Monica Lewinsky’s name has become famous the world over: she shot to fame as a 22-year-old following the exposure of her relationship with the then President, Bill Clinton, by the media. Clinton’s subsequent public denial of the relationship eventually led to his impeachment.
Finding herself at the centre of a political storm for much of early and mid-20s, Lewinsky has since gone on to become a social activist and household name, speaking about her experiences, and particularly her vilification by the media, on a public platform.
Here are 10 facts about Monica Lewinsky, the former White House intern whose brief affair led her to become one of the most famous women of her day.
1. She was born and grew up in California
Monica Lewinsky was born to an affluent Jewish family in 1973 and spent most of her early life in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Her parents divorced when she was a teenager, and the separation proved difficult.
She went on to study at the Beverly Hills High School, before attending Santa Monica College and later Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, where she graduated with a degree in psychology in 1995.
2. She became a White House intern in July 1995
Through family connections, Lewinsky secured an unpaid internship in the office of the White House’s then Chief of Staff, Leon Panetta in July 1995. She was assigned correspondence work for the 4 months she was there.
In November 1995, she was offered a paid job on the White House staff, eventually ending up in the Office of Legislative Affairs, where she remained for a little under 6 months.
3. She met President Bill Clinton just over a month after starting her internship
According to her testimony, the 21-year-old Lewinsky met President Clinton for the first time a little over a month after she had begun her internship. She remained at work as an unpaid intern throughout the November shutdown, by which point President Clinton was visiting Panetta’s office regularly: colleagues noticed he was paying Lewinsky a lot of attention.
4. She was dismissed from the Oval Office in April 1996
Sexual relations between Lewinsky and President Clinton began in November 1995 and continued over the winter. In April 1996, Lewinsky was transferred to the Pentagon after her superiors decided she was spending too much time with the President.
The pair remained close and continued some kind of sexual relationship until early 1997. According to Lewinsky’s court testimony, the entire relationship consisted of 9 sexual encounters.
5. The scandal became national news thanks to a civil servant
Civil servant Linda Tripp struck up a friendship with Lewinsky, and after hearing details of Lewinsky’s affair with President Clinton, began to record the phone calls she had with Lewinsky. Tripp encouraged Lewinsky to take notes of conversations with the President and to keep a semen-stained dress as ‘evidence’ of their trysts.
In January 1998, Tripp gave tapes of her phone calls with Lewinsky to Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Starr was, at that point, conducting a separate investigation into the Clintons’ investments in the Whitewater Development Corporation.
Based on the tapes, Starr’s investigative powers were expanded to cover the Clinton-Lewinsky relationship, as well as any possible instances of perjury.
6. Clinton denied their relationship on live television and lied under oath
In one of the most famous lines in modern American history, in a live televised address, President Clinton stated:
I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky
He continued to deny having a “sexual relationship” with Monica Lewinsky under oath: Clinton later denied this was perjury on a technicality and maintained that he was passive in their encounters. Lewinsky’s testimony suggested otherwise.
President Clinton was later impeached by the House of Representatives on the grounds that he had committed perjury and obstructed the course of justice.
7. Lewinsky’s testimony to the Starr Commission brought her immunity
Although agreeing to testify to the Starr Commission granted Lewinsky immunity from prosecution, she immediately found herself in one of the biggest media and political storms in modern American history.
Vilified by sections of the press, she agreed to an interview on ABC in 1999, which was watched by over 70 million people – a record for any news show at the time. Many proved unsympathetic to Lewinsky’s version of the story, painting her in an extremely negative light.
8. Some say the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal lost the Democrats the presidential election in 2000
Al Gore, who served as Vice President under Clinton and later ran for President in the 2000 election, blamed the impeachment scandal on his election loss. Reportedly he and Clinton fell out over the scandal and Gore later wrote he felt ‘betrayed’ by Clinton’s relationship with Lewinsky and his subsequent denial of it.
9. Media scrutiny of Lewinsky’s story remains intense
Despite trying to make a name for herself in a variety of careers, including as a businesswoman and TV presenter, Lewinsky struggled to escape press attention about her relationship with Clinton.
Over 20 years later, media scrutiny of Lewinsky remains intense. A more recent reappraisal of the relationship, including by Lewinsky herself, has led to more intense criticism of President Clinton’s abuse of power and a sympathetic stance towards Lewinsky.
10. Lewinsky has become a prominent activist against cyberbullying and public harassment
After pursuing further study in social psychology, Lewinsky spent most of a decade trying to avoid the press. In 2014, she re-emerged in the spotlight, penning an essay on ‘Shame and Survival’ for Vanity Fair and making several speeches against cyberbullying and advocating compassion in the media and online. She continues to be a public voice against online hate and public shaming.