The Starr Report: The intern, a woman scorned and the love letters that trapped a president

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The Independent Online
IT IS a typically hot and humid day in June 1995, and 21-year- old Monica Lewinsky walks through Washington to Pennsylvania Avenue and to a new job as an unpaid intern at the White House.

Attractive in a buxom, ungainly way and with an exquisite face, Monica is typical of the scores of young people enrolling to work for the Administration that summer. Just finished with her studies at university in Oregon, she is the daughter of divorced, but politically well connected parents from Beverly Hills. Her mother, Marcia Lewis, the author of a kiss-and- tell book about Luciano Pavarotti, has an apartment at the Watergate complex.

But she was a girl also with enthusiastic carnal ambitions. With eyes like soup plates and lustrous black hair, she had had early experience of illicit sex and betrayal. In Oregon, she had carried on a furious affair with her drama teacher, many years her senior and married. In the White House she found another such father figure on whom to transfix her desires. That person, of course, was the President.

Monica worked quickly to land her prey. With her job in the office of the White House Chief of Staff, Leon Panetta, she had easy and frequent access to the environs of the President himself. Any excuse she had to glimpse him directly, she took. The photocopier machine outside the Oval Office was a favourite haunt. All public events attended by the President at the White House, Monica attended too.

Monica, not surprisingly, was impressed with her own conquest. She even wrote to her old flame, the drama teacher, to boast that she had earned her "presidential kneecaps", a reference, presumably, to oral sex with Mr Clinton. But then, disaster. Aides who had begun to observe Monica's "unhealthy" interest in the Commander-in-Chief had her transferred out of the White House to the Pentagon in April 1996.

At the Pentagon, she sulked. Happily though, she met another woman, Linda Tripp, who similarly had been exiled from the White House. To Ms Tripp, Monica indulged her tendency to boast one more time. She told her about her Oval Office flings.

That summer, Ms Tripp found herself with more reason to resent the White House. She had been cited as a source in a Newsweek story about alleged fondlings by the President of an old political friend, Kathleen Willey. Written by ace reporter Michael Isikoff, the article included remarks by the presidential lawyer Robert Bennett, dismissing her as an unreliable source.

Mr Bennett's comments were typical of a White House that was still arrogant in its denial of the libido scandals already nipping at the President's heels. It pooh-poohed Ms Willey's claims just as it had those of Paula Jones, the Arkansas woman who had opened a civil lawsuit against Mr Clinton.

James Carville, White House spindoctor extraordinaire, famously referred to Paula Jones as trailer trash. She was, he said, "what you get if you drag a $100 bill through a trailer park".

Two women scorned are dangerous to any man. Then another woman entered the frame. She was Lucianne Goldberg, a New York literary agent friend of Ms Tripp and, crucially, a former political spy for Richard Nixon. Ms Tripp told her of the Lewinsky affair and Ms Goldberg instantly saw the potential for a best-seller. Her advice to Ms Tripp turned out to be pivotal to the sequence of events that delivered the President to the crisis he is in.

First, she insisted that Ms Tripp secretly record her telephone conversations with "her friend" Monica. But equally important, and often overlooked, Ms Goldberg engineered that all love letters between Ms Lewinsky and the President be sent to the White House by courier to ensure that there would be a record of them. The courier service they reportedly used belonged, astonishingly, to Ms Goldberg's brother.

As Ms Goldberg later explained to Stephen Brill, editor of Content magazine, "for her to have a real book deal, she had to get some of what she knew into a mainstream publication of some kind". How about Isikoff at Newsweek?

For evidence, the pair concluded that love letters should be sent by Lewinsky to the President. They advised Ms Lewinsky accordingly.

More was needed to make the story irresistible to Isikoff. Ms Goldberg saw the perfect opportunity in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case that was then under way against the President.

Someone started to place anonymous telephone calls to Ms Jones's lawyers urging them to look into Ms Lewinsky and her relationship with the President. That someone may have been Ms Tripp herself. Did Ms Goldberg urge Ms Tripp to do so, she was asked by Brill? "Do you think I had to?" she replied. "Hell, I guess you could say so".

This was dastardly scheming indeed. In so constructing a scenario that could not fail to lure the attentions of Isikoff, the duo of Goldberg and Tripp had also set a trap for President Clinton.

Thanks to those phone calls, the lawyers did indeed look towards Ms Lewinsky to help demonstrate that there had been a pattern of abuse of women by the President. And most importantly of all, they decided to demand a deposition from Mr Clinton. And that, we now know, was the beginning of the Monica meltdown.

By now it was not just Isikoff who was getting interested. So too was the special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, whose remit had at first been to investigate land deals entered into by Mr Clinton in the early Eighties. His suspicions were deepening that behind the Lewinsky allegations there lay not only an adulterous relationship but something darker: an example of the President lying to protect himself.

That deposition made by the President to Ms Jones's lawyers on 17 January now seems to be the moment he snookered himself. In his report, sent to Congress this week, Mr Starr asserts that the President perjured himself by denying a sexual relationship with Lewinsky. She had committed the same crime in a deposition she had made earlier to Ms Jones's lawyers.

It was in promising her immunity from prosecution for her perjury that Starr finally this summer persuaded her to spill the beans about the liaison to his grand jury.

Thus was the humbling of Bill Clinton executed. Its engineers were two women, embittered by the treatment they had received from an over-bearing White House, and another woman who was doing her job, laying the ground for the literary bombshell of the decade.

And a fourth party helped too - the Washington media - and, more specifically, the reporter, Michael Isikoff.