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THE STARR REPORT | THE AFFAIR

'I Never Expected to Fall in Love With the President'

September 12, 1998|RICHARD T. COOPER and JUDY PASTERNAK and NORMAN KEMPSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — "We would tell jokes. We would talk about our childhoods. Talk about current events. I was always giving him my stupid ideas about what I thought should be done in the administration or different views on things. . . .

"I never expected to fall in love with the president," Monica S. Lewinsky said. "I was surprised that I did."

That was the good part. The incandescent, high school first-love part that makes the heart glow and convinces two people, for a few moments at least, that their feelings and desires can overcome the world.

But there was another side to it as well: the groping, blouse-open, zipper-down, oral-sex-while-leaning-against-a-wall moments, followed by the "Do you remember my name?" moments. The married man's time-stained "Maybe we can be together someday" lines. The belated efforts to convince each other it was more than sex. The posturing, deception, anger and betrayal.

Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's report to Congress presents a relentlessly explicit, almost clinically detailed description of the personal relationship between President Clinton and the former White House intern. And whatever the eventual verdict on Starr's legal case, in purely human terms the picture that emerges is at once bizarre and achingly familiar.

Starr's account, pieced together from grand jury testimony and investigative reports, leans heavily on the words of Lewinsky and almost a dozen other individuals to whom she allegedly gave contemporaneous accounts of the affair. Clinton's own testimony appears to have been much less detailed and graphic.

Nonetheless, the accounts have few contradictions.

The relationship began as an all-too-typical office flirtation almost immediately after Lewinsky arrived at the White House as an unpaid intern in July 1995. It exploded into a series of hasty sexual encounters during the November 1995 shutdown of the federal government that followed Clinton's confrontation with congressional Republicans over the federal budget. This was at a time when regular White House aides were barred from working and interns such as Lewinsky were given expanded duties and access to the Oval Office.

So feverish and brief were these initial experiences of oral and manual sex that it was only after the sixth episode, on Feb. 4, 1996, that Lewinsky raised the question of whether the two might be able to have a personal conversation--whereupon Clinton sat down and chatted with her for some 45 minutes.

In another sexual encounter not long after that, as Lewinsky was departing, she testified that the president kissed her arm and promised to call her. "Yeah, well, what's my telephone number?" she demanded. "And so he recited both my home number and my office number off the top of his head," Starr quoted her as saying.

In all, Lewinsky said she and Clinton had 10 sexual encounters, most in a windowless hallway connecting the Oval Office to his private study. Often the president leaned against a wall while she performed oral sex; he said it eased his sore back, Lewinsky testified. (John F. Kennedy, whom Clinton had taken as his role model, reportedly told his intimates the same thing.)

On several occasions, she said, Clinton took telephone calls, sometimes from members of Congress, while he and Lewinsky were engaging in oral sex.

Apparently in keeping with his own highly individual definition of what constituted sexual relations, Clinton consistently refused to permit intercourse. But during one episode, he did use one of his cigars as a sexual prop.

The two exchanged numerous gifts and messages. Lewinsky gave the president some 30 items, including neckties, an antique paperweight, old books of history, contemporary novels--some dealing with sex--a pair of sunglasses and a frog figurine. He gave her a hatpin, two brooches, a marble bear figurine, a blanket and a copy of Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass."

"I used to say to him, 'I like it when you wear my ties because then I know I'm close to your heart,' " she told the grand jury.

Yet tensions gradually arose as White House aides began to notice and Clinton himself began to suspect--correctly--that Lewinsky, despite protestations of discretion, was spilling out details of their activities to an astonishing number of friends and relatives.

On May 24, 1997, Clinton told a weeping Lewinsky that the affair must end. Earlier in his marriage, she testified he told her, he had many affairs but had tried to become faithful. He was determined to resume that effort, she quoted him as saying, though he professed affection and admiration for her.

Whether by coincidence or not, the breakup occurred three days before the Supreme Court ruled that the Paula Corbin Jones sexual harassment suit could go forward.

November 1995: The First Time

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