A 24-year-old ex-White House intern could cause the fall of a president

February 09, 1998 12:00 PM

ON THE FACE OF IT, THERE WAS nothing to suggest that neediness would ever be a problem for Monica Samille Lewinsky. A “bright, sweet, outgoing girl,” in the words of a relative, she was raised amid extravagant wealth in Beverly Hills, where her parents—Bernard, an oncologist, and his Chanel-clad wife, Marcia—had bought a Spanish-style house worth well over $1 million. He was a wine and art connoisseur, while she drove a Mercedes 560 SEL to the symphony. Monica was ferried to tennis lessons with brother Michael, now 20, and the Lewinskys spent as much as $20,000 a year on vacations. And Monica had some things that money can’t buy—”a very pretty face and eyes,” says her first boyfriend, Adam Dave, now an aspiring screenwriter. “I still remember that million-dollar smile.”

But Lewinsky, like many adolescents, was beset by self-doubt. Friends say that, troubled by her father’s apparent indifference to her, she sought solace in food and later in men. The first caused her to put on the weight she battled through high school and after; the second, if her claims of a sexual relationship with the President are true—and he insists they are not—could yet be Bill Clinton’s ruin.

Those close to Lewinsky say her character was forged in part by her parents’ vituperative divorce. Her father, Bernard, now 55, was the son of German parents who immigrated to Central America; her mother, Marcia Kaye Vilensky, 49, was a native Californian. Married in February 1969, just before Bernard’s graduation from medical school at the University of California at Irvine, they were living in San Francisco when Monica arrived in 1973. The Lewinskys moved to 90210 territory when Monica was a young child and soon settled into the sprawling home on North Hillcrest Road. The enterprising Bernard, who is a major shareholder in three radiation clinics, apparently cast a long shadow over his daughter. Both Adam Dave and his brother G.T., a high school confidant of Monica’s, attribute her eagerness to please men to what she perceived as her father’s rejection. “Everything she said about her dad had a tinge of resentment to it,” says Adam. “He didn’t give her any positive attention, and the attention he did give her was very, very critical. He was never satisfied with what she did.”

Marcia provided a different sort of role model. An aspiring journalist, “she was a beautiful woman but involved with herself,” says Daveen Faier, a neighbor. Starstruck, she once tried to start a Beverly Hills gossip magazine and wrote The Private Lives of the Three Tenors, a 1996 biography of opera stars including Plácido Domingo, and coyly suggested he’d been her lover. His publicist pegged that claim as “pure invention,” and the book’s editor says Marcia never even interviewed Domingo.

Acquaintances in Beverly Hills remember the Lewinsky household as an unhappy one, and the parents separated in September 1987. In court papers, Marcia alleged that Bernard had “a violent temper,” while he portrayed her as a spendthrift who talked him into leasing her a new Mercedes and charged up a storm—including a $3,000 fur coat—just before telling him their marriage was over.

When the divorce became final in December 1988, Marcia and Bernard shared custody of the children, who moved with her to a luxury condo on Wilshire Boulevard. Already seeing a psychiatrist, Monica was sent to an expensive weight-loss camp but began putting on pounds in earnest. At Beverly Hills High, Lewinsky was “the tubby girl with makeup,” recalls classmate Joshua Hiller. She was a hanger-on with the in-crowd, never quite accepted. Explains Eden Sassoon, daughter of stylist Vidal: “If we had, like, parties, Monica would be there. But, like, I wouldn’t call up Monica and be like, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this and do that.’ ”

In the summer of 1987, says Adam Dave, Monica began calling him late at night and popping in at his family’s mansion, bearing gifts. When he began driving a white Jeep Wrangler, she bought one too. When he was crowned Homecoming King in 1990, she delivered a package that included two pounds of his favorite licorice. “She so desperately wanted to be accepted,” he says, “she would do anything to get it. She got more gratification in pleasing than in being pleased.” Her attentions continued unrequited for several years after they broke up, he says.

In 1991, Monica, complaining that her father wouldn’t pay for a four-year college, enrolled at Santa Monica College while working at a tie shop to help meet expenses. It was at this time that Lewinsky began telling friends she was having an affair with a married teacher at Beverly Hills High. She spoke freely about their trysts, which friends say continued after she transferred in 1993 to Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore., where the teacher, Andy Bleiler, later moved with his family; Monica babysat for his children and often brought them presents. Lewinsky graduated in 1995 with a degree in psychology, but the affair apparently continued until sometime last year.

Besieged by reporters, Bleiler, 32—with wife Kathlyn and their lawyer Terry Giles joining him on the couple’s front lawn—last week publicly admitted to the affair, which his wife had learned about from friends. “I couldn’t in good conscience just sit on this stuff and not tell authorities what I know,” said Bleiler. When Lewinsky left Portland to settle in Washington, she reportedly told Kathlyn, “I’m going to the White House to get my presidential knee pads.” On return visits, Lewinsky brought White House souvenirs and tales of a sexual relationship with an unnamed official—”the Creep,” she called him—who wanted to have only oral sex.

Last week another aspect of Lewinsky’s life in Portland came under scrutiny when a Lewis and Clark spokesman disclosed that the college had notified independent counsel Kenneth Starr that she had possibly forged a letter. Bleiler says that unbeknownst to him the letter was written in support of his claim for unemployment benefits. Clinton loyalists have seized on the alleged incident as evidence of her unreliability.

After college, Monica began an internship at the White House, reportedly facilitated by Manhattan insurance mogul Walter Kaye, a close friend of her mother’s, whose six-figure political contributions had earned him a night in the Lincoln bedroom. Arriving in Washington in June 1995 and assigned to the office of chief of staff Leon Panetta, the 21-year-old was “just like some other kids who come into the White House and they become infatuated with the President and hang around in the hall waiting to see him,” says a staffer. “She was a little inappropriate at times—a little too excited to be [there].”

Sharing an apartment at the scandal-haunted Watergate with her mother, who had left L.A. in 1995, Monica put in long hours at the White House. “She would often talk of not having a boyfriend,” says a male intern. “She wasn’t a bombshell. I was shocked when I found out [about the allegations]. It doesn’t seem possible that [Clinton] would notice her or pick her out of a crowd.” But somehow he did, perhaps because she wouldn’t allow him not to. Monica’s old friend G.T. Dave suspects the attraction between her and the President was mutual. “Monica doesn’t go for the unreachable,” he says. “She flirts with people who flirt back. That’s what I believe happened with the President. She’s a charmer and he’s a charmer. They charmed each other.” (Says former presidential press secretary Dee Dee Myers of her ex-boss: “He flirts with men. He flirts with women. He flirts with Buddy the dog. He has that quality where he looks people in the eye and connects with them.”)

Ultimately, however, Lewinsky’s persistence in charming the President may have become too apparent, and in April 1996 she was sent off to a job at the Pentagon, where she told colleagues of assignations with a colonel and a Defense Department official. (Neither confirms her claims.) Her heart, however, seemed still to belong to the President, for she visited the White House at least 10 times after she no longer worked there and sent him numerous parcels by messenger. Lewinsky had entree to the White House until at least late December and reportedly met with the President in his office after she had received a subpoena to be deposed in the Paula Jones case. On Jan. 3, however, she is said to have been turned away at the gate by guards. A source told CBS News Lewinsky was furious, shouting, “Don’t you know who I am?” If they didn’t know then, they do now.