Related Stories
 Click here for more political coverage from TIME magazine.


TIME On Politics

Behind The Scenes With Monica

Working in an office overlooking the Los Angeles Country Club, the two lawyers seem an odd couple: the 54-year-old Jewish Californian who handles corporate and health-care cases and the 48-year-old African American who defends underdogs in Washington. This is their story about Monica Lewinsky and what they say is the misdealing by Kenneth Starr and his team

By William Ginsburg with Nathaniel Speights Time cover

Why are we talking?

Because my client Monica Lewinsky has been subjected to a campaign of leaks questioning her reliability and sensibility. She has been raked over the coals by every single person with an interest, either close or remote, in this case. My whole media campaign and my decision to do this article have all been designed to demonstrate that my client is a responsible young woman who speaks the truth but got caught in the web of a complicated government conflict, orchestrated and engineered by people with a political and personal agenda. No one is funding her. No one is standing behind her. No one cares about her except us. And we have to tell the story.

I have known Monica all her life. She's the product of a phenomenon that is endemic in America--divorce. I've known both her parents and can personally attest to the fact that they didn't get along. That's why they got a divorce. But I also know this: Dr. Lewinsky worked very hard--full time as a radiation oncologist to treat cancer and at night as an emergency physician. He was, and is, a compassionate man. All this talk of a violent temper, of verbal abuse of his children and wife, has more to do with lawyers and divorce strategy than reality.

Monica did suffer some of the problems of children caught in a divorce. Keep in mind, she was 14 and at a formative age. But I really resent all of the tabloid-like allusions to Beverly Hills 90210, because Monica was no different from affluent kids anywhere else. She grew up with the morals of the '80s and '90s. Like all kids today, and in my time too, they make mistakes. But with the exception of a couple of mistakes--and Andy Bleiler was one of them--Monica was normal for her generation. She dated, she tested the line between adolescence and adulthood. She was not an affluent kid going to seek a thrill in Washington but a personable, well-educated young woman trying to build her credentials. She was looking for a career in public relations and communications. Working at the White House seemed like the ultimate job opportunity for any young person.

She's completely flabbergasted to find herself at the center of the storm. I'll be honest: I never imagined it either. I thought this was about Paula Jones v. William Jefferson Clinton. What's Monica feeling? She's feeling anxiety, fear, concern and, yes, anger. Who's going to give her a job after this? She is worried about her family. How mortifying all this is. When will she be able to walk in a park, go shopping at Target or on Rodeo Drive or Connecticut Avenue? Monica has been branded with a scarlet letter, an A for adultery. Now will she be branded with an I for indictment, a C for conviction and a J for jail? For what? Why is the world saying that she has the government of the U.S. in her hands?

Our strategy is very simple. We have a client who has told the truth, the complete truth, to the authorities. She has cooperated fully--in difficult circumstances. She and her mother Marcia Lewis spent nine hours on the Friday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day with four or five lawyers from Kenneth Starr's Office of the Independent Counsel and four or five FBI agents. It was clearly a show of force. When she asked if she could call her lawyer, they told her, "You cannot call your lawyer. If you call your lawyer, we cannot grant you immunity." She and her mother--and her father--said they would cooperate fully and tell everything they knew. They had nothing to hide. So Starr's office offered her immunity that Friday night, and Monica accepted it. She didn't call her attorney. She called her parents, and her mother came down on the train. Starr's people told her father on the phone, "Your daughter has nothing to worry about."

But her father was worried, and called me. This was 7 p.m. in California on a Friday. Starr's lawyers told me, "We've got a deal, and we want to wire her and record some phone calls." Monica was clearly scared, but her voice was steady. She said she knew she could leave--but she believed she would be arrested, handcuffed, dragged off to jail if she left. At that point, I didn't know anything about the subpoena, that she was a target of a federal criminal investigation. They told me if I called her lawyer in Washington, Frank Carter, who was helping her with the Paula Jones subpoena, then the whole deal was off.

They wanted to start debriefing Monica immediately, but I wanted something in writing. Starr was there, but I didn't talk to him. They kept saying they didn't have computers or typewriters. I said, "You're at the Ritz-Carlton. Go to the desk, get a pen and write, 'We promise not to prosecute Monica Lewinsky and her mother, according to the usual terms and conditions', and fax it to me." I told them I would stand by the fax, for security reasons. They said they couldn't. I said I'd charter a plane and get there overnight. Then they said the deal was good only for two hours. It was 11:30 p.m. on a Friday in Washington. They had us boxed in and hog-tied. Basically, they just reneged when we asked for the promise in writing.

I flew to Washington on Saturday and called Nate Speights, a friend through family connections and a former federal prosecutor. On Sunday the Office of the Independent Counsel called to say again they wanted to grant Monica full immunity. So I met with them again--four lawyers, two FBI agents. They were cordial, but they weren't going to put it in writing. They said, "Someday we will tell you why." They said, "You can rely on our word." They wanted me to waive my right to have a judge review the proceedings, and they kept saying "queen for a day" rules were normal. That's where you tell everything, and then the government decides whether to grant you immunity.

But the government didn't just want our client to tell her story; they wanted her wired, and they wanted her to record telephone calls with the President of the U.S., Vernon Jordan and others--at their will. Monica said, "Can they really make me wear a wire and invade other people's privacy like that?" She was frightened. They were threatening her mother with prosecution. But if they had all this collateral evidence, then they didn't need my client at all. Linda Tripp illegally taped 20 hours of conversation with Monica and then brought those tapes to Starr, a former judge. Rather than prosecute her, he said, Thanks, I'll use them. They should have gotten court approval, but Starr seems to think it's O.K. to break the law to enforce the law.

The Office of the Independent Counsel was created to ensure confidence in government because of the fear that Presidents could not be investigated by those who work for them, like the Attorney General. But this has evolved and evolved, and now we're in an interesting situation. Anytime anyone wants to talk to me about anything, I have to make sure they are not wired. It's sad, a disgrace. If you can't call a friend without the government listening in, then it has become Big Brother, government as the enemy.

So we came out of that series of meetings over the weekend totally befuddled by the contradictions. And leaks were breaking everywhere on Monday. Matt Drudge was on the Internet breaking "news" without names. By Tuesday, everybody knew about us. With all the news breaking, the independent counsel's office came back and said, "We've blown the opportunity to wire her. She's radioactive because of the Drudge Report." I had never even heard of Drudge before, but we were at the counsel's offices and these men would walk in with a piece of paper like it was news of war breaking out in Bosnia. It was Matt Drudge's Internet column. They were using the Internet to investigate! It was all salacious stuff. I couldn't believe it. They kept asking us to react to it. By the end of Monday, they had totally reneged on a grant of complete immunity. They were playing around with us.

On that Monday we made them an oral proffer, a statement of what Monica's testimony would be on all elements of the offenses they said were under investigation. We can't say what it says--that's privileged--but they took notes, and they were satisfied. They were very pleased. Thanks, they said. Now we need you to consent to a search of Monica and Marcia's apartment at the Watergate building. This was after midnight. We consented, and the search was set for 10 a.m. the next day. Next morning, 10 a.m., no FBI. Eleven a.m., no FBI. Finally at 12, I called. They said, Oh, we forgot about it. So they suggested Thursday. This search was so important to the nation, yet they waited two days. When they came, they took things like Monica's computer, hatpins, T shirts, dresses, pantsuits and a copy of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass--a paperback version, not even the one the President gave Monica, which, by the way, wasn't even signed by him.

Later, they called to ask about the nails in the wall where pictures once hung. They made it sound so sinister. I told them Monica was packing to move to New York for that new job with Revlon, remember? And I asked them if they had seen the boxes on the floor. They had, but never opened them. That's where Monica's pictures and mementos were! The next day, they examined Monica's computer hard drive and found that her brother and mother had used it, so they made it all sound sinister, like we gave them the wrong computer. They took her clothes because of a report by Matt Drudge about a semen-stained dress. Next was the absurd leak that Betty Currie, the President's trusted secretary, implicated him in obstruction of justice or witness tampering. This leak was a transparent attempt to create an unfair environment for President Clinton and my client.

Day after day, it has been leak after leak. I didn't say a word about discussions with the Office of the Independent Counsel. No comment. No comment. I kept asking Nate, How do the reporters know this stuff? The Office of the Independent Counsel is leaking it, said Nate. Meanwhile, Starr's people kept talking to us, but instead of "queen for a day" privileges, they wanted "queen for a month." And they wanted a polygraph test. What do we get in exchange besides your goodwill? I asked. They said they'd decide that later.

Finally we got to the point where they offered immunity again, 10 days afterward--it was Jan. 29 or 30. So for the next couple of days, we drafted agreements and wrote up an additional proffer at their request. They told us the issues, and Monica wrote the facts on each--if she had anything relevant. They went through three or four drafts of the immunity agreement. We agreed orally to a deal. Finally they sent us a letter confirming our oral agreement that the U.S. Government would promise not to prosecute Monica. This was Monday, Feb. 2. We had a deal. The Office of the Independent Counsel sent the letter on their letterhead by an FBI agent. Nate signed, I signed. I went to the Watergate and Monica signed. I sent it back. They wanted to know if they could talk to her right away, but Monica wanted to see her father. So they said they would come out to Los Angeles. We even talked about when they could see her: 10 to 3 every day, 11 to 3 on Saturday and Sunday. I came home thinking I was going to be working with the FBI and the Office of the Independent Counsel on Monica's debriefing, maybe have her do a polygraph.

Last Wednesday the Office of the Independent Counsel called me in Los Angeles saying they had changed their minds. They wanted to talk to Monica without us. They wanted to redo the deal. I was angry, to say the least. I can't remember how many times they granted her immunity and changed their minds--at least three times. But this time, it was one too many. So this week we plan to file a motion in court to enforce the agreement. This was a binding agreement that they sent us in writing.

Monica told the complete truth about everything as she knows it. The whole story may not be the way Starr wants it. It may not be the way Clinton wants it. But it's credible. It's Generation X speaking. I guess it's not what they want. Monica is unbending. She has seen the reports that Starr is supposedly trying to squeeze her. She is not willing to change her story to meet the needs of the prosecutor. She told them the truth, and now she's angry. Last Friday FBI agents visited Monica's brother at his fraternity house at Carnegie Mellon University and frightened him by showing their badges and armament before questioning him.

The criticism of us as lawyers has been opportunistic and un- realistic. Nate is a respected criminal-law specialist, a former U.S. Attorney with a superb track record in prosecution and defense of criminal matters. He is conducting day-to-day negotiations with me and the independent counsel. Everybody asks me if I'm in over my head. Some people have asked why high-profile Washington lawyers weren't hired. But we needed just one good lawyer. And Nate was that man. We're both trial lawyers and ready for the task at hand.

The gauntlet has been thrown by Starr and the President, two icons of our democratic government. Monica is just a pawn in their game. Kenneth Starr has spent $40 million in taxpayer funds for his investigation. The President is complaining about running out of money for legal fees and says he needs a $3 million fund. But Monica Lewinsky and her parents face the total resources of the U.S. Government--never fewer than five attorneys, and four or five FBI agents working against her. The American public should know what it's like to be caught between two agencies of government at war. I wonder how many people could withstand government and press scrutiny for every foible, sin, contradiction or problem in their life.

And what about the gender aspect of it? We haven't come as far as we should on the role of women in America. Monica is a woman in the path of a male agenda. The question I continually have to ask myself is Why is she the target rather than a key witness? What great purpose is served if she is indicted and jailed? What great national catharsis will we feel? And at what price?

In TIME This Week

Cover Date: February 16, 1998

The Press And The Dress
Drip Drip Drip
Behind The Scenes With Monica
Just An Affectionate Guy
Ain't We Got Fun
Time To Off Saddam?
With A Little Help From His Friends
Eyes On The Oval
The Art of the Leak
Inside the Magic Bubble
Give Me a Break!

Barnes & Noble book search

Archives   |   CQ News   |   TIME On Politics   |   Feedback   |   Help

Copyright © 1998 AllPolitics All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this information is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.
Who we are.