You're Wrong About

Monica Lewinsky

June 02, 2018 Mike
You're Wrong About
Monica Lewinsky
Show Notes Transcript

Sarah and Mike talk about what America forgot — and never learned — about history’s most famous intern. Digressions include generational resentments, 1990s fashion and off-brand colleges. Also, Mike’s microphone breaks about 25 minutes in, so he sounds like he’s recording in a submarine. Sorry! 

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Monica Lewinsky

Mike: Hey, You're Wrong About-ers, Mike here. Just want to let you know that about 22 minutes into this episode, my microphone breaks. So, that's why I sound like I'm underwater for most of the episode. I'm sorry. I hope it won't happen again. Thank you for listening, and on with the show.

Sarah: Welcome to You're Wrong About, a show where we tell you what you're wrong about. I'm trying a new tagline. 

Mike: That's a better tagline than any of the ones that I’ve come up with.

Sarah: And my name is Sarah Marshall and I've written for the New Republic, and Buzzfeed, and The Believer, and usually about what things that I feel people to be wrong about.

Mike: And I'm Michael Hobbes, I write for the Huffington Post.

Sarah: And speaking of things that we are wrong about, we've both been researching… the funny thing is that we don't even have a unified title for this. Like, I think of it as ‘Monicagate’.

Mike: She actually doesn't like that term. 

Sarah: Oh, then I'll stop saying it.

Mike: She has mentioned that she really resents the term the “Lewinsky Scandal” or “Monicagate” or any of these things that put her at the center of it. 

Sarah: Right.

Mike: Because it makes it seem like she was the one that made the scandal when, in fact, it was the President of a large country who decided to do many things and brought the scandal on himself. But then I've also heard journalists say that they're not trying to be dicks about it but basically, there were so many Clinton scandals that you couldn't just say, like, ‘the Clinton scandal’ or even ‘the sexual harassment scandal’, because there were, like, nine of those. It was like naming comets or something. So anyway, I am thinking of this as you're Wrong About the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal. 

Sarah: There you go. And let's put his name first, because that's where it would go if it were an invitation. 

Mike: And yeah, we're doing this differently this week. Usually one of us researches and the other asks, and we're both so obsessed with this that we both read this week. So I spent all week reading the entire Starr report, which is 400 and something pages long and is darkly fascinating in ways that I will get into. What were you reading this week, Sarah?

Sarah: This week I was listening to the audio book of Jeffrey Toobin’s,  A Vast Conspiracy. It's mainly the background of the Starr Report and of how the scandal came about and also, you know, sitting there in the car thinking about why does Jeffrey Toobin seem to genuinely dislike Monica Lewinsky so much? And while we're on the subject, why did America dislike Monica Lewinsky so much? Why is it that when scandals implicate extremely powerful men taking crazy risks that no logic in the world could explain away, are we like, the intern is the problem?

Mike: The 22-year-old.

Sarah: The 22-year-old! 

Mike: Do you want to help us get into the background, Sarah? How did the investigation come about? Because all I know is the beginning of the Starr Report. 

Sarah: We shouldn't get into this by talking about Ken Starr, because the sense that I got from Toobin's book and also from my memories of this as it was happening and the conversations that I was hearing adults have around me. You know, we're raised in political bubbles and the only culture I knew was this idea of the right has it out for Bill Clinton and it's his business and this is silliness and it's silly, and the Republicans need to leave him alone. At the time when this was actually happening, I think that if I were an adult in 1998, I would be taking that tone. 

But also, yeah, this idea that at the time liberals were put in a position of having to defend Bill Clinton against really egregiously self-interested attacks by the right that we’re claiming to be attacks in the name of moral rectitude and having a decent president, but really were clearly partisan and agenda driven and how that led us to view the sexual politics of what was happening. Because when Bill Clinton was president, many prominent and powerful Republicans tried to create scandals around his administration. And so there was “Travelgate”. They're so boring that I can't even really remember the details and I'm going to get them slightly wrong, I think. But “Travelgate” was basically soon after Bill Clinton became president, a few long standing White House staffers whose work had something to do with travel were fired and the right tried to turn it into the Clinton administration is sweeping in and they're firing everyone and it's a gate. Do you remember hearing about Whitewater when you were growing up? I feel like that word was always in the news. 

Mike: Constantly.

Sarah: Right? 

Mike: When the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, I was a sixteen-year-old boy, so I was very empathic towards women's issues.

Sarah: But you are also able to understand why someone would potentially drastically alter the fate of the whole country to get oral sex at work. Like, I feel like as a sixteen-year-old boy, you're very in touch with that and understand it. 

Mike: I think the consensus in the Hobbes household and among my super lefty, liberal, Seattle public school upbringing was that the French president has a mistress, so why are we all freaking out about Clinton having a mistress? That was basically the consensus. It wasn't even necessarily a witch hunt, but it was like, this is just an overblown thing. Like, it's gross and he's an idiot, obviously. I don't think anybody was defending him as a Paragon of virtue, but it was like, this is just totally out of proportion. 

I was vaguely aware of things like whitewater and Vince Foster. There's all these weird things that remain like little shibboleths, right? There's an entire portion of the electorate that if you say ‘Vince Foster’, they're like, “Oh, it's a murder, and there's a basement, and there's a huge, vast conspiracy and helicopters flying around.”

Sarah: There's a basement? 

Mike: Like, Benghazi has this weird symbolic load as well too, right? These have all become these like clarion calls.

Sarah: Yeah.

Mike: The tip of an iceberg of this deep, horrible, powerful, Illuminati-level corruption of the Clintons, and it only manifests itself in these extremely mundane, extremely paperwork technicalities. When you think about all of these scandals, as far as the political corruption stuff - not the sex stuff, because that stuff is true - but the political corruption stuff, it's all procedural. It's like, “Oh, Clinton might have accidentally released classified information” or Whitewater was something with a land deal, right?

Sarah: Like, a boring land deal in Arkansas. Bill Clinton allegedly had a conversation with a very crooked real estate developer and part-time church pew manufacturer in 1986, where he allegedly pressured this guy or advised him, told him in some way, to give a $300,000 loan to a couple who were business associates of the Clintons who they had gone on in with on the Whitewater deal in 1978. It was supposed to be some sort of housing development and it never worked, because they were betting on real estate development in an area of Arkansas that wasn't really developed. What could be more mundane?

Mike: Right.

Sarah: It's not a Scorsese movie. 

Mike: So how did Kenneth Starr, like, how did the Whitewater investigation happen?

Sarah: So Janet Reno appointed him as independent counsel. What that reflects is Janet Reno as attorney general making the decision to credit the Whitewater controversy. We will bring in an independent investigator who is not a part of this administration and do our due diligence and look at all the Whitewater stuff and show that this is all going to be impartially and professionally handled by having it be a bipartisan blah, blah, blah. And he's someone who has maintained an aura of bipartisanship for his career in Washington. He was actually nominated to be a Supreme Court justice when he was quite young, he would have been in his forties. And he was the solicitor general, which is the lawyer who speaks on behalf of the U.S. government in Supreme Court cases. So he was an insider's insider. Yeah. He had some very right-wing leanings, but he had managed to maintain a reputation as a jurist whose decisions were not guided by partisanship.

Mike: He's like a law and order guy. 

Sarah: Yeah. I think that was his reputation and he had, you know, the chops to do what he did. And he also hated Bill Clinton. 

Mike: Why was that? Was it for the sexual stuff? Was it for the policy stuff? What was it?

Sarah: There was a tell all that came out in the mid-nineties called Unlimited Access, which was written by a former, relatively low level white house staffer, and claimed to have salacious information about the Clinton white house and, you know, mainly it was fairly boring but it had all of these strange and later on debunked details about like, “The Clinton’s staffers put up pornographic Christmas tree ornaments and it was an attitude of casual sex”. And I think the description was that it was like ‘Berkeley with an Appalachian twist’. Which doesn’t that sound great?

Mike: Seriously.

Sarah: It's just like a lot of cedar cabins and stuff. And there was this idea that I guess put forth in that book and that people seem to have that the presidency had previously, under Reagan and Bush, been this distinguished American…  you know, I just have so little concept of this as a thing that doesn't exist except as a myth that I have a hard time putting my finger on it. But, you know, men wore suits and haircuts and women had manicures and not important policy jobs, and you just drank scotch and looked out a window all the time. And then Bill Clinton came in and their fear of his politics was, to some degree, expressed in their sense of him turning the white house into a swinger's club. 

Mike: Because I’m obsessed with this, I see everything through a generational warfare lens. And I think it's useful to note that Clinton was the first boomer president. 

Sarah: Right.

Mike: One thing that we don't talk about in America very much, and we should, is the fact that we've never had an older population than we do right now. Life expectancy is getting longer, and birth rates are falling, so it's the first time that we've had an older electorate. The first time we've had a generation that remains in power as it ages. Every previous generation was very rapidly outnumbered. So, even if there's these cantankerous old people, they're outnumbered, and this kind of new blood sloshes into the political system. And that did actually happen when the boomers came in, that there were more boomers than there were greatest generations. But I wonder if this is the beginning of the greatest generation really having this backlash against younger people. The Clintons become an emblem of Berkeley, rock throwing, Jane Fonda, free speech, beatniks are taking over the government and that was one step too far. 

Sarah: Right. And that Clinton had been a draft dodger.

Mike: Exactly. And it's these proxy wars for the Vietnam protests, which a lot of people are still really sore about and what they perceive as no patriotism, right? That the boomers just don't care about America and are spitting at troops when they come back from Vietnam. 

Sarah: Yes, boomers, the original millennials.

Mike: Every generation thinks that the following generation is uniquely driving the country into the ocean, but this is the first time that we've had a generation that is still in power. It's amazing to me reading through the Starr Report the names that come up. I mean, Jennifer Palmieri, Leon Panetta, all these people are still around.

Sarah: That makes sense to me.

Mike: I also think Hillary played into it hugely. 

Sarah: People have always hated her. It's truly like our national pastime. 

Mike: It’s fascinating. I can't get over this detail that when she was the wife of Bill when he was the governor of Arkansas, she kept her last name, and this was considered totally anathema. Even in Arkansas, even locally, even all the way back then, she was a polarizing figure because she stayed Hillary Rodham, and it was like a “how dare she” kind of tone? It was extremely controversial, and I think that had already poisoned the waters against her. And then she comes in and she's a lawyer and she's accomplished and she represents everything about this women's lib stuff that our grandparents' generation just cannot stand. These women who are not wearing dresses, fighting back against sexual harassment, not staying home to raise the kids, not supporting their husbands equally. 

My grandmother still hates Hillary Clinton with a fiery passion. Why? Because she didn't leave Bill when he ran around on her. This is why my grandmother voted for Donald Trump. Donald Trump cheating on his wife is fine, but Hillary Clinton not leaving her husband for cheating on her is not fine. And I think that Hillary personifies a lot of the way that the roles of women had changed from generation to generation that was very easy to cast her as this shrill, ambitious, harpy who's trying to meddle in policy things that she has no expertise in. She's trying to pass universal healthcare. She just became this lightning rod for, again, this completely disproportionate hatred. 

One of the things that I came across in one of the articles that I read was about how Ken Starr really wanted to go after Hillary. For the Whitewater thing he was more interested in Hillary than Bill.

Sarah: She's the only first lady in American history so far to have been subpoenaed.

Mike: Oh, wow. 

Sarah: Which was about Whitewater. Like, she had to go in and testify like any other citizen, and that was a big deal. And I think that they knew in advance that the best they had going for them was connecting the Clintons to a conspiracy charge about dodgy financial dealings and really didn't have the grounds to do that. So, I think he knew at this point that getting her to come in and have to testify was just a power move, and that was kind of all they could do with her. So, they did it.

Mike: Let’s get us to the Lewinsky investigation. What happens between Whitewater and Lewinsky?

Sarah: Well, Ken Starr is appointed to investigate whitewater. He does his due diligence. He does his best. He subpoenas the first lady, and she testifies before a grand jury. And ultimately he can't do anything with it and he's poured I think three years into it at this point, and just hasn't really found anything. He is offered a job teaching at Pepperdine, like a law school deanship or something like that. A nice cushy job. He can go and sit on the beach and be surrounded by conservatives and eat shrimp, you know? And he's like, “Yes, take me to Pepperdine.” And then the conservative media launches this attack on Ken Starr, and all these conservative commentators are like, “Ken Starr is abandoning his party in a time of moral reckoning. Blah-blah-blah.”

Mike: You’re kidding.

Sarah: No. And it's just all so performative and it's just this operetta where he's been digging and digging and just not getting anywhere and is like, “What if I didn't continue on this fruitless road to nowhere for spite?” And he tries, you know, and it's like his moment of grace and then the right is like, “How dare you.” And he's like, “Nevermind.” And so he stays and during the Whitewater investigation for several years. 

For three years, Paula Jones has been attempting to sue the president based on her allegations that on May 8th, 1991, when he was the governor of Arkansas, what she claims happened is that she was at a conference at a hotel. He saw her in the lobby and liked the cut of her jib. She was in her early twenties at the time. She had grown up very conservative, Christian, and had rebelled in her teen years, but was a very sheltered, very politically naive young woman who always wore bows. Pam Smart also, the woman in New Hampshire who went to trial for allegedly conspiring to have her husband killed, she was known for always wearing bows. Like, the early nineties was just like women fruitlessly putting on bows to try and protect themselves from the forces of American power. Didn't work. So, Paula Jones was at this conference. Bill Clinton, the governor of Arkansas sees her, likes her, asks his security detail to bring her to a room in the hotel for him to meet with her. And so she agrees, and they bring her up and he comes in and according to her, he is talking to her and touching her and coming onto her, and she tries to put the brakes on things and walks away. And then he comes over and exposes himself to her and asks if she would kiss it and she says, “No, I'm not that kind of girl.” And one of the many moments when the integrity of the case hinges on past sexual transactions and legal attempts to understand a woman's reputation, Paula Jones’s husband, who is really the person who seems to have been the driving force in her filing suit before the statute of limitations expired three years after the incident, he says to Jeffrey Toobin, according to Jeffrey Toobin's book, “I knew that was true because she wouldn't do that for me. Like, I don't want you to feel sorry for me, but she doesn't do that.”

Mike: Oh my God. 

Sarah: And then one of the bombshell pieces of investigation that Clinton's counsel ultimately comes up with when Paula Jones’s legal team files suit is that actually, according to this guy from a small town in Arkansas, he was at a party with her once right before she met her husband, and she gave him a blow job and then she gave all these other guys blow jobs, so therefore, et cetera. And it's just so weird because it's just this idea of, you know, all of these men with their suits and their haircuts and briefcases and these millions of dollar’s worth of government time and money, ultimately trying to objectively say, “Well, if Paula Jones was giving blow jobs in 1987, then she must have been happy to give blowjobs in 1991.”

Mike: To some dude she's never met at, like, eleven in the morning. I’m sure that that's completely in keeping with her character. 

Sarah: Yeah. And it's like this idea of this attempt to legally block out sexuality in that way, and especially ideas around what consent means to a young, Christian raised woman at different times in her life, and this idea that if you gave a blow job at a party once, you can never not want to give a blow job again for the rest of your life.

Mike: This came up with me reading the Starr report, too. First of all, I hate how much I've read the word ‘blow job’ this week. These details of like, his wife doesn't give him blow jobs so she must be telling the truth. I hate knowing this shit about people. It's none of my business. 

Sarah: You’re such a good journalist. We just need like a hundred more Michael Hobbes’ in America. We would have a better infrastructure. 

Mike: But I do think though, first of all, there's no reason not to believe Paula Jones. In a way, it's like Anita Hill in that not believing her requires you to do mental acrobatics. I think you can't think about this whole thing without coming to the conclusion that Clinton is a giant fucking sleaze ball and he never should have been a presidential candidate. It's amazing to me that he even made it as far as he did, when it was clear everybody around him knew that he was a huge ticking time bomb with this shit.

Sarah: And like, do you think that he was a sex addict? 

Mike: I don't know. I don't care. I just don't find any of this pathologizing stuff useful. Maybe he was. Maybe he wasn’t.

Sarah: Anytime you're trying to explain away something that happened politically or just, you know, in a narrative by saying someone is a blank category of person, like, that doesn't really help.

Mike: Yeah. I mean, there's lots of reasons why you can't be president, right? Like being under 45 or being born in Canada. I just think that being a semi-rapist should be one of those reasons. If you know that about yourself, if you know that about your boss, you should just be like, “Dude, it's not your turn. There are all kinds of other things in the world that you can do, you just can't run for president.” The Paula Jones thing – we'll get into this with Lewinsky, but the Lewinsky case is obviously way lower on the Harvey scale of sexio-sociopathology. 

Sarah: The sexual contact that he had with Monica Lewinsky seems to have been uncharacteristically consensual. 

Mike: Yeah. Like for him, it's weird. Yeah, because the Paula Jones stuff is legitimately like Harvey-ish. Like, that's a super fucked up thing to do.

Sarah: Yeah. It's bad. 

Mike: Yeah. 

Sarah: The reason she comes forward is because the American Spectator published an article by a guy who we know. Who do you think it was? 

Mike: Noooo. David fucking Brock? My least favorite person. 

Sarah: Our nemesis! Like, in so many of the key scandals of the nineties, David Brock turns out to have been the spider in the middle of the web. But yes, David Brock, previously the author of The Real Anita Hill

Mike: The Real Anita Hill, in which he smeared Anita Hill and then ten years later admitted to basically fabricating the whole thing and faced no consequences whatsoever. 

Sarah: What if we do a documentary that's like Kill Bill, but it's David Brock, and all of the women in the nineties whose lives he destroyed. 

Mike: That music plays. 

Sarah: Yes. Yeah, that'll be our next. We'll do a Kickstarter for that. 

Mike: So, are you saying he smeared Paula Jones, too?

Sarah: In a way. What happened was that he did an article for the American Spectator based on interviews with Clinton's security guys, who were known collectively as ‘the bubbas’. He interviews ‘the bubbas’. He gets all these stories and one of them is that Clinton had seen Paula Jones and they had brought her up to meet him and she had propositioned him and asked to be his regular girlfriend, and he said, okay. The article coming out is what prompts her again, seemingly with the urging of her husband especially. Like, I don't think without him that she necessarily would have done this. She comes forward and files suit. And then they want a cash settlement, and it never seems to be in the cards for them to get anything big. She has this idea that she has been smeared. 

Mike: Yeah, she was smeared. I think that's a perfectly accurate term. Like, people continue to talk about her looks, which are completely irrelevant. People continue to use the word “bimbo,” which is like, we don't even fucking use the word bimbo anymore, unless we're talking about Clinton accusers. Somehow that's the only legacy of this weird slang term that nobody uses anymore, but as soon as Clinton's involved, we all use the word bimbo. I can see why she would be really mad about this. I also think David Brock is terrible and he probably did set out to smear her.

Sarah: He smears women without even knowing who they are or that it would be advantageous to smear them, you know? It’s his thing. 

Mike: She did eventually settle though. That's one of the things that I think is really interesting, is that her case against Clinton is what gives us the Monica Lewinsky case. But then in the midst of the Lewinsky madness, she just quietly settles out of court with Bill Clinton, and I think there's some sort of NDA something and she gets, I think, $850,000 in the end. So, it's weird that there's Supreme Court decisions and there's his personal lawyers and the presidential lawyers and it's this whole big thing, and then it just goes away.

Sarah: Yeah. And it's weird it’s a scandal because she filed suit in 1994 and she had a press conference that no one paid attention to. Nobody cared.

Mike: Oh yeah?

Sarah: You know, there will be a little squibs here and there about it, but it was a long time before the American public was really concerned about this. I think there was a feeling on the left of like, “Oh, whatever. It's just Republican opportunism.” Which the thing is the Republicans had been crying wolf for years at this point. And just the Filegate, Travelgate, Vince Foster, Whitewater, all of that stuff. Like, by the time a serious allegation came forward, it made sense that we would be jaded about that. That leads the left to treat Paula Jones as a pawn who's being used by the right, which she is, but that also means that nobody's treating her as a human being.

Mike: I read an article about how the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal represents the loss of media gatekeepers. So they actually go through every single one of Bill Clinton's accusers and they talk about how the media changes between accusers, because there's been so many. Which is just like a really dark methodology to begin with. For his first accuser, a woman named Connie Hamsy, which I'd never even heard of before I was reading this article from 2004, she came forward. There was a little, tiny blip on CNN where they mention, like, “Oh, this random woman came forward to accuse Bill Clinton of groping her.” And it showed up in his one story. George Stephanopoulos gets on the phone and he's like, “How dare you run this? This is hearsay. This is ridiculous.” CNN capitulates. Never runs anything about it again. The other networks see that CNN has capitulated, and they decide not to run it. 

Sarah: Wow. 

Mike: The way that Stephanopoulos, so he describes it as, “We survived our first bimbo eruption.”

Sarah: Oh my God. What?

Mike: Once again, why are these people still in public life? This guy sucks. 

Sarah: Why is everyone talking like we're in a strip club in 1963? 

Mike: I mean, my God. And so he manages to quash this, and this article traces then Paula Jones. Her case bounces around for something like three years. And everyone in the media knows about it, but like you said, they can't really tell, “Is this something we should take seriously? Is this woman credible?” 

Sarah: And you know what's amazing is that there were constitutional issues at stake in this because the question, Jeffrey Toobin really goes to town on this. You can tell this is when he's happiest just romping around talking about constitutional issues. And the issue that came up is, can the President of the United States be sued as a private citizen would be for something that happened before he was president and unconnected to his presidency? 

Mike: Which is very relevant now.

Sarah: Really?

Mike: But I actually think, as a principal, it is a little weird that someone can bring a personal suit against the president for something “unrelated to their presidential conduct” and have the case go forward. So I know that this case winded its way through the courts for ages, and eventually the Supreme Court ruled that it could go forward. But I also see the concern about that procedurally, because you can't have people taking the president to Judge Judy on a bunch of random, small bore shit because it just takes up the President's time, and it is an avenue through which you can pursue a witch hunt. Or, as we see in the Paula Jones case, it's then a vehicle that you can use to pursue all kinds of other insane shit. Like, once you get the President on the record and under oath, then you can just start asking him all kinds of stuff and then go after him just for the procedural, perjury, obstruction of justice stuff that they eventually got Clinton on. 

Sarah: There's this funny thing where we have these long, soap opera scandals that just go on and on and then what we end up with is that someone got a perjury conviction.

Mike: So, all of this Paula Jones stuff is happening in 1997. Right? I want to rewind to 1995 and talk about how the whole Clinton/Lewinsky thing began. 

Sarah: Okay. So, you read the Starr report and you know all the details and I have some questions for you about that, but I would like to start with something I know and find very interesting and atmospheric, which is that the scene for all this beginning is a shutdown, and White House interns are doing the jobs of non-essential staffers and so it's like the adults aren't around. 

Mike: And there's pizza involved. Like, Jennifer Palmieri orders everybody pizza and that plays a central role in their second sexual encounter. 

Sarah: Oh right. 

Mike: So, Monica Lewinsky gets hired as an intern in the white house in July of 1995. And I love the ways in which worse corruption than what Clinton is actually on trial for shows up in the Starr Report casually. So the way that Monica gets the internship is that a friend of her parents’ named Walter Kay is a prominent contributor to Bill Clinton's campaign. So he makes a call, and she gets an internship. I realize that this is the way that the world works, and humans are tribal, social creatures and we all use nepotism to get ahead, but there’s just something gross about it. 

Also, speaking of the shutdown, so a month into her internship there's this shutdown. The Starr Report also mentioned very casually that, “Oh, well, because the interns are unpaid, they don't technically count as employees so they can stay around.” 

Sarah: So the White House is running like a startup. 

Mike: Yeah exactly. So what kind of people do you think you're going to get as White House interns if they're not paid? 

Sarah: You know, this is a very good point about the structural forces at play here, to get into your Toobin zone. One of the reasons that calling for diversity in hiring something like a class of White House interns is important and isn't just a liberal, PC talking point, is that if you actually hire people who are qualified then they're going to come from a rainbow of backgrounds and they'll be focused on their work and they won't just be trying to fuck the president of the whole time. 

Mike: I like how you're already blaming her. You're already in the frame where she's at fault here.

Sarah: Here's the thing, I'm not. I think that she did a great job. I think Monica Lewinsky, from what I know, I don't think that she really cared about American politics that much, which is fine. Because like, why would you as a twenty-one year old, honestly? Like, that's a little bit weird. And went in and was making flirty eye contact with the president and was like, “I think I can make this happen” and then did. And like, good for her. I couldn't have done that when I was twenty-two. Like, she really seemed to have been a pretty calm operator who got what she wanted to get and didn't care that much about running government. However, if they had hired someone who was more focused on it, the affair might not have happened. So that's …anyway. 

Mike: Yeah. If you only hire Model UN nerds, this will never happen again. That is my policy prescription. 

Sarah: Yeah.

Mike: One of the surprising things about the Starr Report actually is how aggressive she was. I think it's fair to use that term. I mean, she really pursued him.  

Sarah: She was cruising him. 

Mike: Yeah. And so, according to the Starr Report, she gets hired in July. They are making eyes and flirty eye contact at various functions, and she eyes him across the room. She tells her mother at one point, “I think I have a crush on the President.” She really finds him sexy. Then the shutdown happens, and you're right, it's like summer camp. There are no adults around and the interns are, like, walking around with nuclear codes. 

Sarah: That’s amazing.

Mike: So, this is the description from the Starr Report of their first sexual encounter. “On route to the restroom at around 8:00 PM, she passed George Stephanopoulos’s office. The President was inside alone and he beckoned her to enter. She told him that she had a crush on him. He laughed then asked if she would like to see his private office through a connecting door in Mr. Stephanopoulos’s office, they went through the president's private dining room toward the study off the oval office. Ms. Lewinsky testified, ‘We talked briefly and acknowledged that there had been a chemistry that was there before and that we were both attracted to each other and then he asked me if he could kiss me.’ Mr. Lewinsky said, ‘yes’. In the windowless hallway adjacent to the study, they kissed. Before returning to her desk, Ms. Lewinsky wrote down her name and telephone number for the President.” 

So, first of all there's not a lot of detail. I don't know. It's weird to walk into somebody's room and be like, “Wow, I have a crush on you. We're both attracted to each other.” Like, I would not do that to my boss even if that was true. 

Sarah: For seeming to be actually pretty well-matched as people who just were very sexual in an inappropriate situation, that's the way I imagine Bill Clinton, like, going into some, you know, woman's dorm room at college and being like, “Wow, I feel a chemistry with you,” you know? 

Mike: Yeah. “Let's make this happen.” But there's so many weird aspects of this. Like, one of the things, one of the details that I keep thinking about in this entire twenty-month period in which they were fooling around, and they had more than 50 phone conversations, they had ten sexual encounters. It’s this long thing. They're talking two times a week at one point. They never see each other undressed. The entire relationship takes place in this backroom behind the oval office, and he is not allowed to close the door of that office for I don't know what reason. So, it happens constantly that they're fooling around in there and then somebody comes into the oval office and he can hear them like, “Knock, knock, Mr. President,” and he has to dash out of his office. 

Sarah: This is why you have to let your chief of staff in on your affairs so they can be strategic.

Mike: Yeah, and also in just the extent to which it's basically just a lot of oral sex. 

Sarah: And also, okay, how many orgasms were there in this whole affair? 

Mike: This is actually really interesting. Again, I hate this. I hate that I know this. I hate that the American people know this about the president. I hate that I know this about anybody. First of all, it's six sexual encounters before they have a real conversation. 

Sarah: Yikes. It’s depressing in all the ways that sex in America in the nineties was depressing. Like, nobody gets undressed. Nobody has a conversation. 

Mike: It's like, she goes into his office, she gives him oral sex, and then it's over in five or ten minutes. So it's the sixth time they have sex with each other by the time they spend more than five or ten minutes together. Right. For the first… again, I hate that I know this, for the first eight blow jobs, he does not orgasm. And so she is giving him a blow job, he says, “Hey, stop. I don't trust you enough for this yet. I don't know you well enough,” and it's clear that in his head, it's not cheating if you don't orgasm. Like, it's clear that he thinks of this as like, there's some threshold that you cross when the orgasm happens. So, this is like a year and a half later. Once he finally orgasms, that's when he decides to break it off and starts feeling bad about it.

Sarah: Wow. 

Mike: He breaks it off around…  like, they fool around two or three times, and he breaks it off and then like two weeks later, he's like, “What are you doing at midnight tonight?” He really breaks it off and really takes it seriously after he orgasms, and that's when he even says this in the depositions later, that's when he felt that he had done something wrong. Which just shows what an idiot he is. He knows there is this vast right-wing conspiracy that will look at… like, his fucking land deals they will spend three years investigating. Does he really think that someone's going to investigate the blow job he gets from a twenty-two-year-old intern and go, “Oh, he didn't orgasm. Nevermind.” 

Sarah: I think that’s the exact magical thinking that people who do stuff that they know that they're going to get caught doing and that they know the consequences. It's like if I don't snort coke, if I'm only rubbing it on my gums, then I'm not addicted to it. Or like, if I'm not injecting heroin, then I'm not really a heroin addict. Also that, yeah, do you think that he felt like not just that it wasn't really a White House affair of the kind that he could get penalized for, but also that it wasn’t a moral transgression on his part? Like, in his compact with his wife and the American public and everybody? 

Mike: I mean, that’s what it feels like. It doesn’t feel like he has a lot of remorse or that he even takes it all that seriously before the ejaculation. What's really interesting is she, Lewinsky, she's testifying. She eventually flips. So Starr comes to her, threatens her with perjury, tells her he'll give her immunity if she gives up everything. And so she has detailed descriptions of their conversations. She has detailed descriptions of every gift they've given each other, every conversation they've had. Clinton doesn't seem like he remembers anything. Clinton doesn't seem like she has really registered on his radar as a person at all. 

So in their second sexual encounter, it's still during the shutdown. Jennifer Palmieri gets pizza. Lewinsky kind of sneaks back into this back office with him and they kiss for a little while. And then, this is from the Starr report, “After a few minutes, in Ms. Lewinsky's recollection, she told him she needed to get back to her desk. The president suggested that she bring him some slices of pizza.” 

Sarah: It's like the lock-in, like, post high school graduation that high schools do now, that my high school did, where you got locked in overnight at the Y so you don't do any mischief, and they're like, “Have a party!” It's just so high school. 

Mike: Yeah. And so this is like years later when he's doing the Paula Jones deposition. They asked him about this exact incident and so again, from the Starr report, “In his Jones' deposition, President Clinton said he was unable to recall most of his encounters with Ms. Lewinsky. He did remember her back there with a pizza during the government shutdown.” 

Sarah: Back there with a pizza?

Mike: Yeah. “Testifying before the grand jury on August 17th, 1998, the president said that his first real conversation with Ms. Lewinsky occurred during the furlough. He testified, “One night, she brought me some pizza. We had some remarks.” 

And so the pattern that is established from minute one is that Clinton obviously does not think of her as a person very much, and thinks of her as a booty call at best. Eventually she starts giving him shit and she's like, “You realize you've never asked me anything about myself. Like, you've never shown any interest in me as a person.” And I guess at that, this is after they fool around six times, apparently ,he feels somewhat bad about it and so he asked like, “What are you going to major in or whatever?” But the whole time he just doesn't give a shit and you can tell that, like, it isn't even like a notch on his belt. 

Sarah: Back there with a pizza.

Mike: He remembers the pizza much more vividly than he remembers anything else. 

Sarah: That's the thing. He remembers that they talked about something, but he knows there was a pizza. 

Mike: Yeah. It wasn’t sushi. It wasn't burritos. He knows it was pizza. 

Sarah: Oh. Hasn't everyone had a relationship in their early twenties where you really felt like you were giving your heart and soul to someone, and they remembered that you had a pizza? 

Mike: This is like me reading the entire Starr report and I'm just like, “Oh sweetie, he's not into you at all, sweetie.” I'm musing about myself in my twenties and all the terrible men that I somehow convinced myself were into me and I did all of the Monica shit. Like, I'm just reading this and I’m like, “Oh no, don't call him again.”

Sarah: Don't go in the basement! You know, it's like watching a slasher movie. But I feel like there's also the sense that maybe you could connect more broadly to just someone not caring about you but needing the service that you offer or needing the release. But I don’t know. I wonder if that was at play in this relationship too, this thing of, like, you don't know anything about me, you don't ask me any questions about myself, you don't think of this as a real thing, but you need it. And in a way, I'm one of the most important people in this administration because of that. 

Mike: I think that's probably the story that she tells herself. What's interesting is to me this is his signal failure. That when you have power, people find power sexy, and people are going to come onto you and people are going to find your confidence, whatever, attractive to them and it's easy to look at all this and be like, “Oh, well she was the aggressor. She's a homewrecker.” 

Sarah: That home had already been wrecked, torched, and strewn with salt. 

Mike: That home was already in ashes, yes. Then, we're talking about a forty-nine-year-old man who's the leader of the free world. Is it really too much to ask for him to not be in a room alone with twenty-two-year-olds? Like, the levels of responsibility, I feel like we put her and him on the same plane, when her moral jurisdiction is much lower because she's not the married one, she's not the person who's breaking a contract with their partner. And he, this is not the first twenty-two-year-old to come on to you. Why can't you just, hey, this intern clearly has like a little thing for me. Knowing who I am, let's make sure that there's no opportunity for me to take advantage. Like, it's the same reason why I don't have like fucking Oreos in my house, because I will fucking eat them all. I know that about myself. 

Sarah: You know what else I find interesting? Wasn't he on the phone with members of Congress and White House officials and stuff during some of this partial oral sex that he was receiving? 

Mike: During the majority of their sexual encounters there's something else going on. This is one of the sad and weird aspect of this because again, the door to this stupid office is always ajar. And he's the President. 

Sarah: He’s busy. 

Mike: He's constantly getting phone calls or people stopping by. And at one point one of their dates gets canceled because he has a state dinner with the president of Mexico. You can't run a relationship when one of the people is the President. You just can't. So, this to me actually illustrates the weird and ridiculous overreach of the Starr report. The factual, narrative description of the relationship takes up something like 115 pages, and it is excruciatingly detailed.  

Sarah: Is it just like getting texts from your friend who's in a shitty relationship and you're just like, “Wow. Every detail.” 

Mike: Yeah. It’s like literally every single thing. And there's details like Monica Lewinski saying, “As I was performing oral sex, he received a phone call. I think it was from a member of Congress. I think he had some nickname,” and then the Starr report will be like, “White house logs show that the president received a call from Sonny Smith, the delegate from Delaware” or whatever. And it's like, this is a perjury investigation. 

Sarah: This was originally about a real estate deal in Arkansas in 1978. 

Mike: I think the worst example of this, of just these lurid details that are clearly meant to humiliate the president, the worst example of this is that after she does oral sex on him, it's like pillow talk. There are like forty-five seconds of pillow talk before she's hustled out of there. He says, “Oh, thank you for that. No one's done that for me in a long time,” which is a weird dig at Hillary. Like, first of all, it's weird that Monica Lewinsky gets cast as a skank for giving blow jobs, but then Hillary is also a frigid witch for not giving blow jobs.

Sarah: There's no way to be sexual or not sexual as a woman without doing it wrong and destroying America. This is just a fact. 

Mike: That’s the thing. It's also just this little quote at the end of the paragraph and it's like, why did you need that? Like, maybe his wife is not blowing him. It's also hearsay, right? It's also from Lewinsky.

Sarah: So it's not even legally valid or shouldn't be included. 

Mike: Yeah. It's just like this weird, shitty detail that is supposed to cast dispersions on his marriage and basically embarrass him in front of the entire country. I mean, the level of detail this goes into about ejaculation, and she touched his genitals, and he touched hers, and the cigar thing that at one point he puts a cigar in her vagina and then he puts it in his mouth afterwards and he says, “Oh, it tastes good,” which is again not perjury. It's not perjury.

Sarah: It’s not relevant and the funny thing too, is that it's actually, I think, quite nice because we really still do live in a culture in America where men are quite afraid of vaginas and so, you know, the fact that he– it's a sort of dumb body, cute vagina positive thing to do that unfortunately because of the context had to be spun as this scandalous…  Because I was 10 when the bulk of this was in the news and just knew that I heard about cigars euphemistically for years without knowing what had actually happened to a cigar. Yeah, the dig at Hilary, that seems to connect with our current political philosophy in this country of, if only women were continually sexually available, men wouldn't commit mass murders quite as much. And this idea that sexual availability to the point of non-agency on behalf of women is the secret glue that's holding America together, you know? And like, I'm sure that there's a sort of Republican idea subconsciously present in that of, you know, if only he'd had a normal, Christian marriage where the woman has the big hairdo and is totally complacent to all of her husband's sexual needs, then he could be going home every night for home cooking and he wouldn't have to go out for fast food.

Mike: Yeah. So eventually she is transferred to the Pentagon because people are starting to notice. Like, in every spy novel they start out really careful about their little peccadilloes, and everyone always gets sloppy. Right? And the White House is a building where people wander around. There are secret service agents everywhere. So, of course, the secret service agents are seeing this. His personal secretary is seeing this. Leon Panetta, the chief of staff who she's working for, also sees this. There's kind of rumors about her. 

And so Panetta, behind Clinton's back, transfers her to The Pentagon and this, of course, shows that there's an open secret. Like, this is not the first time this has happened. Right? So they transferred her to the Pentagon. He's like, “Oh, man, this really sucks. Like, I'm sorry we're not going to see each other as much anymore. Let me see if I can try to get you a job. It'd be great to bring you back.” He doesn't really understand why this is done. I think Panetta tells him, like, “Oh yeah, her internship was up and blah, blah, blah.” Like, he acts like there's some sort of logistical reason for this. So Clinton is like, “Well, you know, let me see what I can do about getting you a job.” He of course does nothing, but you know, that's what you say. In his head he's probably like, “Oh, like my little trysts with Monica are over. I'll have to find somebody else to have trysts with.” 

Sarah: Didn’t he also give her a hat pin as a gift? 

Mike: Oh my God, the fucking gifts, dude. Jesus Christ. The Starr report is like 80% gifts. It's the most tedious. They give each other a ridiculous amount of gifts. Like, she gives him like ten neckties and Leaves of Grass, which apparently hit the bestseller list again after the Starr report came out, because everyone was like, “Oh, Leaves of Grass. It must be rife with meaning.”

Sarah: Wow. 

Mike: The big thing with the gifts, it's a low maintenance strategy for him to stay in contact with her, because he can just have his personal secretary pick some stuff up and send it to her apartment. Like, it's literally no effort for him. It's just a sentence. Right? But then she sees all these gifts as super meaningful. So she's like, “Oh, I am still in his heart,” and so she keeps sending him more gifts. It's also an excuse for her to go visit him. 

So once she gets transferred to the Pentagon, she manages to go in there one or two more times under the pretense of like, “Oh, I have a gift that I need to deliver to the President.” Or she uses, “I need to deliver papers to him” quite a bit. 

Sarah: Isn’t it amazing that relationship bullshit is the same? Like, no matter, even if you're having an affair with the president, you're like, “Oh, I left my shirt at your place. I have to come over.” 

Mike: Yeah, exactly. She becomes increasingly desperate to engineer these run-ins. And she has noticed that he will forget about her, and then he'll see her at a public event, they'll go to some gala, and he'll see her across the room and then that night he will then give her a call.

Sarah: So he just has a short attention span. 

Mike: Yeah. It’s like a normal, again, from your thirties, you can look back on this and be like, oh, he clearly does not give a shit about her and she has not achieved object permanence in his mind. When she is away from him, he thinks that she has ceased to exist. He does not think about her. She has not achieved personhood. But then he sees her and he's like, “Oh yeah, I liked fooling around with her. I'm going to call her again.” But in her head she's like, “Oh, he's just busy.” 

Sarah: God, it's like high school. 

Mike: It really is. And again, all of us have been this person. But of course from a distance, you can always look at it and be like, “Oh no, don’t shake his hand at an event and introduce him to your mom. That’s not a strategic thing.”

Sarah: Aw, really?

Mike: Yeah. She does that at one point. 

Sarah: It's interesting that she told her mom. Like, what a weird position to be in to be Monica Lewinsky's mom and to know about this for months and months before it became news and to be having to give your daughter advice. 

Mike: She gave up the dress.

Sarah: The mom did? 

Mike: Yeah. In exchange for immunity, because Starr was trying to get her on some obstruction of justice, lying under oath thing. 

Sarah: Wow.

Mike: So, this all gets very ugly later. 

Sarah: Yeah. 

Mike: This is when things start to get complicated and bad. She gets transferred to the Pentagon. She tries to keep seeing him, but it's hard. It's also barely mentioned in the Starr report that this is also an election year, ‘96 in an election year. So obviously, Clinton is not just waiting around for his former intern to visit. So they don't sleep together for eleven months. She is getting more angry. She's trying to orchestrate more meetups. She's doing this gift exchange. They're calling each other. They're having some phone sex.

Sarah: She really kept on it. Does the Starr report go into what her feelings were for him? Did they ask her about it? 

Mike: Oh, yeah.

Sarah: Yeah. What's that like?

Mike: One of the main things that the Starr report does is it tracks from the White House logs all of his calls to her and how long they were. And it cross-references those with Hillary Clinton's whereabouts. 

Sarah: Oh, God. 

Mike: Yeah, exactly. So it's like on October 17th, Clinton had a thirty-six-minute call with Lewinsky. Mrs. Clinton was in Birmingham, Alabama. On the following Thursday, when Mrs. Clinton was in Athens, he had a twenty-six-minute call. 

Sarah: And she was probably reading a feminist book and that's how she manifested that.

Mike: Mrs. Clinton was burning bras at the time, so she wasn't able to be around. So, he's clearly bored and whatever. Like, he really only calls her when Hillary is out of town. Of course, Monica doesn't know this, right? She just knows that the president keeps calling her. But then, so she hasn't seen him in a long time. 

This is super fucked up. February 14th, 1997 – this is when things crescendo apogee of their affairs, in February of ‘97 – February 14th, ’97 - Monica places an ad in the Washington Post because before the internet when there were classified ads and papers still ran announcements, you know, job announcements and marriage announcements and whatever. One of the things they did was they had Valentine's Day announcements. So you could put a little square in there that says like, “Steve, I love you. From, Samantha.” So she places an ad in the Washington Post that says, “Handsome, with love’s light wings, did I o'erperch these walls, for stony limits cannot hold love out and what love can do that dares love attempt.” It's a quote from Romeo and Juliet. I don't know what it means, because I'm not functionally literate. And then it just says “M” at the end. 

Sarah: Wow. 

Mike: So this is the level that she's at now. She has convinced herself that she is in love with him and that he is in love with her.

Sarah: That reminds me of a review that Lorrie Moore wrote of Titanic, and talks about young women and their “macho cupidity”, is the phrase that she uses for the spectacle of Rose jumping off of the lifeboat and back onto the sinking ship and just this amazing– like, the macho-ness of a young woman totally in love just going for it in a crazy, potentially death drive kind of a way. And I love that she quoted Romeo in that. She's like, you're trapped and it's okay and the force of my love will get through all of everything and we're gonna make it, you know? That's really like, “I'm in charge. I know how to handle this situation. I'm just gonna keep sending you gifts.”

Mike: Wow, you do have an MFA. Nice, Sarah. You knew who the quote was from. Wow. 

So this is Valentine's Day. She arranges to see him two more times. These are the two events where he ejaculates. I hate that word. But anyway, these are the two final sexual encounters in which she goes and sees him. She’s performing oral sex on him. He pulls her away. He's like, “Hey, don't do that” and she's like, “No, but I really want to.” Here we go, “And I continued to perform oral sex and then he pushed me away as he always did before he came and then I stood up and I said, ‘I care about you so much. I don't understand why you won't let me make you come. It's important to me. It just doesn't feel complete. It doesn't seem right.’ Ms. Lewinsky testified that she and the President hugged, and he said that ‘he didn't want to get addicted to me and he didn't want to get me addicted to him.’ They looked at each other for a moment. Then saying, ‘I don't want to disappoint you,’ the President consented.

Sarah: Oh God. That's… yeah. That's such proof that he was not in touch with reality. It's like, you don't want to get addicted to each other. Like, the horse is already out of the barn.

Mike: They've literally had 50 phone calls by this point. 

Sarah: Right. It's like, oh, but it's not real. Like, you're not wearing my class ring so we're not really dating. 

Mike: So, this happens. They fool around one more time. And then March 24th, 1997, according to the Starr report, the president ends it. This is another one of those details that why is this in the report? “Earlier in his marriage, he told her, he had hundreds of affairs, but since turning forty, he had made a concerted effort to be faithful.” 

Sarah: Since turning forty, nine years ago.

Mike: And since having sex with her for the last eighteen months, he's all of a sudden like, “Oh, I want to try to be faithful.” Yeah. So anyway, he breaks up with her in May, ‘97. She keeps wanting to see him and she's getting increasingly frustrated that he hasn't gotten her a job. Eventually she sends him a “Dear Sir,” letter in which she obliquely threatens to disclose the relationship. So she says, “If I can't come back to work at the White House, I'm going to need to tell my parents why not.” Which, of course, is kind of hilarious because she's already told her mom everything by this point. 

Sarah: Right. And it's like, she's never attempted to use leverage before because she just doesn't want to have to apply pressure.

Mike: So, he’s trying to placate her. He's like, “Look, we're looking into it. We're trying to get you a job.” She eventually tells Kenneth Starr, “I left that day emotionally scarred. I just knew he was in love with me.” And of course this is the most twenty-three years old, saddest part of it. That it's so obvious reading this that he only shows interest in her when he wants to have sex or when she threatens him. And yet in her head it's become this star-crossed lover type situation. 

Sarah: So, is there a time when she's finally just like, this isn't going to work out between us. I give up, or does she remain a believer until, you know, things start to get legally complicated? 

Mike: Yeah. Things are already getting a little complicated because now Kathleen Willie comes forward and says that the president groped her in the oval office and Linda Tripp is wrapped up in all this somehow. 

Sarah: Linda Tripp worked with the white house at the time of the Willie incident, and she was used as a source by Michael Isikoff, who at the time was at Newsweek and was trying to write about the Willie assault. And Willie said that the president had kissed her and touched her breast and put her hand on his penis in an unconsensual way. He said none of it had happened, and Linda Tripp came out of her meeting with Bill Clinton looking flushed and like something had happened, but also happy. So she was used as a source and that is like, yeah, she gave ammunition to opponents of Clinton's while also taking away the question or attempting to take away the question of consent and assault and just making it like the bedroom farce version.

Mike: Yeah. So it's like all of this is happening and it feels like the heat is being turned up on Clinton. Right? Because he's getting depositions for this Jones thing. Kathleen Willie allegations are also getting wrapped up in this thing, because Kenneth Starr at this point is just taking anything he can get. So Lewinsky now is threatening to come forward with their eighteen-month affair. So he fast-tracks this thing of getting her a job, and he especially wants to get her a job in New York. And I think he thinks that if she's not in town, she will latch on to somebody else and I don't have to do anything. 

So again, this is where the intense, 1800s level corruption comes in. So he assigns Vernon Jordan, who's a friend of his and a lawyer, he's like, “Get her a job.” And then Lewinsky starts hectoring Vernon Jordan, like, “Why haven't you gotten me a job yet? Why haven't you got me a job? Why don't I have any interviews lined up?”

Sarah: Again, if the Clintons were killing people who made things inconvenient for them, this would be the moment. 

Mike: And also, wasn't she a White House intern and working with the Department of Defense? Like, go get a job!

Sarah: Go send out your CV. You've gotten some impressive appointments. 

Mike: Literally this is the late nineties. The economy is booming. She's got a great resume. She's got parents that have paid to put her up in the Watergate Hotel for this entire time. 

Sarah: She was staying at the Watergate Hotel? 

Mike: She has a single, one-bedroom apartment in the Watergate Hotel this entire period. So it's like, why are you just waiting for this guy to get you a job? She could have made five phone calls and gotten two job offers.

Sarah: She didn't know how good the economy was back now.

Mike: None of us did. She's saying she wants to get a job at the UN. He arranges, in this extremely corrupt way, to get some higher up person at the UN to give her an interview. That goes well, The UN offers her a job. Which I’ve applied for jobs at the UN. I know people that work with the UN. Getting a job with the UN is like a fucking six-month long process. You have to fill out like ten personality forms. Everything's anonymized. So when you send in your application, they don't even see your name because it might cause a bias. So they just see a five-digit number. Like, getting a job at the UN is a huge deal and now we just got Vernon Jordan, friend of the President, calling someone up and getting her a job offer, which is worse than the actual perjury that the president did. It’s so bad.

Sarah: Yeah. But it's not a sexy scandal. You can't really put a gate on it. 

Mike: It’s so just boring and human, but it's so gross too. So she gets offered a job at the UN. She turns it down. She's like, “Well, since working at the white house with you,” – she says this in a letter – she's like, “Since working in the white house with you has turned me off to working at the White House at all, I think, you know, other institutions like the UN maybe won't be as good as I think either. So I'd actually rather get a job in the private sector.” Again, I like Monica. She's a nice person.

Sarah: Yeah. I like her for doing those things, but it's inappropriate job applicant behavior.  

Mike: So, she turns down that job. She then starts hounding him to get her jobs in New York in the private sector. He sends out things to like, whatever, KPMG and the usual suspects. This is from the Starr report, “On January 8th, she interviewed for a job in New York City. After the interview went poorly, Mr. Jordan placed a phone call to the company's chairman on her behalf and Ms. Lewinsky was given a second interview.”

Sarah: It’s proof that really a good way to get job placement is to become deeply inconvenient to someone who has the resources to maneuver you to a different city. 

Mike: So she’s trying to work with the conglomerate. That doesn't work. She ends up getting a job at Revlon, which is one of the companies that this conglomerate owns. So finally, she gets a job. 

But then this is like where everything starts to just snowball. I don't think Lewinsky ever had a moment where she gave up. I think what happened was this stuff all went public and that was it. And then, you know, she's getting immunity with Kenneth Starr and everything. The way that it all happens, and I'm sure Toobin does this in his book too, is basically Linda Tripp is terrible. 

Linda Tripp and Monica Lewinsky are colleagues for a year and a half at the Pentagon. Linda Tripp is mad because she thinks that Monica is “a bimbo”, of course, and never would have gotten a job there if it wasn't for the President pulling strings, which is true.

Sarah: I don't know. Linda Tripp got a job at the Pentagon. 

Mike: Linda Tripp is in her late forties, right? So she's basically the same age as the president, and she hates the president. So if this is at any point a witch hunt, it is a witch hunt by Linda Tripp.

Sarah: Linda Tripp is the Sean Eckhardt of this, where it's like she's the forgotten person who was really at the center of all this and did all the legwork. 

Mike: One of the Newsweek articles that I read was that basically they were in negotiations with Kathleen Willie's lawyers and with Paula Jones lawyers, and they were about to come to a settlement. If they had come to a settlement, there would've been no reason for Clinton to be under oath and there would've been no reason for Monica to be under oath. But before the settlement could be signed, the story came out. That was what created the opportunity for them to then put Lewinsky on the stand was Linda Tripp making this a public thing.

Sarah: So how did she do that?

Mike: At this point, Monica has told eleven people that she and the President have had an affair.

Sarah: It’s amazing how many people you can tell about your affair with the President before it becomes public knowledge.

Mike: It’s wild. So her mom knows. Her boyfriend knows. Tripp hates the president and doesn't think very highly of Monica because of this idea that she got her job unjustly. So a year and a half goes by in which Monica and Linda are talking about the affair, but Linda isn't writing anything down, recording anything. In this interview with the Daily Mail last year, Tripp says that her biggest regret is not acting sooner, “Had I taken notes during that year and a half, he would have been impeached successfully.”

Sarah: What did we learn, Linda? 

Mike: I also love this. So this interview has been done with her in 2017 and she says, “It's her husband who encouraged her to speak out about this now because they were watching the election results in 2016. She was watching the results usher in Hillary's defeat, Tripp turned to him and said, ``The nation will never know what a bullet it dodged tonight.” She still hates the Clintons just to an incendiary degree. So basically, it's funny because what actually happened with Tripp sounds like the caricature of a woman who wants to ruin a man, right? Like, she talks to her literary agent. The literary agent recommends that she start recording. She then takes the recordings to Newsweek, which doesn't do anything with them.

Sarah:  Why didn't they do anything? Like, did they not think it was credible?

Mike: This is the whole gatekeepers thing. They couldn't confirm it.

Sarah: Right. Back when you didn't run news that you couldn't independently confirm. 

Mike: Exactly. So, she gives it to Kenneth Starr because she knows he's investigating whitewater. Linda Tripp emerges from this. Like, man, we should have been meaner to Linda Tripp.

Sarah: It's like everyone else in the nineties we needed to be nicer to, you know? Extenuating circumstances. Linda Tripp and David Brock though. Ehh.

Mike: So this is how the whole thing happened. So then it's not clear if she gives it to Paula Jones’s lawyers or Kenneth Starr gives it to Paula Jones’s lawyers, but somehow Paula Jones’s lawyers get this thing that there's a former White House intern that has had a sexual affair with the President. They are doing discovery for their case in which they’re trying to prove that Clinton has a history of sexually harassing women. So they want to do discovery and get him on the record for all of the other women that he's ever slept with in his life. This is, of course, a huge fight that they're having procedurally at the court. So they call Monica Lewinsky, and this is when everything goes insane, right? That as soon as they call her, then it’s like, “Do we lie about it? Do we not lie about it?” She tells the President. The President of course invites her to the White House and then it becomes this whole swirling mess where, did he tell her to lie? Did he not tell her to lie? The evidence is still pretty weak that he told her to lie. It was like he said something like, “Well, say what you always say.” Something like that. And of course, it's only from her side. The only participant in that conversation whose testimony you have is hers.  

One of the other things I came away from this with is like, I wanted to reclaim Lewinsky as a feminist hero and a total victim of all this, and obviously she is. But it's also amazing to me just like, she did some really stupid shit. Like, she was calling him twenty times a day at the end. She had convinced herself that he was in love with her. I don't think that the punishment fits the crime. Like, I think what she went through in the nineties is wildly, wildly disproportionate. 

Sarah: That’s like the punishment that we attempt to engineer for sex offenders, where everyone in your community knows you and hates you and thinks that everything is your fault and it just happened to her on a national scale.

Mike: Yeah. I think she has admitted in her essay that she published two years ago in Vanity Fair, she talked about how she made a mistake and every twenty-two year old is allowed to have some mistakes. And I think that's, like, she did some stupid shit, but it's really difficult for us to be like, “Well, yeah, she did and let's all tone it down a little bit” or “Let's focus on the guy who did way stupider shit.” Like I said, he really should have known better than to get involved at all. Like, one of the things that is just amazing to me is that it’s clear that in his head Clinton thinks that this is just a fling. Just a fun booty call, fun times, but it's like, well, what did you think she was thinking? Like, do you think that people are capable of having just a fling with people way more powerful than they are at the age of twenty-two?

Sarah: To which I say what I say to my friends when I'm getting texts of this nature, which is, “I don't think he was thinking for a second about what she was thinking.” It's funny too because, you know, Toobin has a lot of moments where he's like, surely Bill Clinton had to be aware of the potential consequences blah-blah-blah. And the thing is though, there hadn't been consequences for him like this before. Like, I don't think it was really possible to imagine these consequences until they actually manifested in this way because presidents had been having affairs forever and they'd been fucking around with interns and so had other white house officials forever.

Mike: Oh, I will say in this article about the media gatekeepers, they do mention that after Gennifer Flowers came forward, Bill and Hillary did a one hour long interview with 60 Minutes in which they talked about his history with women. And Stephanopoulos – this is the beginning of the end of the gatekeepers - this story that was just tabloid fodder actually makes it onto 60 Minutes, which is a new thing, right? Because before Stephanopoulos could just quash the “bimbo explosion”, here, they have to actually cover it. They have to actually address it, and Stephanopoulos calls this ‘chemotherapy’. They go on to 60 Minutes and it just burns everything down, but that kind of stops the story. Right? It didn't metastasize from there, but by the time we get to Lewinsky, we're in the Drudge universe where Newsweek knows about the story for months and doesn't do anything about it. Drudge finds out about it, and like 10 minutes later it's on his website and the entire country is talking about it. And then the mainstream media is like, “According to the Drudge report, the President slept with an intern,” and that gives them the cover to publish this story that none of them have great corroboration on.

Sarah: Because they can publish about the publication of the story, not the story. 

Mike: That's what’s interesting is that there's mounting consequences for Clinton, right? That he had been able to dodge this stuff before, but he then has to go on 60 Minutes. He has to address this stuff. I think he should have known. Politically, I actually think at this point impeaching him would have been– or if he had resigned in ‘98, two years into his presidency, would have actually been better in that Al Gore would have been a perfectly fine president. He doesn't seem to have any huge liabilities that we know of. 

Sarah: That's his greatest asset is that he's just not terrible in any pronounced way. 

Mike: And he could’ve run as an incumbent in 2000 which would have been better than running as a vice-president when you didn't have much policy stuff behind it and you know, counterfactuals. Maybe he would have lost by even more, blah, blah, blah. We never know, but it is weird how much Clinton held on to his office and how much the party held onto Clinton. Like, he still speaks at stuff. He's still around. His wife ran for president. He's still someone who is seen as the keeper of the flame in the party.

Sarah: Yeah. And I think he’s seen much more positively now than Hillary is.

Mike: Totally. Yeah. He's one of these elder statesmen.

Sarah: Yeah. 

Mike: When I think they should have just scorched earth him out and kept the moral high ground somehow. 

Sarah: Well, this is another diversity thing, right? Where we just have this idea, like, there's this idea in both parties of just like, “Well, you know, we only have like five guys. We have five, somewhat adequate white guys, which are the only kinds of people that we can really put so we have to protect them.” What if… I mean, really? Are there only five guys? It's like a town where all of the non-insane men between ages 15 and 65 or off at the Civil War.

Mike: Why does Toobin hate Monica so much?

Sarah:  I don't know. I think partly he really does not like many of the people that he writes about, which is an issue as a journalist. Like, he mentions that, you know, Monica Lewinsky went to a not very hard college. Lewis and Clark Portland. Yay!

Mike: I went to a worse college than Lewis and Clark. Is that…  I hope that doesn't become a smear on me. Like, “Oh, well, you know, he went to a regional public college.”

Sarah: I went to Portland State University, which doesn't even sound like a real school. It's like, Portland is not a state. So Monica Lewinsky and I both went to colleges in Portland, Oregon that, you know, can be used to make us seem more deserving of getting nationally smeared, if it ever comes to that. 

Mike: So when you get smeared, the Portland state thing will be leading. That's going to be the first fun fact. You know she went to Portland State?

Sarah: She did. 

Mike: How did you end up feeling about Monica?

Sarah: I was really impressed by her abilities as a seducer and it's funny to me because dozens of times I've read or researched or tried to rewrite accounts of the seductive woman who made it happen and it's always some woman who was just sitting there and was like, “I will just go along with this weird thing that's happening if I have to.” You know, just like if a woman isn't actively physically struggling in America, we tend to see her as an enthusiastic participant of whatever's happening to her sexually, so I found it really refreshing to actually read about a scandal that purported to be about a woman expressing sexual agency in which she actually had. 

So, yeah. I think that the main thing that changed in my understanding of what happened during the affair itself was just realizing that she not only consented, but enthusiastically participated and lobbied for his participation. It's interesting to me that that's something at the time that just had to be treated as proof of her badness and the fact that she had colluded with the most powerful person in the world. I don't think, she didn't do anything to America, you know. And this question of what happened to America. Because, you know, something happened. 

Mike: This is the perfect lead-in to next week. Something happened to America. So we're doing, volume II of this podcast is going to be the Clinton impeachment and you're wrong about it. We're going to go into, it's extremely detailed, but I'm excited to not talk about oral sex.

Sarah: We're going to get away from the grinding, workaday world of oral sex discussion and into the exciting fantasia of constitutional precedent and legal debate, and it's going to be good.