She was a 22-year-old intern, he was the most powerful man in the world – yet everyone blamed her for their affair. As the story is retold in a new drama, this is what that vicious period taught us
In November 1995, a 22-year-old White House intern called Monica Lewinsky had the first of nine sexual encounters with Bill Clinton, the 49-year‑old US president. As an official investigation would later reveal, these included fellatio, but not penetrative sex. The relationship, such as it was, continued until March 1997. It was a high-risk enterprise, occurring at the president’s official residence and at a time when Clinton was accused of sexually harassing a former Arkansas state employee, Paula Jones. But perhaps it didn’t seem that high-risk to either of them: Clinton had got away with much longer affairs before – and Lewinsky didn’t see Linda Tripp coming.
Tripp, a former White House official then working at the Pentagon, already had a dim view of the Clinton administration. When Lewinsky, who had transferred from the White House to the Pentagon in April 1996, began confiding in her colleague in late 1997, Tripp recorded their conversations and persuaded Lewinsky to keep safe a dress with Clinton’s semen on it. Tripp then passed the tapes and intel to Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel who was investigating the Clintons over historical property investments in Arkansas, the president’s home state.