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
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
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
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
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?