In a clip from the upcoming A&E docuseries The Clinton Affair, the most famous White House intern, now a writer and anti-bullying activist, talks about when the FBI first questioned her about her affair with the then-president in 1998.
“In order to cooperate and to avoid charges, I would have to make phone calls — monitored phone calls, which they would listen into and they would record — and I might have to wear a wire and actually go see people in person,” Lewinsky, now 45, recalled. “The ground completely crumbled in that moment. I felt so much guilt, and I was terrified.”
“They imagined that I would have flipped really easily,” she continued. “They had no plan in place for what would happen if I said no. There was a point for me somewhere in the first several hours where I would be hysterically crying and then I would just shut down. In the shutdown period, I remember looking out the window and thinking the only way to fix this was to kill myself, was to jump out the window.”
Breaking down in tears, she continued, “I felt terrible. I was scared and I just … I was mortified and afraid of what this was going to do with my family. And I still was in love with Bill at the time, so I felt really responsible.”
In 2014, a report about Lewinsky’s interrogation by the FBI agents and lawyers working for Kenneth W. Starr’s Office of Independent Counsel was released and it said Lewinsky was mistreated by authorities, the Washington Post reported at the time. It was a 12-hour marathon session, which began as an ambush at the food court at the Pentagon City mall and moved to a hotel room at the mall’s adjoining Ritz-Carlton hotel. The report, written by two lawyers appointed to investigate the matter by Starr’s successor, Robert W. Ray, said a prosecutor who confronted Lewinsky “exercised poor judgment” and “made mistakes in his analysis, planning and execution of the approach.” Lewinsky was described as shocked and hysterical in the report, and while she asked to consult a lawyer or a parent, authorities continued to try to persuade her to cooperate against the president. The report concluded that the “matter could have been handled better.”
Lewinsky spoke about the interrogation at Forbes‘s Under 30 Summit in Philadelphia that year, saying, “It was just like you see in the movies. Imagine, one minute I was waiting to meet a friend [Linda Tripp] in the food court and the next I realized she had set me up, as two FBI agents flashed their badges at me. … Immediately following, in a nearby hotel room, I was threatened with up to 27 years in jail for denying the affair in an affidavit and other alleged crimes. Twenty-seven years. When you’re only 24 yourself, that’s a long time. Chillingly, told that my mother, too, might face prosecution if I didn’t cooperate and wear a wire. And, in case you didn’t know, I did not wear the wire.”
In other clips from the six-part docuseries, which debuts Sunday, Lewinsky said at first she didn’t think much about Clinton — an “old guy with wiry hair” — but she noticed how people were drawn to him and started to be taken by his charisma. She developed a crush on him, and at different events, he started paying attention to her.
“I don’t talk about this very often, and I still feel uncomfortable talking about it because it’s not as if it didn’t register with me that he was the president; obviously it did,” she said. “But I think in one way, the moment we were actually in the back office for the first time, the truth is that I think it meant more for 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.”
Lewinsky said doing 20 hours of interviews for the docuseries dredged up a lot of unhappy memories of the time when she was painted as a vixen. She found herself “depressed” all over again, and during therapy sessions at the time of the filming, she was made aware that perhaps she was dealing with grief rather than depression.
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