Monica Lewinsky reacted mildly and compassionately to the death of Ken Starr, a former independent lawyer whose investigation into Bill Clinton helped reveal her affair with the president and, she wrote, made her life “living hell.”
“As I’m sure many can understand, my thoughts about Ken Starr evoke complex feelings,” she wrote Tuesday after reports that Starr died at the age of 76. “But more importantly, I imagine it is a painful loss for those who love him.”
Lewinsky was an intern at the White House in the mid-1990s when she was in her 20’s when she started a relationship with Clinton, which Starr documented in exhaustive, clear detail. Starr was initially detained to investigate a real estate transaction in Arkansas involving Bill and Hillary Clinton, but his investigation changed when he learned of the allegations of private conduct against the president. Lewinsky denied their affair in an affidavit, but she did not know that her ex-colleague Linda Tripp had recorded their phone calls about Bill Clinton and forwarded them to Starr.
Lewinsky recalled with horror that in 1998 she had been questioned by Starr prosecutors – but not Starr himself – and had threatened to jail if she did not cooperate in their investigation, which she refused. She wrote in 2018 that she was diagnosed with “post-traumatic stress disorder, mostly due to public exposure and ostracism,” and has been a victim of primitive jokes for years. But starting with a Vanity Fair essay in 2014 and TED’s 2015 Speech on “The Price of Shame,” she became a widely respected anti-harassment activist. David Letterman and John Oliver are among those who apologized for once mocking her.
Writing in Vanity Fair in 2018, Lewinsky recalled that he had finally met Starr in person at a Greenwich Village restaurant on the previous Christmas Eve. Starr stepped forward with a “warm, inappropriate smile” and introduced himself to Lewinsky, who had been dining with her family.
Ken Starr asked me several times if “I was doing well.” The stranger could tell from his tone that for years he had indeed been worried about me. His attitude, almost pastoral, was somewhere between benevolent and frightening. He kept touching my arm and elbow, which made me feel uncomfortable, ”she wrote.
“I turned around and introduced him to my family. As bizarre as it may sound, I felt determined to remind him that 20 years ago he and his team of prosecutors did not persecute and terrorize only me, but also my families – threatening to prosecute my mother (if he did not reveal his private confessions with her. I shared), suggesting that they would investigate my dad’s medical practice and even dethrone my aunt with whom I had dinner that evening.
Starr wrote about Lewinsky in his 2018 memoir Contempt, describing how “Monica screamed, cried, sulked and complained bitterly about her sneaky, mean, so-called friend (Tripp).” But their threats and the insistence of Lewinsky’s mother to accept the prosecutor’s terms did not change her mind.
“Monica ducked her mother. She would have fallen on the sword instead of getting involved with the President of the United States, ”wrote Starr. “It became more and more clear: thinking that she was a naive young woman in love who would quickly start working together, we underestimated her. In her determination to protect the president, Monica kept a team of seasoned FBI agents and prosecutors shaking her thumbs for most of the day.