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Charge Puts Focus on Young Lewinsky

January 22, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Last week, Monica Lewinsky had a heady White House job on her resume and a plum post at Revlon to look forward to. Today, that job offer is history and her days at the White House are fodder not for her scrapbook, but for Washington scandal.

Ms. Lewinsky, 24, is the young woman alleged to have had an affair with President Clinton. She also allegedly told a confidant that he wanted her to lie about it when she gives a deposition _ now scheduled for Friday _ in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case against Clinton.

Blasted from obscurity into headlines Wednesday, she was said to be holed up in her mother’s apartment at the Watergate complex and finding refuge behind an unlisted phone number. Her attorney decried a series of events that have ``ravaged the life of a youngster.″

White House officials trying to contain damage to Clinton began a whisper campaign Wednesday night to destroy Ms. Lewinsky’s credibility.

Until this week, Ms. Lewinsky appeared to coast through life cheery and charmed. Neighbors to the Portland, Ore., group house where she lived as an undergraduate at Lewis & Clark College described her as a ``hippyish″ woman who baby-sat for pocket money and welcomed elderly neighbors to her backyard bashes.

In her Beverly Hills (Calif.) High School yearbook, there was no mention of school activities. And the headmaster of the Pacfic Hills prep school, where she later transferred, remembered only that Lewinsky sang in the chorus.

Associates who knew her work at the White House and Pentagon described the brunette as a chatty ingenue, whose sweet-faced pudginess seemed to underscore her naivete. She became friends with Pentagon co-worker Linda Tripp, an older woman and mentor figure.

Fresh from college in June 1995, Lewinsky, then a 21-year-old psychology major, took an unpaid internship answering phones in the office of then-White House chief of staff Leon Panetta. Five months later, she landed a paid job in the Office of Legislative Affairs, handling letters from members of Congress and sometimes ferrying mail to the Oval Office.

That’s where the official version of her resume ends.

According to taped conversations between Ms. Lewinsky and Tripp, as described by lawyers who have heard them, Ms. Lewinsky at some point in 1995 began a sexual relationship with Clinton.

In April 1996, nervous White House aides had Ms. Lewinsky transferred to the Defense Department, with the promise that she could return after Clinton’s re-election was clinched, the lawyers said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

At the Pentagon, Ms. Lewinsky was secretary to spokesman Kenneth Bacon, at a starting salary of $30,658 that later was bumped to $32,736. A functionary without access to the inner circle, she held a routine ``Top Secret″ clearance to handle classified documents but was limited to taking phone messages and transcribing interviews.

She sought out Tripp, a White House aide and holdover from the Bush administration who also was relocated to the Pentagon. In conversations secretly recorded by Tripp and turned over to Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel probing Clinton’s Whitewater deals, Lewinsky gives details of the relationship with Clinton and discussions of whether she would be subpoenaed to testify in Jones’ suit, the lawyers said.

Tripp’s disclosure of confidences should not surprise Ms. Lewinsky. In 1995, Tripp’s Whitewater testimony on the mysterious suicide of Vincent Foster gained her a reputation at the White House as a ``loose cannon″ for contradicting statements by a fellow office worker.

And last summer, Tripp was the primary source for a Newsweek article on an alleged sexual encounter between Clinton and former White House employee Kathleen Willey.

Two sources familiar with Tripp’s involvement in the Foster and Willey matters said Wednesday that Tripp spoke of approaching a New York literary agent to negotiate a book deal.

Bacon, Ms. Lewinsky’s former boss, told reporters that ``nothing in my observation of Monica or knowledge about her would give me any evidence that these allegations are correct.″

Bacon said he hired Ms. Lewinsky after following standard procedure of asking the Defense Department and White House personnel offices for recommendations. The White House ``didn’t make a big push for Monica, but her name came over. I interviewed four people for the job _ three from within the Pentagon, one from without _ and hired Monica,″ he said.

Ms. Lewinsky’s last day of work at the Pentagon was the day before Christmas. ``She said she wanted to move to New York, and that she decided that she felt in the long run she would be more comfortable in corporate public relations,″ Bacon said.

Referred by Vernon Jordan, a close Clinton pal and member of Revlon’s board of directors, Ms. Lewinsky twice interviewed with Revlon _ this month and in December _ and was offered a public relations post.

The cosmetics company released a statement Wednesday saying the offer was essentially withdrawn ``in light of today’s events.″

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