, oh my God, of my underwear was showing, my thong underwear, and I thought, ‘Well I’ll up the game.’” Lewinsky explains. “I knew [Bill] was walking out of a room and instead of pulling my trousers up as I would have done in any other instance, I didn’t. It was unnoticeable to anyone else in the room, but he noticed.”
Shortly after, Clinton beckoned her into an office and they talked about her schooling and other light-hearted topics.
“I don’t think that at that point in my life my heart had ever beat as fast,” she says. “I blurted out, ‘You know I have a crush on you?’ And he laughed and smiled and then asked if I wanted to go into the back office. And I did. It was dark and he eventually asked me if he could kiss me and I said yes.”
In the same Vanity Fair article, Lewinsky explains why she wants to apologize to Hillary Clinton again. But, in the 1990s, Lewinsky wasn’t deterred by Bill Clinton’s marital status.
“I don’t talk about this very often and I still feel uncomfortable talking about it because I think it’s one of those things where it’s not as if it didn’t register with me that he was the president. Obviously, it did,” she says in the series. “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.”
The pair arranged meetings, but they made sure they looked accidental. Eventually, Lewinsky, who was by then working in legislative affairs, and Clinton were seeing each other “weekly,” Lewinsky explains. And it wasn’t all physical. In her opinion, it became a “relationship.” They would talk about their day and exchange gifts.
But their affair wasn’t all romance. The meetings — which usually took place in the private rooms off of the Oval Office — were always on the president’s terms, Lewinsky explains.
“I had no way to reach him. If he called me, I couldn’t call him back. I was completely at his mercy in that way,” she says in The Clinton Affair. “But it’s really sad to me when I look back. I was this 22-year-old girl working in the White House for my very first job out of college. I should have been out on the weekends, meeting people my own age, enjoying myself. And instead I very often stayed in my office on Saturdays and Sundays, hoping he would call.”
“It was a rollercoaster of a relationship,” she later explains, “that led to this sort of slow emotional unraveling on my part.”