The Lewinsky Affair

Whose story is it anyway?

There are those who have a personal stake in the outcome of the Lewinsky affair. Linda Tripp, who previously made allegations of sexual misconduct against Clinton, used Monica Lewinsky's confessions to protect her own reputation. Tripp and Lewinsky became friends in part because of their shared status as exiled White House staffers. And according to her attorney James Moody, Tripp, the friend, mentor, and confidant of Monica Lewinsky, has no ax to grind but only ''wants to tell the truth.'' Tripp, like Starr, can only make use of Lewinsky's story if the confession is true. If Lewinsky concocted the sexual relationship and the intimidation story, both Starr and Tripp stand to lose.

Even Gennifer Flowers has traded on Lewinsky's story to bolster her own claim of having had a 12-year affair with Clinton when he was governor of Arkansas.

But perhaps the person who has the most to gain in all of this is Paula Jones. Monica Lewinsky's story provides her with a legitimate, even if tenuous, claim, by linking the behavior described in Lewinsky's story to Clinton's credibility in Jones's own charges of sexual harassment.

Despite reports that Monica Lewinsky will invoke the Fifth Amendment, she will very likely one day get to tell her story, either in Kenneth Starr's investigation or in the Jones lawsuit. But even if she comes forward with the truth, no matter what she says there will be those who will call her a liar. There will be those who believe her story, but question her motives--was she scorned and vindictive or simply an attention seeker? Then again, there will be those who believe her but don't think she or her experience is worth the trouble. And some will even applaud her candor. But all of this is perhaps too much for a 24-year-old to handle.

No doubt there are object lessons to be drawn from the Lewinsky affair. But the public may never hear the truth over the din of cynicism and political agendas. For that matter, Monica Lewinsky's story may be perceived as no more than a means to satisfy a craving for the sensational. If so, the cautionary tale of the Lewinsky affair, like most political scandals, may escape us. And though the lessons learned from such tales may be irrelevant to the legal issues, they often hold the key to the truth.

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