Read TIME's 1999 cover story about Monica Lewinsky.
You are getting a free preview of a TIME Magazine article from our archive. Many of our articles are reserved for subscribers only. Want access to more subscriber-only content, click here to subscribe.
“Yoo-hoo!” Monica Lewinsky sweeps into her stepfather’s penthouse apartment for her first American print interview since the scandal began. Removing the hat and sunglasses she wears by way of disguise, she complains of a cold and jet lag (the night before, she signed the first copy of Monica’s Story, her tell-almost-all book, in midair while flying from Los Angeles to New York City). As Monica huddles for a moment with her team of media and legal advisers, her mother Marcia Lewis brings in coffee and shows two visitors around the tidy 34th-floor apartment, with its panoramic views of Manhattan and Central Park. “It sounds corny,” says Lewis, “but it’s peaceful up here. We’re above the fray.”
Monica has been doing her part to keep the fray going. She exploded back onto the scene last week to promote her book, the saga of an insecure and overweight child of a broken Beverly Hills home whose need for love and attention led her to seduce a President. In her two-hour appearance on ABC, she came off as sad and, she admits, often silly (“I smiled too much… I was a little too candid”), a woman-child who couldn’t keep quiet during or after her affair with Bill Clinton. Speaking to TIME, she was even tougher and more unbowed. She says she knows what she did was wrong and that most Americans would like her to be more contrite. But she insists that her feelings of remorse are no better than mixed. “I’m not going to pretend that it was always about something bigger than me,” she says. “Because for me, it wasn’t.”
Even after a year of therapy and a lifetime of tears, there are plenty of colors Monica still can’t see. Her affair with Clinton did not interfere with official business because they were “together mostly on the weekends.” Even her lack of discretion is a relative thing. “For me, only telling 10 people was being pretty discreet.” Monica knows her attitude infuriates people but says there isn’t much she can do about that. As for the Creep, she says she’s over him, doesn’t want to speak with him, wouldn’t believe him if she did. “He’ll tell you what you want to hear.”
That, at least, sounds like progress. But what do you do after you’ve starred in a yearlong presidential soap? Monica will spend the next few weeks overseas, waiting for things to cool down at home. She is worried about finding a job, a husband, even new friends. Her life is “cuckoo,” she says; but she promises she’s getting over it. When people stare now, she just tells herself they’re staring because her hair is blue. “Denial,” she says, “is underrated.”
TIME: You said your affair with Clinton was nobody’s business, that it didn’t affect the public. Do you really think that?
Monica Lewinsky: I do. I do. But just because I think it was none of their business doesn’t mean I don’t think it was wrong. It was wrong, but it was a private wrong. And maybe when I’m older, I might look back on it and see where I have different responsibilities. But I think at my age, then and now, being able to see the complete picture–I don’t think that is really possible. It didn’t affect his job; it didn’t affect my job; we were together mostly on the weekends, when I was not supposed to be working and he was not really supposed to be working. It was kept very private, in that sense. Yes, I confided in private to my friends, but that’s different from publicly telling your story, which I never would have done.
TIME: Do you feel any remorse?
Lewinsky: I feel horrible about what has happened. I heard some of the criticisms, that some people felt I wasn’t remorseful enough or that I enjoyed this. I’m sure people would probably want me to say I feel the worst for what this has done to the country, and then for the Clintons and then for my family and then for myself. But it’s really not that order.
I really feel the worst about what this has done to my family and friends. And then I think second to that would be Chelsea and Mrs. Clinton, and I do feel bad about my part in how the country has had to deal with this. I made a lot of mistakes. I mean, that’s probably a bipartisan issue. Everybody in the world would agree on that.
TIME: If you had to do it again, what would you do differently?
Lewinsky: There are some days that I regret ever having had this relationship begin, and there are some days that I just regret telling Linda Tripp. It’s easy to know that people would have wanted to hear me say I wish this had never happened, I never should have done this, this was so wrong, and I do think it was wrong. But it is also a part of who I am today, and that relationship reflected who I was at the time and was very significant to me. I can respect people not being happy with that.
TIME: What part do you think you’re responsible for?
Lewinsky: I didn’t have the maturity to realize exactly how serious this was. Although some people may find this hard to believe, me actually only telling 10 people was being pretty discreet for me.
But I still feel horrible about how indiscreet I was. That was a real betrayal. I betrayed the President in that way. I didn’t have the foresight to see what the possible ramifications of this could be. But I also always thought to myself, [the] worst-case scenario was [if] one of these people in whom I confided–aside from Linda Tripp–turned on me. Where would they turn on me? They’d go to the press. What would I do? I’d make a statement and say this is not true. And that’s not illegal.
So it’s not that I don’t take it seriously. It’s that it’s so overwhelming. I said to someone last weekend that I got into trouble because I didn’t stop talking about the relationship, and now my punishment is that I have to keep talking about it.
TIME: You said you thought you’d done some things that were wrong. Did you mean they were wrong because they were bad or wrong because they turned out badly?
Lewinsky: Both. And I don’t really mean to be ambivalent on this. I’m being honest. And then there are some days that I think I will never have an affair with a married man again, in large part because of how much pain it causes everybody involved. But a larger part of that is because of how damaging it is for me. And it is morally wrong. And I accept and I respect that it’s more morally wrong to some people than it has been for me. But I will never do it again.
TIME: So to you, was the entire past year just about a broken heart? Or was it about history?
Lewinsky: I’m not going to pretend that it was always about something bigger than me. Because, for me, it wasn’t. For me, I was the one lying awake at night crying, scared I was going to go to jail. I was the one being followed. I was the one being torn apart in the press, and my family. And then, yes, I bore some responsibility for how that came about. But I don’t know that the punishment fit the crime.
TIME: When you showed him your thong, what were you thinking?
Lewinsky: It was very subtle. If you put your hands on your waist and you locked your thumbs under your short jacket and just sort of lifted it, about two inches, it was a tease. And it was part of the flirtation.
TIME: Do you regret it now?
Lewinsky: Umm [pause], probably more than not.
TIME: You’ve never tried that move before?
Lewinsky: I’ve done other flirtatious things. It was inappropriate. It was definitely inappropriate. And the way he was flirting with me was inappropriate. So I think was the eye contact. And the way he looks at women he’s attracted to. He undresses you with his eyes. And it is slow, from the bottom of your toes to the top of your head back down to your toes again. And it’s an intense look. He loses his smile. His sexual energy kind of comes over his eyes, and it’s very animalistic. And if you’re someone who is comfortable with your sensuality, you’re in touch with that, you’re receptive to it if you find that person attractive.
TIME: So you intuitively knew he might respond?
Lewinsky: Well, I think it was very clear. I mean, don’t you know when someone is flirting with you? You know. People know.
TIME: The fact that he was married and you’d had an affair with a married man before, did that make it easier? Or was that not even a factor?
Lewinsky: Much easier. In fact, had I not had the prior relationship with Andy [Bleiler], I doubt this would have happened with the President.
TIME: He tried to stop it. Did you ever try to stop it?
TIME: Apart from the sex, what was the bond?
Lewinsky: I think it was a bond that in some ways can’t be explained. I don’t know how to explain it, except that I was instantly comfortable with him. There was something familiar about him to me. I think it’s amazing when someone will come into your life and you have a special connection with them. I know he had remarked to me that we both had fire in our belly. And to me that’s passionate. And passion has its good side, and passion has its bad side. And I think that we’re both extroverted but at the same time harbor a very sad side that we keep very private.
He has an amazing ability to just read someone. And he said to me, “You walk around and you’re always smiling and so bubbly, and there’s so much sadness and pain behind those eyes.” I think he saw in me some reflections of himself. Not 100%. Clearly not as brilliant as he is.
TIME: What do you think his sadness is?
Lewinsky: I think he has a hard time being fulfilled. And I think that comes from being needy. And maybe everybody should take my comments on this as a reflection of myself too. I think he is a very, very sensual man, and I think with his upbringing, his religious background, he doesn’t know what to do with it. He doesn’t know where to place it and how to be appropriate.
I think he has a desire to please everybody, and he is also an ostrich, in that he avoids confrontation at all costs. He will tell you what you want to hear to avoid confrontation. If he had just said to me [when I was at the Pentagon in 1996 and 1997], “I thought I could bring you back [to the White House], but I can’t. I was wrong. Can we work out another way? I want to make you happy.” Instead of stringing me along. It would have changed things a lot.
TIME: You said you sometimes hate Clinton’s guts. Why?
Lewinsky: I don’t think I deserved from him the way he characterized this relationship. The way he allowed, if not orchestrated, the White House to say all those things about me. He said himself in his deposition that I was a good person. And I–I see him as a politician. All about “me.” All about “me.”
TIME: Did he really want to get back together with you in 1997?
Lewinsky: I don’t know. I don’t think so.
TIME: He teared up that time when you complained that your relationship seemed to be just about sex. Do you trust those tears now?
Lewinsky: No. It’s very hard for me, and even in talking about everything that’s happened, it’s hard for me to square my thoughts, because I see him as such an opposite of what I used to see him. There’s only one person who can answer that, and I don’t think we’d ever get the truth on that.
TIME: If you had to do it all over again, would you have destroyed the dress?
Lewinsky: No. I mean… I never would have got to that point.
TIME: But if you had destroyed the dress, do you have any idea what the White House would have done to you? And would you have wanted the story to end that way?
Lewinsky: I’d still be standing. I think people forget what was said and written about me already. I mean, go back to last January and February and March and what was said about my family, the lies, the disgusting, horrible things that people said on TV. If I could make it through that, I can make it through anything.
TIME: Do you believe Juanita Broaddrick?
Lewinsky: What is hard for me to understand with this story is that I think…the word rape has a very different meaning and connotation today than it did 20 years ago. Twenty years ago, women were not apt to say no. And I’m not saying that means she asked for it. It sounds like it was an unpleasant experience for her.
And I feel differently about her than I do about what Paula Jones has said. I feel bad for everybody, that this topic, that these kinds of things are being discussed and aired.
TIME: Do you feel partly responsible for that?
Lewinsky: I know people do [hold me responsible]. Whether I agree with them or not is another matter.
TIME: Do you still think that oral sex isn’t sex?
Lewinsky: Uh-hum [yes].
TIME: Do you think it wasn’t a sexual relationship?
Lewinsky: This is hard for me to answer. In a very…in a confined, in a strict definition, in a hard definition, no, it wasn’t. In casual conversation, yes, it was.
TIME: Did the President ever use the term sexual relationship with you before you filed the false affidavit in the Jones case?
Lewinsky: We didn’t discuss the writing of the affidavit.
TIME: Did Vernon Jordan ever suggest using the term sexual relationship as you prepared your affidavit?
Lewinsky: I don’t remember the exact words that he used when he asked me those two questions [about my relationship with the President]. So is it possible he did? Yes, but it may have come up somewhere from my subpoena. Maybe it was standard [language provided by my attorney Frank Carter]. I don’t know the legal issues surrounding that.
TIME: Do you now think the President and Vernon Jordan were working in December to find you a job to buy your silence?
Lewinsky: I don’t think so. I think in order for someone to want to buy your silence, they’d have to be worried you’re not going to be silent, and I didn’t feel like I had ever done anything or given anybody any reason to think I was going to change how I had been for the past two years.
TIME: You had this job hunt going, and you were banging pretty hard on Betty Currie’s door. You don’t think the President could have come to the conclusion that he had to keep you happy and move you out of town?
Lewinsky: I don’t know. I really think that wasn’t the impression I had at the time, and I think that’s something that he has to answer. I can’t characterize that.
TIME: So the heart of the obstruction case against the President was, in the end, a big coincidence?
Lewinsky: Whether there was a connection there or not…I wasn’t privy to those conversations. Those are the conversations between Mr. Jordan and the President.
TIME: Was it your idea to retrieve the gifts?
Lewinsky: Yes, definitely. I was the one who brought it up, who broached the subject. I want everything back. It’s my stuff.
TIME: Has the President or anyone around him tried to make contact with you or anyone around you?
Lewinsky: No, not that I’m aware of.
TIME: Do you hope someday he will?
Lewinsky: I don’t know. Right now, I don’t really have any desire to talk to him. I don’t know where I’m going to end up and what my life is going to be. Maybe I’ll feel different in 20 years, but maybe I won’t.
TIME: You’re probably the most famous woman in the world right now.
TIME: What is that like to wake up with?
Lewinsky: I don’t think people can imagine what it feels like to have nightmares and in your dreams–or your nightmare–you’ve left a house without a hat…
TIME: Some people dream about being naked, and you dream about being…?
Lewinsky: Without my hat. Without sunglasses, without some sort of protection. It’s having to plan not only where I’m going [but] when I’m going, with whom I’m going. Who will be there? How close can I get my car to where I’m going? Can I get a taxi easily?
TIME: You signed your first book yesterday. What was that like?
Lewinsky: I felt cuckoo.
TIME: What do you mean when you say cuckoo?
Lewinsky: I kind of think of a sort of cuckoo clock and–I don’t know why this image [comes to mind]–a sort of a duck that comes down at 12 noon whose head spins around and sticks its tongue in and out and flails its arms.
TIME: A maniacal person?
Lewinsky: Right. This whole situation is sort of maniacal.
TIME: What steps are you taking to put your life back together?
Lewinsky: I think probably the biggest step that I am taking is trying to work on myself in therapy. It’s hard. It’s painful.
TIME: You have been praying from time to time?
Lewinsky: I think, for me, my definition of praying might be a little different. I think, for me, in some ways therapy is sort of praying. It’s like what you learn in therapy and what you walk away with. You kind of think to yourself, oh, I really hope that I can learn to assimilate. But I’m not very religious.
TIME: Do you feel you have a debt to repay, some good works to do?
Lewinsky: Yes and no. I would love to be able to be in a position to make a positive contribution to society. I think that people who do volunteer work know that there is no better remedy for healing, for the soul, than helping other people. I was able to do some work this past year too while this was going on, and it was so nourishing to the soul. It really helped me through this.
TIME: Can you tell us what that is?
Lewinsky: I’d rather keep it private.
TIME: Is it easier to be anonymous in New York City than it is in Los Angeles?
Lewinsky: No. The thing that’s better about L.A. is that you have another layer of protection because everybody drives. It’s scary when you get into a car chase with people, which happened to me last weekend.
But the thing about the East Coast is that they have the Daily News and the New York Post. The paparazzi here come out of the gutter, and you never know when.
TIME: How about law school? Is that something you’ve thought about? Or just another bad rumor?
Lewinsky: No. It’s a possibility. I think if I could get into law school without having to take the LSAT, that would make it different. The idea of having to sit down and prepare for a standardized test and then worry about whether my scores will be leaked to the world is a little daunting to me.
TIME: Will it be hard to have a real relationship for a while?
Lewinsky: Yes, unfortunately. It’s going to take a very special, very strong person to step up to the plate, and I don’t know if the things that I want in a man and in a relationship could be balanced by someone who could do that. But I hope so.
TIME: Are you going the celebrity route: Monica Inc.?
Lewinsky: No. I think that if I can use my name to do something that would help people and make a contribution, I’d love to work with kids. I love kids. I have more fun with kids sometimes than I do with adults. I’m only human. There are some things that I’m going to do because it’s fun. And people can criticize me. They criticize me anyway…I don’t consider [myself] a celebrity, because I think that the root of the word is celebrated: someone society should celebrate, and while I haven’t given autographs, people have asked, which is so bizarre to me. I don’t feel that I should be honored for what I’m known for.
TIME: Are you worried about falling apart when all this attention dies down?
Lewinsky: Oh, God, I’m going to be criticized for saying this. I want my book to do well. I would like my version to be out there. But I hope that this stops.
I think it’s going to take some time for everything to simmer down. And we’ll see what happens. But I have to see to my financial situation too. I’m not trying to set myself for life. But I need to have the means to take care of myself for the next few years. Therapy is not cheap.