Bill Clinton says affair with Monica Lewinsky was to 'manage my anxieties'

“Everybody’s life has pressures," the former president says in new documentary.

March 6, 2020, 6:06 PM

Former President Bill Clinton says in a new documentary series released Friday that getting involved in a sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky was a way to "manage my anxieties.”

The four-part Hulu docu-series “Hillary” details the life of former first lady Hillary Clinton, including her early relationship with Bill Clinton, their marriage, the scandal and her 2016 presidential campaign.

Hillary and Bill Clinton both opened up about details of the extramarital affair he had more than 20 years ago with Lewinsky, then a White House intern.

“We all bring baggage to life, and sometimes we do things we shouldn’t do and it was awful what I did,” he says.

In this Dec. 3, 1995, file photo, President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton pose at the White House with some of the volunteers who decorated the White House for Christmas.
Joyce Naltchayan/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

Clinton says his sexual transgressions were a way to take his mind off the burdens of being president. “Everybody’s life has pressures and disappointments, terrors, fears of whatever,” he says.

He says it wasn't a defense, but an explanation, referring to “things I did to manage my anxieties for years.”

In the docu-series, filmmaker and director Nanette Burstein asks Bill Clinton why he decided to start the affair considering his high and powerful position. “Nobody sits down and thinks, ‘I think I’ll take a really irresponsible risk,’” he says. “It’s bad for my family, bad for my country, bad for the people who work with me.”

At the time, Lewinsky was an intern to Jennifer Palmieri -- who was a special assistant at the White House chief of staff. Palmieri later went on to become communications director for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016.

Bill Clinton says he felt uneasy about the fact that Lewinsky’s name had become synonymous with the affair -- often called the Monica Lewinsky scandal -- explaining that he “feels terrible” her life had become defined by it.

In this image taken from video, Monica Lewinsky smiles at President Clinton as he greets well-wishers at a White House lawn party in Washington, Nov. 6, 1996.

Lewinsky, who is active on social media, had yet to respond to Clinton's comments Friday afternoon but has previously said she no longer thought the affair should be called "The Lewinsky Scandal."

"Bye-bye, Lewinsky scandal ... I think 20 years is enough time to carry that mantle," Lewinsky said in a 2018 Vanity Fair essay, referring to a 2018 docu-series she took part in called "The Clinton Affair."

Clinton's explanations for the affair upset commentators on Twitter, some noting he could have tried using medication rather than taking up with Lewinsky, who has said the affair was consensual. Others joked about more common nervous habits such as biting one's thumb.

Clinton was impeached in 1998 on charges related to the affair -- obstruction of justice and perjury -- before being acquitted by the Senate in 1999. He had been previously accused of improper sexual conduct with other women, before he became president, including Paula Jones and Gennifer Flowers, that triggered similar scandals.

In this Dec. 15, 1994, file photo, President Bill Clinton poses for photographers in the White House after his address to the nation on a middle-class tax cut.
Robert Giroux/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

Initially, Bill Clinton didn’t admit to the affair or any sexual activity with Lewinsky. When the former first lady says she confronted her husband, she says, “He said ‘Well, there’s nothing to it. It’s not true’." He was adamant and he was convincing to me.’

She backed her husband publicly after allegations about the affair surfaced. “I defended and stood by him,” she says. When her husband broke the news to her -- she said, “I was just devastated.”

“I was so…you know…personally hurt,” she adds.

Bill Clinton claims that he now is “A different, totally different person."

"It was awful what I did," he says.

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