Hillary Clinton is scooping up millions in speaking fees while positioning herself for a White House run. Her husband Bill, the 42nd president of the United States, is a revered elder statesman and international do-gooder (while also scooping up millions in speaking fees).
And Monica Lewinsky, now 41, is once again the object of prurient curiosity. She’s the star of the so-called “Monica Files,” a collection of previously unpublished documents that include a fulsomely flattering letter from ABC News doyenne Barbara Walters, eager to grill the former White House intern on her television network, and some crassly humorous scripts for TV commercials advertising a coffee creamer.
“She could have done some serious damage to Bill Clinton, and yet she showed self-restraint and self-dignity,” says Washington journalist Daniel Halper, author of Clinton, Inc.: The Audacious Rebuilding of a Political Machine. “She was so in love with him, in a way, but she was also a naïve young person. It was an unfair matchup. On the one hand you have the Clintons and their political machine; on the other hand, you have Monica, this lowly White House intern.”
Halper, online editor of the right-leaning Weekly Standard, exclusively provided portions of his “Monica Files” to The Daily Beast, and also shared his revealing interview with Andy Bleiler, Lewinsky’s high school drama teacher who was later exposed in the midst of the scandal—by Clinton operatives, Halper contends—as having engaged in an ill-fated extramarital affair with his former student.
It was allegedly Bleiler and his wronged wife who were the source of the infamous quote attributed to Monica in every media outlet on the planet: “I’m going to the White House to get my presidential kneepads.” Apparently the quote—portraying Monica as a delusional sexual predator who preyed on married men—was completely made up, Bleiler suggested to Halper.
The “presidential kneepads” phrase was first uttered on the Today show by a mysterious attorney named Terry Giles, who showed up unbidden on Bleiler’s doorstep in Portland, Oregon, offered to speak to the media on behalf of the teacher and his then-wife, and never asked for payment. “I don’t even know where that term came from,” Bleiler told Halper in their previously unpublished interview. “I don’t know how it got where it got. That was not me.”
All this, as Lewinsky is cautiously attempting to reenter public life, after a decade of enforced silence away from the limelight, while trying to figure out how to earn a respectable living and reinvent herself as a socially conscious celebrity.
“I’ve decided, finally, to stick my head above the parapet so that I can take back my narrative and give a purpose to my past. (What this will cost me, I will soon find out.),” she wrote recently in a much-discussed Vanity Fair confessional. “It’s time to burn the beret and bury the blue dress.”
It’s a daunting task, given the permanently garish glare that reflects off the Clintons—not only Bill and Hill, but also their fame-seeking daughter, Chelsea—and it’s especially difficult in light of the major media attention being accorded Halper’s book, which features a truckload of tabloid-ready anecdotes concerning Lewinsky’s titillating brush with power.
The “Monica Files”—which will be featured on the website for Halper’s book—is unlikely to help her reputation rehab, and Lewinsky declined to comment for this story.
From the files: Back in October 1999, President Clinton—only the second chief executive to be impeached in U.S. history—was busily scrubbing his tarnished image and restoring his political capital, eight months after his acquittal by the Senate. Hillary was positioning herself to campaign for a seat in that very legislative body from the great state of New York, where she had never previously lived but had recently purchased a suburban Dutch Colonial with cash supplied by a family friend.
She was 26 years old and her life was in tatters, her future a black cloud. She was, pardon the expression, dead broke—really, truly—and unable to secure a full-time job despite or because of her global fame as the White House intern who seduced the Leader of the Free World; the Clintons’ army of operatives had successfully branded her as the scheming vixen who nearly brought down an American presidency with a few errant blowjobs.
So Lewinsky, in need of a livelihood, was fielding offers.
“Thank you for taking the time to speak with me regarding Monica,” an executive in the Dallas office of the global advertising agency DDB Needham wrote to Lewinsky’s representative. “As I mentioned on the phone, our client, Suiza Foods/International Delight Coffee Creamer, is very interested in using her in one or two TV commercials scheduled to begin airing in February, 2000. I have attached the scripts for your review.”
In one script, Monica is waiting in a dressing room to appear on a morning television show. She’s wearing a blue Gap dress. A production assistant knocks on the door to tell her she has a minute before airtime.
“Would like anything before you go on?” the assistant asks.
“Some coffee,” Monica answers.
The stage directions state: “He pours her a cup of coffee. Hands it to her. Then he picks up a carton of International Delight French Vanilla.”
“Cream?” he asks.
“Sure,” Monica replies.
Stage directions: “He hurriedly opens the carton and pours it in her cup. Some of the French Vanilla spills onto her dress. Cut to closeup of stain. Cut to Monica looking down at it. Forlorned [sic].”
“Oh. Not again,” Monica sighs.
Lewinsky, no doubt admirably, rejected the idea of starring in that commercial. She also declined to appear in another commercial for the creamer, in which a Bill Clinton lookalike tells a gaggle of frenzied reporters: “I just want it to go on the record that I did not have coffee with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”
As for the Barbara Walters letter, it is a perfect confection of simpering sycophancy and self-celebration, garnished by veiled threat. The tone is by no means unusual for rival television stars in the eternal competition for the giant “get.”
“It is no crime to sell your story,” Walters wrote to Lewinsky in November 1998, “but I don’t have to tell you what public opinion will then be: You will be viewed as an opportunist. ‘We have known it all along,’ the critics will say. ‘This is the kind of person Monica Lewinsky is.’…But beyond the payment, I fully believe that no one else could possibly do the kind of interview that I could do. It isn’t only my own reputation for fairness and integrity. It is also that you and I have a trust and respect for each other that will permeate the screen.”
Walters signed off by urging Lewinsky to “have a cup of tea” and “try to enjoy the day.” The pitch worked, and Lewinsky famously rewarded Walters with the highest-rated prime-time interview in television history, in which Lewinsky confided to some 70 million viewers that she flashed her thong at her president as “a subtle gesture” of longing. (Although ABC didn’t pay her directly, Lewinsky ended up making a reported $1 million on the foreign rights.)
“I think it’s a fascinating look at how the media works,” Halper says. “It shows how people suck up to their sources, while at the same time Monica was getting killed in the press.”