This official White House photo was taken on November 17, 1995, two days after the day when Monica Lewinsky said her sexual relationship with President Bill Clinton began. A government shutdown that sent non-essential White House staff home allowed unpaid interns like Lewinsky an unusual level of access to the president.
Government shutdowns cause a wide variety of problems. National parks close, people can't file applications for disability benefits, about 800,000 federal employees are put on leave without pay.
In 1995, there was one more problem: With non-essential White House staff having been sent home, unpaid interns took on extra responsibility, which allowed Monica Lewinsky to spend some quality time with then-President Bill Clinton.
Here's how the Starr Report describes the events of November 15, 1995:
During the shutdown, Ms. Lewinsky worked in Chief of Staff Panetta's West Wing office, where she answered phones and ran errands. The President came to Mr. Panetta's office frequently because of the shutdown, and he sometimes talked with Ms. Lewinsky. She characterized these encounters as "continued flirtation." According to Ms. Lewinsky, a Senior Adviser to the Chief of Staff, Barry Toiv, remarked to her that she was getting a great deal of "face time" with the President.
Ms. Lewinsky testified that Wednesday, November 15, 1995 — the second day of the government shutdown—marked the beginning of her sexual relationship with the President ...
According to Ms. Lewinsky, she and the President made eye contact when he came to the West Wing to see Mr. Panetta and Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes, then again later at an informal birthday party for Jennifer Palmieri, Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff. At one point, Ms. Lewinsky and the President talked alone in the Chief of Staff's office. In the course of flirting with him, she raised her jacket in the back and showed him the straps of her thong underwear, which extended above her pants.
En route to the restroom at about 8 p.m., she passed George Stephanopoulos's office. The President was inside alone, and he beckoned her to enter. She told him that she had a crush on him. He laughed, then asked if she would like to see his private office. Through a connecting door in Mr. Stephanopoulos's office, they went through the President's private dining room toward the study off the Oval Office. Ms. Lewinsky testified: "We talked briefly and sort of acknowledged that there had been a chemistry that was there before and that we were both attracted to each other and then he asked me if he could kiss me." Ms. Lewinsky said yes. In the windowless hallway adjacent to the study, they kissed. Before returning to her desk, Ms. Lewinsky wrote down her name and telephone number for the President.
At about 10 p.m., in Ms. Lewinsky's recollection, she was alone in the Chief of Staff's office and the President approached. He invited her to rendezvous again in Mr. Stephanopoulos's office in a few minutes, and she agreed. (Asked if she knew why the President wanted to meet with her, Ms. Lewinsky testified: "I had an idea.") They met in Mr. Stephanopoulos's office and went again to the area of the private study. This time the lights in the study were off.
According to Ms. Lewinsky, she and the President kissed. She unbuttoned her jacket; either she unhooked her bra or he lifted her bra up; and he touched her breasts with his hands and mouth. Ms. Lewinsky testified: "I believe he took a phone call . . . and so we moved from the hallway into the back office . . . . [H]e put his hand down my pants and stimulated me manually in the genital area." While the President continued talking on the phone (Ms. Lewinsky understood that the caller was a Member of Congress or a Senator), she performed oral sex on him. He finished his call, and, a moment later, told Ms. Lewinsky to stop. In her recollection: "I told him that I wanted . . . to complete that. And he said . . . that he needed to wait until he trusted me more. And then I think he made a joke . . . that he hadn't had that in a long time."
Even if the government shuts down tomorrow, this won't happen again, and not just because Barack Obama has better impulse control than Bill Clinton. According to The Hill, White House interns will no longer be allowed to work during government shutdowns.
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