If no one spotted Monica Lewinsky last week as she made her way quietly from Los Angeles to midtown Manhattan wearing a blond wig and dark glasses, it wasn't just her disguise at work. The girl we know so well, the one in the flirty beret on the Rose Garden rope line, is gone now, ground up by the machinery of investigation and fame. This new Monica is still warm, puts people at ease, pays attention to them when they speak, but she watches out for herself in a way she never had to before. The prosecutor whom she had viewed as a monster was now offering his protection, and the President whom she had shielded as her special friend was now the one with the most to fear.
It had taken 55 days of careful feelers, quiet phone calls and very secret meetings to get her lawyers into that Manhattan apartment. It took even more hand holding to get Monica there, given her feelings about the prosecutors who had accosted her in a Virginia hotel six months before. It was no accident that neither Starr himself nor his bulldog lieutenants were in New York last Monday morning. Through the next five hours of dignified conversation, she told the new, kinder and gentler team everything. But it was the way she told them that mattered just as much. "I think they convinced themselves that Monica was credible," said her lawyer Plato Cacheris. "They had the opportunity to see her and talk to her."
By the time she had finished, it was enough to get her what she wanted most: a gold-plated GET OUT OF JAIL FREE card for herself and her mother. And within 48 hours Starr's team had what it wanted too: the leverage to force the President of the United States to promise to tell the grand jury the Whole Truth about his relationship with Monica; and the dark blue, high-necked dress--which turns out to be from, of all places, the Gap--that might prove whether he actually does.
In a week of breathtaking volleys, after months of leisurely unpleasantness, the return of the legendary Semen-Stained Dress was the most surprising turn of all. As the FBI lab began testing it, all Washington, along with much of the country, was filled with questions: What does he do now, and When will it end? For those who think Clinton is telling the truth, his course is clear: keep telling it. And for those who think Bill Clinton has been lying all along, his choices come down to two: either stick to his denials and bet the farm that Congress won't impeach him for perjury--or spin around, confess all and fall on his knees in hope of landing on his feet.
Things had gone quiet for a while: a spring adagio after the raucous winter, when minor witnesses came and went and Clinton's approval ratings wafted above it all, as scandal stories fell to a total of only 10 per week on the evening news. The tempo was set largely by the White House. Clinton's lawyers asserted new kinds of executive privilege and then appealed each defeat, and they kept refusing, once, twice, six times, to accept Starr's invitation for Clinton to show up voluntarily to tell his story. Every so often Starr got defiant letters in reply, with fresh justifications for why the President would not be available at this time.