NEW YORK — Monica Lewinsky had a tempered, compassionate response to the death of Ken Starr, the former independent counsel whose investigation of Bill Clinton helped reveal her affair with the president and, she once wrote, made her life a “living hell.”
“As I’m sure many can understand, my thoughts about ken starr bring up complicated feelings,” she tweeted Tuesday after reports that Starr had died at age 76. “But of more importance, is that i imagine it’s a painful loss for those who love him.”
Lewinsky was a White House intern in the mid-1990s, in her early 20s, when she began a relationship with Clinton, one that Starr would document in exhaustive, explicit detail. Starr had initially been retained to look into an Arkansas real estate deal Bill and Hillary Clinton were involved in, but his investigation shifted after he learned of allegations about the president’s private behavior. Lewinsky denied their affair in a sworn affidavit, but did not know that her former colleague, Linda Tripp, had been taping their phone conversations about Bill Clinton and would turn them over to Starr.
Lewinsky would recall with horror being interrogated for hours in 1998 by Starr’s prosecutors — but not Starr himself — and threatened with prison if she didn’t cooperate with their investigation, a demand she initially refused. Months later, she agreed to testify about the affair, and turned over to prosecutors a dress stained with the president’s semen, in return for immunity.
Lewinsky later wrote that she was diagnosed with “post-traumatic stress disorder, mainly from the ordeal of having been publicly outed and ostracized,” and was for years subjected to crude jokes. But starting with a Vanity Fair essay in 2014 and a TED talk she gave in 2015 on “The Price of Shame,” she has become a widely respected anti-bullying activist. David Letterman and John Oliver are among those who have apologized for once mocking her.
Writing in Vanity Fair in 2018, Lewinsky remembered finally encountering Starr in person, at a Greenwich Village restaurant the previous Christmas Eve. Starr stepped forward with a “warm, incongruous smile,” and introduced himself to Lewinsky, who was dining with her family.
“Ken Starr asked me several times if I was ‘doing O.K.’ A stranger might have surmised from his tone that he had actually worried about me over the years. His demeanor, almost pastoral, was somewhere between avuncular and creepy. He kept touching my arm and elbow, which made me uncomfortable,” she wrote.
“I turned and introduced him to my family. Bizarre as it may sound, I felt determined, then and there, to remind him that, 20 years before, he and his team of prosecutors hadn’t hounded and terrorized just me but also my family — threatening to prosecute my mom (if she didn’t disclose the private confidences I had shared with her), hinting that they would investigate my dad’s medical practice, and even deposing my aunt, with whom I was eating dinner that night.”
Starr would write about Lewinsky in his 2018 memoir “Contempt,” describing how “Monica screamed, she cried, she pouted, and complained bitterly about her scheming, no-good, so-called friend (Tripp).” But their threats, and the urging of Lewinsky’s mother to accept the prosecutors’ terms, did not change her mind.
“Monica overruled her mother. She would fall on her sword rather than implicate the president of the United States,” Starr wrote. “It was becoming increasingly clear: in thinking she was a naive, starstruck young woman in love who would quickly cooperate, we underestimated her. In her determination to protect the president, Monica kept a team of experienced FBI agents and career prosecutors twiddling their thumbs for much of the day.”