(Review) "Impeachment" Reminds us Monica Lewinsky Wasn't the VillainBreaking News
tags: Bill Clinton, impeachment, Monica Lewinsky, Ken Starr
Monica Lewinsky went on NBC’s “Today” show recently to promote the new FX series “Impeachment: American Crime Story,” of which she is a producer. Judging from how quickly her name began trending on Twitter, it seems people will never tire of debating the rights and wrongs of the Whitewater investigation that led to a presidential sex scandal. Tellingly, a lot of tweets asked if Bill Clinton needs to apologize to Lewinsky. Or: Should Lewinsky — yet again — offer an apology to Hillary Clinton?
One key figure was mentioned much less: Kenneth W. Starr. Yet absent the work of Starr’s team, all of us wouldn’t know, certainly not in such lurid detail, precisely what happened between the president and Lewinsky. Perhaps these days we are simply so used to our personal lives being shared, and overshared, that it’s hard to remember just how inappropriate Starr’s pursuit of this matter was. But it is his actions, not Lewinsky’s, that deserve the most condemnation.
Recall that Starr chose to investigate a tip originating from civil servant Linda Tripp — the worst friend since Judas — that Lewinsky, a White House intern, was having a relationship with the president. As independent counsel, Starr had been tasked with investigating investments that the Clintons had made in connection with the Whitewater real estate firm in Arkansas. Yet Starr and his office pursued the affair lead for months. The Lewinsky story “should’ve been dead on arrival” because “it served no useful purpose,” one regretful prosecutor said on Slate’s “Slow Burn” podcast in 2018.
The initial confrontation of Starr’s prosecutors with Lewinsky — a 12-hour ordeal that began with her being ambushed at a mall food court — bordered on legal abuse. (A government report later concluded that a prosecutor “exercised poor judgment and made mistakes in his analysis, planning and execution of the approach.”) As for the investigation, no detail was too personal, or humiliating, to spare. Starr included the blue dress, the cigar and more in his report, a document that journalist Sean Wilentz deemed “pornography for puritans.” The spectacle left Lewinsky infamous, notorious and unemployable.
Most scandals fade over time. This one did not. Lewinsky made attempts to get on with her life, mostly with little luck. Only in recent years, after she used her own horrific experience to reinvent herself as a cyberbullying activist, has she been able to earn a consistent living.
Yet when Starr was asked by CBS in 2018 if he would apologize to Lewinsky, he declined. “I regret all the pain that resulted to so many, including to the nation,” Starr said. “But no, I can’t in conscience say to Monica anything other than I’m sorry that the whole thing happened.” He considers the scandal Lewinsky’s fault. Had she “cooperated” with his investigators, all could have been resolved with a minimum of fuss, he suggested. But she, in his words, “lawyered up.”
Imagine that: Lewinsky had the temerity to insist on her legal rights. Apparently, to Starr, this justifies his excessive actions and the decades-long humiliation of a woman barely old enough to legally drink when the events in question occurred.