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Caught in the Middle of a Nightmare

After an affluent but rocky childhood, Monica Lewinsky went to Washington. Now, she finds herself facing public scrutiny over her private life.

February 01, 1998|From Times Staff Writers

Monica S. Lewinsky is a young woman in big trouble.

She has endangered President Clinton politically and perhaps legally. She says he had sex with her and urged her to deny it under oath.

She has seen Clinton clench his jaw, glare into TV cameras and say: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time--never. These allegations are false."

She has placed Vernon E. Jordan Jr., an attorney and Clinton's powerful confidant, go-between and fixer, in similar jeopardy by saying that he too had urged her to deny having presidential sex. She has seen Jordan glower into the cameras and say: "Ms. Lewinsky told me in no uncertain terms that she did not have a sexual relationship with the president. At no time did I ever say, suggest or intimate to her that she should lie."

She has spoken with close friend Linda Tripp about having sex with the president and lying about it, and was secretly taped and betrayed. She has embarrassed a former lover and his wife. She has put her brother under media siege, gotten her father subpoenaed and placed her mother in legal peril by asking her for advice. She is the topic of jokes about calling the president "Schmucko" and "the creep" and of talk about phone sex, oral sex and semen on her dress, so tawdry that a television show warned the matter might not be suitable for young viewers. Predictably, she has gotten a $2-million offer from Penthouse magazine to tell all and bare much.

Monica Lewinsky, finally, is in big trouble because of this: If she is lying, her future will be a horror; if she is not lying, her future will be a horror. It is difficult to envision a tomorrow for Monica that will not be a nightmare. Not least, she could go to prison for perjury. She swore in an affidavit earlier this month, before Linda Tripp's tapes went public, that she had never had a sexual relationship with the president. Monica is only 24. Her lawyer, William Ginsburg, describes her as devastated, crushed, fearful, emotionally shattered, scared out of her mind. She has been quoted as saying, "My life is ruined."

Some friends believe she had sex with the president. Others do not. Still others are conflicted. Erin Lotz, a companion until high school, says: "I was like, 'Oh, my God! I couldn't believe it." Danny Shabani, who knew her in elementary school and last talked with her a year ago, says: "Monica was never the type of girl that would ever lie." Payson Lederman, who grew up with her as a youngster in Beverly Hills, says: "I would never imagine her ever being in trouble. For some political reason, someone has trumped up the story and taken advantage of a very kind, sweet, generous person."

A friend from college asks himself whether he thinks that Monica had sex with the president and answers this way: "She is definitely capable of being with a married man, but she's also capable of making it up."

From the Tripp tapes, published by Newsweek magazine:

Linda Tripp: My fear is that they have information that we don't know that they have . . . and they can nail us. . . .

Lewinsky: If I needed to, I would say . . . this did not happen [the sexual relationship]. . . . God forbid . . . somebody had a video camera of him and me.


Monica Samille Lewinsky was born to affluence.

Her father, Dr. Bernard Lewinsky, a radiation oncologist, owns part of Western Tumor Medical Group Inc., a string of California clinics for cancer patients who need radiation therapy. According to Dunn and Bradstreet, the corporation does about $1.7 million in business every year.

On July 23, 1973, when Monica was born, her mother, Marcia Lewis, was a housewife. She had an air of distinction, people who know her say, along with a sense of enthusiasm. Beautiful, pleasant, smart, savvy and cheerful, she had presence. Even on the phone, they could tell. It was her voice, "a well-bred voice," in the words of an acquaintance.

Monica's brother, Michael, was born 3 1/2 years later. The family lived in Beverly Hills. They joined Sinai Temple in Westwood. Popular with business and entertainment executives, it is one of the largest Conservative Jewish congregations in Los Angeles. But until Monica made news in Washington, active members say, they had never heard of her or her family.

The Lewinskys lived at 604 N. Hillcrest Road, which was, indeed, Beverly Hills, 90210. Some of Monica's neighbors were entertainment executives. Kids got luxury cars for their 16th birthdays. It was a neighborhood of gardeners and maids, of protective walls and lush greenery. The Lewinskys owned a large, two-story, Spanish-tile house on a block lined with tall palm trees. Nine years ago, when Monica's parents filed for divorce, they estimated its worth at $1.6 million.


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