Clinton scandal: Hotel date led to Lewinsky's worst nightmare

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The Independent Online
Her smiling face has been on the front page of every newspaper in creation. In the palm of her hand, meanwhile, she holds the fate of the President of the United States. But, as our correspondent asks, who in the world would want to be in the shoes of Monica Lewinsky right now?

The sky fell in on Monica Lewinsky at 3pm two Fridays ago. She had arrived a little late in the lobby of a Ritz Carlton hotel outside Washington to meet her friend Linda Tripp. No sooner had she sat down, however, when, out of the blue, swooped six FBI agents and several more government prosecutors.

Whether Ms Lewinsky's rights were properly respected in the hours that followed is likely to be the object of legal wrangling for months to come. For sure, though, the remainder of the day was a nightmare for the 24- year-old former White House intern. And the nightmare is still far from over.

Separated from Ms Tripp, with whom she had worked at the White House and later at the Pentagon, she was whisked upstairs to a suite. Inside, she was confronted with evidence that the FBI and the prosecutors from the office of Kenneth Starr, the special counsel investigating the President, had amassed - with Ms Tripp's help - about an alleged 18-month affair between her and Bill Clinton.

The interview lasted nine hours. Progress was slow because Ms Lewinsky repeatedly broke into sobs. She had no legal representation - a fact that the lawyer subsequently hired by her family, William Ginsburg, is aggressively querying. She was, however, allowed to call her mother, Marcia Lewis, a New York writer, who agreed to catch a train to Washington to be with her daughter.

Ms Lewinsky has been described by former friends as a bubbly, guileless sort of person with an ability to see the good side of most people and most situations. At the White House and subsequently at the Pentagon, she was generally considered hard working and enthusiastic. "She has a naive quality that was endearing and made me want to shelter her," one White House aide commented this week.

Before coming to Washington in 1995, Ms Lewinsky's life had been a mix of social privilege and domestic tension. She was raised in Beverly Hills in a $1.6m (pounds 1m) home. The family would spend $20,000 a year on holidays and $500 a month on clothes for her and her brother. But, her mother and her father, Bernard Lewinsky, an oncologist, fought fiercely and have since been divorced.

No upbringing could prepare a young woman for the mess she found herself in that Friday. First, there was the realisation that the woman she had counted on as a trusted friend, Ms Tripp, had betrayed her. Ms Tripp recorded conversations they had had together and had surrendered those tapes to the prosecutors. (The same tapes, of course, that detail the affair she says she had with the President.)

But then there was her own situation to consider. Ms Lewinsky had asserted in a sworn affadavit on 7 January to lawyers representing that other Clinton accuser, Paula Jones, that she had not had any sexual involvement with the President. Now, prosecutors had tapes that had her saying the opposite. Only one thing could save her from prosecution for perjury - co-operating with the prosecutors.

This option was presented to Ms Lewinsky by Mr Starr's associates. Dangling before her the prospect of immunity from prosecution, they asked her that afternoon to agree to be wired by the FBI and to go to the White House to entrap members of the President's staff by talking with them about his supposed sex exploits. One target would have been Betty Currie, Mr Clinton's personal secretary.

Ms Lewinsky, we have since learnt, demurred. What they were asking for, she said, was her help to bring down the entire Clinton adminstration. In the days, since that meeting, Ms Lewinsky has been holed up in her apartment in - of all places - the Watergate complex in Washington, scene of the break-in that brought down another president, Richard Nixon.