WASHINGTON – Former White House intern Monica Lewinsky broke her silence Tuesday about her illicit 1990s affair with President Bill Clinton, saying she wants to reclaim the narrative of events that brought her global humiliation.
Lewinsky, now 40, was in her early twenties when she became the infamous beret-wearing muse who engaged in sexual relations with the president and then endured a colossal backlash that nearly drove her to suicide.
After years of being turned away by potential employers, ridiculed online, and confronted by accusers as “that woman” who performed oral sex in the Oval Office, she decided to write her version of events in this month’s Vanity Fair magazine.
“It’s time to burn the beret and bury the blue dress,” Lewinsky wrote in a lengthy essay in the magazine.
“I am determined to have a different ending to my story. I’ve decided, finally, to stick my head above the parapet so that I can take back my narrative and give a purpose to my past.”
She said her radio silence was so complete for nearly a decade that rumors swirled that the Clintons must have paid her off to keep her quiet.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” she insisted.
It is time to stop “tiptoeing around my past — and other people’s futures,” she said, in a likely reference to former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s expected 2016 White House run.
News of the Lewinsky affair broke in 1998 and became an all-consuming scandal that nearly crashed the Clinton presidency. He was impeached by the House of Representatives that December but was acquitted by the Senate.
While the Clintons moved on, Lewinsky became an American outcast, even as she came to regret one of the most famous political affairs in U.S. history.
“Sure, my boss took advantage of me, but I will always remain firm on this point: It was a consensual relationship,” she wrote.
“Any ‘abuse’ came in the aftermath, when I was made a scapegoat in order to protect his powerful position,” she added.
In the scandal’s wake, Lewinsky said, she “turned down offers that would have earned me more than $10 million, because they didn’t feel like the right thing to do.”
Instead she went back to school, lived abroad and then applied to various communications and marketing positions. But the employers balked, claiming her “history” made her the wrong person for the job.
The anxiety made her suicidal at times, she admitted, noting that the shame and scorn thrown at her caused her mother to “fear that I would be literally humiliated to death.”
Her suffering took on new meaning in 2010, following the suicide of Tyler Clementi, the gay Rutgers University student who was shown on the Internet kissing another man.
As one of the first major figures to endure global online humiliation, Lewinsky said she wanted to work with victims of cyberbullying and harassment like Tyler.
“Perhaps by sharing my story . . . I might be able to help others in their darkest moments of humiliation,” she said.
But while she pronounced she should no longer remain stuck in the “Clinton universe,” she admitted to often thinking about Hillary, and whether the former first lady will make another run for the White House.
During Clinton’s 2008 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, which she eventually lost to Barack Obama, Lewinsky was drawn into the political maelstrom once more.
In recent months, Lewinsky said, she has grown “fearful of ‘becoming an issue’ should (Clinton) decide to ramp up her campaign.”
And while the former intern said she would “give anything” to undo what happened, she recalled how publicly confronting her past on a television special only ensured that “shame would once again be hung around my neck like a Scarlet-A albatross.
“Believe me, once it’s on, it is a bitch to take off.”